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Coming Together in a Post-COVID World: The Power of Technology in Refugee Education


Programming Partner: UNHCR

Programming Sponsors: Microsoft, Vodafone Foundation

Media Partner: Foreign Policy



  • COVID-19 has impacted education in disproportionate ways. Children are struggling to adapt and gain access to materials needed for educational success, as explained by Allison Carlson. With refugee children being two times more likely to be out of school, ultimately COVID-19 threatens the progress that has been made. Lack of electricity, power, and technology are just some of the factors that hinder the ability to continue education in the wake of the pandemic. 
  • An additional factor to the overall effects of COVID-19 is the educational trajectory for women and girls around the world, as 50% of girls in the secondary school system may never return. Asking what it will take to bring these students back to school, Kelly Clements explained that it will take generosity, resourcefulness, innovation, and collaboration. 

“The pandemic is likely to reverse the gains that we’ve made. It really does threaten our progress towards SDG 4. We know that for refugees and displaced people, at-home learning is particularly difficult, due to issues related to lack of hardware, electricity, power, and connectivity,” Kelly T. Clements

  • Investing in digital literacy skills is more important than ever, Kate Behncken explained. These skills secure livelihoods and are necessary in our world. The pandemic is depicting a large gap that already existed prior to COVID-19. Wanting to do what they can for refugees and displaced youth, Microsoft is eager to assist as almost no job does not require some form of digital literacy.
  • Looking at another element of partnerships, Patricia Ithau explained how the pandemic has highlighted the need for connectivity. Never before have so many children been without basic structure and education. One of the Vodafone Foundation’s key programs is the Instant Network Schools, which use technology to support primary education and, in particular, refugee children. 

“The pandemic has really highlighted the critical role of connectivity in society […] At Vodafone Foundation, we believe that every child has a right to quality education, regardless of gender, country, or whether they can afford it or not,” Patricia Ithau

  • Looking to move to a hybrid model, the global skills initiative seeks to assist with online learning, Behncken explains. When looking at future investments in a post-COVID world, Microsoft seeks to build back communities in terms of digital capacity and digital innovation. 
  • Truly believing in the transformative power of partnerships, Ithau agreed that companies like Vodafone or Microsoft cannot do this alone. Every child deserves access to quality education. From a gender perspective, 1.5 boys are more likely to have a phone than a girl, and as a mobile company, Vodafone is eager to support these communities to ensure equality.
  • Concluding with how to build back educational progress and fix the damage of the pandemic through sustainable measures, Clements argued that we must provide support through classroom equipment infrastructure, aiding the return of students to school, and conditional cash assistance.

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Utilizing partnerships that support greater access to online learning and connectivity is critical.


Session Speakers