Scottish firm creates 'digital classroom' for refugees

By Laura Maciver
BBC Scotland Business

  • Published
Children with Equator tablets at Dunkirk refugee campImage source, Equator
Image caption,
With Equator's help, refugee children have access to digital technology at La Liniere in France

A Scottish company has created a "digital classroom" for refugee children based in northern France. How did this come about?

For clients of Glasgow-based digital agency Equator, there were no lavishly wrapped gifts this Christmas.

Instead, the company donated time and money to provide technology and training to a classroom for refugee children in northern France.

The children are among 1,500 refugees based at La Liniere camp, on the outskirts of Dunkirk.

Image source, Equator
Image caption,
La Liniere is home to about 1,500 refugees from countries such as Iraq, Syria and Iran

Two members of Equator's innovation team, Lindsey Carr and Stephen Noble, travelled to the camp to donate digital technology and show the volunteers there how to use it.

The "digital classroom" they left behind consists of a box (which acts as a charging station) containing a wireless projector, 20 student tablets and a teaching pad, and a range of educational apps.

Because electricity supply is patchy at the camp, the technology is all wireless, so it does not depend on power while it is in use, and can be charged overnight.

Image source, Equator
Image caption,
Stephen Noble and Lindsey Carr travelled to France to set up the "digital classroom"

La Liniere was built in 2015 to provide a cleaner, safer and more permanent home for refugees, who are mainly Kurdish and from countries including Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The camp was funded by the local government and the humanitarian organisation Medicins Sans Frontieres.

Residents are housed in heated wooden cabins and tents and have access to showers and toilets in sanitation blocks, as well as a children's centre which includes a classroom.

'Disruptive lives'

Lindsey Carr, who'd learned about the camp through volunteer work with refugees, says her company's access to technology meant they could make a difference to the 150 children who attend the centre.

"These children have been forced to leave their homes through no fault of their own, many of them have lost or been separated from their families," she explains.

"We wanted to use our skill set and experience to find an innovative yet practical way to help these children beyond just donating money.

"I wanted us to find a way to deliver educational support in a way which recognises the unstructured and often disruptive lives the children are living."

Image source, Equator
Image caption,
The "digital classroom" has 20 tablets as well as other educational support items

The digital classroom will provide lessons in English, maths and French to children of different ages and abilities.

Equator's involvement is a departure from the Glasgow company's regular role of providing digital and creative services to well-known names in the corporate world including banks, car makers and hotel groups.

Equator chief creative officer James Jefferson says: "We are really excited about this programme which will ensure that every child in the camp will get access to education, creating the possibility to change all their lives for the better.

"We are also hopeful the Dunkirk classroom might be the pilot for an initiative that could be rolled out across other camps to prevent displaced children being starved of education."

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