The BrightBox Initiative
Submitted by: Ran Sommer, Director of Global Operations, The Walking School Bus
Email: [email protected]
Video outlining our most recent project at Bidibidi by photographer Michael Rayment
Introduction to the project
July 2019 - July 2021 (until renegotiation)
The BrightBox Initiative has two primary goals: to enhance access to education for students in UNHCR refugee settlements, and to provide the wider refugee communities with the tools they need to meet their full educational and occupational potential and capability.
The BrightBox Initiative eases the pressure on the under-resourced refugee settlement framework that currently struggles to provide students with a sufficiently resourced education. By providing settlement schools with access to digital education resources (including tablets, laptops, and projectors) the Initiative has been able to lessen extremely high student-to-textbook ratios, boost literacy and reading proficiency through innovative software, and give students greater access to new mediums of learning, all while ensuring that the curriculum remains rigorously matched to Ugandan curriculum goals.
The Initiative also trains local schoolteachers to effectively use the provided resources to enhance their planned learning outcomes. These resources and training therefore work to rethink the high teacher-to-student ratios in settlement schools, allowing teachers to more effectively interact and engage with their students during lessons.
Our BrightBox implementations also include solar power technology installations. This power gives otherwise powerless schools their own self-generating electricity sources. With this electricity, schools cannot only power our digital curriculum and resources, but can also power classroom lighting, providing students with an improved educational experience.
Secondly, the Initiative boosts refugee self-reliance. By providing the aforementioned educational materials and resources to reduce the pressure on the stretched settlement frameworks, students are not only able to receive a high-quality education and a strong reading proficiency, but can also develop transferrable computer literacy skills so crucial to securing good future employment.
The BrightBox Initiative also allows improved refugee self-reliance beyond the sphere of education. Indeed, power generated by the installed solar technology is also used by community Village Health Teamworkers (VHTs), who can easily charge their Cradle VSA devices locally instead of facing lengthy journeys to the nearest power source. Any surplus power beyond this use is reserved for other community members wishing to charge mobile phone devices, helping to stimulate local economies while generating revenue for project sustainability and for local, salaried project administrators. Moreover, the BrightBox Initiative values partnership with refugee communities, and ensures that all aspects of the provided resources are managed and maintained by the refugee communities, removing reliance on constant organization support. Ultimately, the BrightBox Initiative turns an under-resourced school into a sustainable, self-reliant educational ecosystem which brings immediate and long-term benefits for students, teachers, and other community members. We hope that as the project continues, the support and skills-development resources we provide to refugees will fulfil a third Global Impact on Refugees objective: easing their return to, and reintegration into, their countries of origin.
The aim of our July 2019 implementation was to enhance access to education and promote self-sufficiency, collaboration, and sustainability at three partner schools in the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement.
We installed two types of innovation in this project:
- The BrightBox Macro (Uganda-sourced shipping container repurposed as a solar-powered, computer suite school classroom)
- The BrightBox Micro (a suitcase-sized kit for an existing classroom containing Chromebook laptops, tablets, headphones and projectors).
The initiative also included the hiring of local administrators to support the project.
- Bidibidi Vocational Training Centre (students trained and hired to build classroom desks).
- Windle International (curriculum support).
- Twajiji Primary School (curriculum matching between Uganda National Curriculum and the The Walking School Bus digital curriculum).
- CRADLE VSA (charging and training of maternal healthcare devices).
- Office of the Prime Minister, Uganda.
Challenges and how they were overcome
During our July 2019 program installation in Bidibidi, we encountered challenges when financing the project, and when catering our curriculum program to a specific refugee settlement context.
To overcome our financial challenges, we undertook fundraising activities and gathered donor support. As for the curriculum challenge, we incorporated a six-month period of training and working with local Bidibidi schoolteachers into the project timeline. This ensured that our curriculum was well adapted to the settlement context.
Results of the Good Practice
- Access to offline digital resources and curriculum materials
- Access to literacy training.
- Teacher training to incorporate digital resources in Uganda National Curriculum.
- Access to mobile charging for local community.
- Tablets / laptops distributed and trained on computer literacy.
- Free access to charging for CRADLE VSA device for local Village Health Team workers.
- Pilot bike share program initiated for high-performance students living far distances from school.
- Hiring of local refugees for management of intervention.
- Water catchment systems collecting water during rainfall.
Our current agreement with the Office of the Prime Minister, outlining the BrightBox implementation in Ugandan Refugee settlements, lasts until renegotiation in July 2021. Until this date, and beyond it, we plan to enhance and grow the BrightBox project throughout Bidibidi and beyond.
Data collected through monitoring of the success of current implementations with local partner refugee communities, and through continual evaluation of our alignment with the Office of the Prime Minister’s desired outcomes, will form the foundations of this project growth.We examined resource usage data and frequently communicated with teachers and local administrators. As we monitor, we are also conducting further fundraising for more resource provision in Bidibidi’s schools, and for our plans to expand the project to Nakivale refugee settlement.