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STEM For Refugees launches innovative response to educating refugee youth
2/8/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 
​STEM For Refugees student explaining their learning projects

​Young minds eager for knowledge and people hoping to make a positive impact on the lives of Syrian refugees came together on January 8 to share with the world their experience as part of the STEM For Refugees initiative. The students, all living in Lebanese refugee campus, had just completed three months of hands-on educational learning and came to AUB to share their accomplishments.

The STEM For Refugees launch event, held under the sponsorship of AUB and the #AUB4Refugees initiative, introduced the pilot project “Sonbola Little Engineer Robotics Program" which aims to empower refugee youth with relevant skills and knowledge through meaningful and insightful learning experiences.

STEM For Refugees is a partnership between the NGO Sonbola and The Little Engineer, a private company started by AUB distinguished alumna Rana Shmaitelly (BE '93, ME  '08). The two groups got together in 2014 and came up with this initiative focused on empowering refugee and other vulnerable young learners through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

The pilot brought together 50 refugee youths (ages 9-18), equally divided between boys and girls, for weekly sessions at the Sonbola Learning Center in the Beqa'a Valley. Here the youth were taught how to use small building blocks and state-of-the-art sensors to create projects related to their real-life circumstances and needs in a refugee camp. 

Trained facilitators guided students in building working models of things such as rainwater collection systems, solar-powered ovens, ventilated tents, and playground equipment. The students were then introduced to programming language in order to integrate the sensors with the blocks. These projects were centered around four themes: hygiene and comfort, renewable energy, health and safety, and personal development and leisure.

The overarching goal was to impart practical technological skills and knowledge integrated with life-long learning attributes such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and teamwork as well as citizenship values such as respect for others and personal responsibility.

Quality challenge

The modules for the pilot program were developed by the Research and Development team of The Little Engineer, which has years of experience in delivering hands-on learning activities to unleash in young minds their full potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Sonbola NGO helped develop and implement the program, including seeking sponsors.

Massa Mufti, founder and CEO of Sonbola, began the program by highlighting some of the challenges that STEM For Refugees was created to address. These include the gap between education and employability in the Arab world and shortcomings in math and science, in particular. In terms of educating refugees, the critical point at this juncture is to look beyond access to education and focus on the quality and impact of this education.

“It is an innovative response because it is opening the door to dialogue and to partnership and looking at solutions that do not follow the conservative and classical way of providing education, but more disruptive and innovative models," said Mufti.

UNICEF innovation specialist James Cranwell-Ward was in the audience and praised the project, saying it was “obviously great for the kids." But he also noted that major funding agencies will be very interested in the project's monitoring and evaluation plans, such as pre- and post-tests. Sonbola's Massa Mufti said that she is well aware of this issue.

“We are looking at future collaborations, including in research, such as creating a case study of the program and assessing the impact of the program," said Mufti, noting that AUB would be a natural partner for this. 

The students of the pilot project took center stage at the end of the program, demonstrating their projects and explaining what they did and what they learned. The audience was rapt listening to these young people speak confidently about the learning process and what they gained from it.

“We learned specifically how to face challenges in our lives and how to overcome them and think of solutions," noted one of the young students. 

At the launch of #AUB4Refugees, President Khuri spoke about its aim to offer “a narrative of hope." That sentiment was well in evidence during this launch event, both from the students and the organizers of STEM For Refugees.

“Do believe in us. Do listen to us. We believe we have a great future," said one inspiring young man, offering us his own narrative of hope.
Story Highlights
  • ​The STEM For Refugees launch event, held under the sponsorship of AUB and the #AUB4Refugees initiative, introduced the pilot project “Sonbola Little Engineer Robotics Program" which aims to empower refugee youth with relevant skills and knowledge through meaningful and insightful learning experiences.
 
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