Over a month ago UN teachers and the entire staff of United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees went on strike leaving over 56,000 children without an opportunity to continue schooling in the West Bank. Just a week before schools were closed in October, children in grades 1-3 in the Amari Refugee Camp were given their very own XO laptops in an exciting multi-school launch festival. Now lacking the opportunity for formal education and armed with their new XOs, these Palestinian children were placed in a unique circumstance to learn at home and in their neighborhoods through technology, while eagerly awaiting the opportunity to return back to their classrooms.
Faced with an unprecedented research opportunity to understand how children learn in this difficult context, I traveled to the West Bank with the hopes of interviewing children about the use of laptops for informal learning and organizing a small workshop to keep kids engaged and help them explore new learning opportunities with their XOs.
With the help of PaleXO, a group of amazing and dedicated university volunteers, and the Amari Refugee Camp Children’s Center, we were able to host an open kids’ workshop where kids could come with their XOs to hang out with friends and play together as a group while learning something new. Around 40-50 children showed up (right before the Eid holiday!) and we spent the first half-hour having small group discussions about what the kids do when they are out of school and trying to pass the time. All of the kids present exclaimed that they use their XOs many times a week and several parents were present to affirm how happy the kids were using their XOs at home. Parents explained that kids even arranged group play-dates around their XOs where they come together in their homes or the streets of the refugee camp in order to teach each other new things they’ve discovered on their XOs. It was remarkable to see how much both the boys and girls had taught themselves since their first experience with laptops during my visit over the summer! A quick peak into their journals revealed they all loved using a diverse array of their activities.
Following our learning discussion, the members of the PaleXO team led a mini Scratch workshop to introduce the kids to some of the most basic elements of computer programming. The kids loved it! Scratch was one of the few programs they found difficult to master on their own and they had now discovered enough about the laptops to grasp the concept of the program explore together during the workshop.
The workshop ran for over four hours and by the end the kids were pleading for us to hold even more workshops; we all had tons of fun! The administrators of the children’s center were also thrilled that we were able to put on some fun learning programming for the children and pledged to help in any way possible for workshops to continue weekly with PaleXO until kids return to school again, and perhaps even after. We’re looking to set up wireless internet in the center so kids are free to stop by whenever they would like in order to explore using the internet. It was so exciting to see how having laptops could bring these kids together to learn informally even when they aren’t able to get to school!