Digital learning innovations for Syrian refugees

This project involved the design and implementation of Coder-Maker, an intervention that improves public access and learning quality by engaging both Syrian refugees and host communities.
Technology & connectivity

Digital learning innovations for Syrian refugees

This project involved the design and implementation of Coder-Maker, an intervention that improves public access and learning quality by engaging both Syrian refugees and host communities.

Contact details 

Submitted by: Matthew Smith, Senior Program Specialist, Networked Economies, International Development Research Centre 

Email: [email protected] 


Project description on IDRC’s website:

Project and Coder-Maker description on IEA’s website:

Introduction to the project 




2016-August 2019 

There is a second phase, co-funded by IDRC and the Ford Foundation that will focus on scaling the intervention. 


The Syrian refugee crisis saw millions of displaced children in host countries that are already struggling to find resources. This project was a response to the acute need in Lebanon to address the stresses put on their education system due in part to the large influx of refugees. The challenges include, amongst others, overcrowded classrooms, lack of qualified teachers, insufficient educational resources, traumatized children, high dropout rates, and curriculum mismatch. On a more positive note, community integration of displaced populations is accelerated through education resource sharing. 

This is an area that is receiving increased recognition, not only for its potential to empower displaced communities, but for the promise it holds for improving co-existence with host communities.   

The idea was to see to what extent different digital learning innovations might provide innovative pedagogy approaches that would enable better and more effective student learning and engagement – a real challenge within the stressed education systems. The project also includes teacher training around the interventions – providing a further strengthening of the education system. 

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) funds research in developing countries to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities, and help people live healthier and more sustainable lives. We support leading thinkers and institutions who advance knowledge and solve practical development problems. 

The International Education Association (IEA) designed and implemented Coder-Maker, an intervention that improves public access and learning quality by engaging both Syrian refugees and host communities in collaborative, problem-solving team-driven classrooms with the challenge of addressing emergent problem in their lives. 

Many refugees feel disconnected and isolated from their host communities. They see the world moving but do not have the tools they need to serve as their own change agents. Coder-Maker provides opportunities to develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills by inducing a comprehensive approach to school-based change. It works with teachers to engage students in an iterative approach to problem solving to enhance learning outcomes. 

Coder-Maker is a digital learning innovation that aims to enable students to learn to code and program objects around them and provides foundations in programming, designing, making, and assembling. This project demonstrates an approach that can leverage technology-enhanced learning, attract children to education, increase their motivation, and help schools and teachers provide effective education. 

The project was able to secure stakeholder buy-in at the highest levels and obtained endorsement from the Lebanese Minister of Education. Support and buy-in was also obtained from other key stakeholders, including school principals and the parents’ community. Working closely with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education of the Government of Lebanon, the International Education Association (IEA), the implementing partner, selected schools based on the highest percentage of refugees as per the data available, and the willingness of principals and educators to participate. 

Designing an efficient and cost-effective solution that can easily be scaled and replicated is key to the ability to use technology in classrooms. The objective being to address the substantial challenge of ensuring access to education to the millions of refugees who fled their homes. 

The project team strove to find the most effective approaches for the least possible cost and the highest potential for scalability, this was central to the design process. Coder-Maker uses a low-cost model powered by the open source Raspberry Pi computer instead of more expensive hardware solutions. Its pedagogical design also promotes the development of solutions to real world problems, which usually require interfacing with physical objects, sensors and actuators. The open ecosystem of the Raspberry Pi offers many reusable low-cost (or totally free) components that can be used to achieve this goal. 

On the policy front, the project formulated a set of concrete policy recommendations and is actively promoting these changes at all levels within the Ministry of Education and the Lebanese government. 

Project aims 

To address the education crisis (including both inherent and refugee-related challenges) in Lebanon using digital learning innovations. 

Resources used 

Total funding: CAD 370,000 

Main activities of the Good Practice 

Teachers challenge their students to conceive, create, code and promote solutions that have the potential to affect tangible change in their communities. Participants learn computational and technical skills needed to gather and analyse data from the Internet of Things and robotic sensors, as well as skills needed to document and present their solutions.  

The success of the program is predicated on empowering educators to implement the program with their students through a series of professional development workshops available throughout the academic year with support from an all-volunteer team of university students. The interventions are inherently flexible and can be effectively applied in formal and non-formal learning settings. They are easy to deploy at a low cost (or no additional cost to the system) and are easily scaled and readily integrated within mainstream educational systems.  


Challenges and how they were overcome 

Environment: IEA found a series of challenges prior to implementation: violence among Syrian students, a high drop-out rate of host community students, and teachers unprepared to work in this new context. However, the project dramatically impacted the school culture: students became more collaborative and cooperative, and bridges were built between students and their teachers, strengthening communication and the sense of common purpose. The dominance of violence and disruptive behaviour waned in favour of more harmony and social cohesion at school. Teachers who participated in the project witnessed significant and rapid professional growth, including the development of critical, creative, reflective thinking and the capacity for solving real life problems. All teachers reported that they got to know their students better and better understood how they think and learn. 

Gender: At the onset of the project, teachers were told to enroll an equal distribution of boys and girls, however, teachers invited students they thought might be interested, resulting in an early enrolment of 75% boys and 25% girls. Hackathons and community events were promoted directly to the community, where high levels of interest among girls were observed. Out of the 92 participants who enrolled, there were 53% boys versus 47% girls, a clear increase in the participation of girls. Through discussions with girls, additional ideas were captured to give wider access to girls, such as organizing a girls-only hackathon. IEA also developed prototypes and applications that were less mechanically focused to attract a wider range of interest. 

Results of the Good Practice 

  • Coder-Maker provides a set of pedagogical principles and practices coupled with an engagement model that drives student learning. 
  • Coder-Maker supports schools and educators with effective teacher professional development interventions that work within the post-crisis refugee context in Lebanon. 
  • The government of Lebanon has endorsed the Coder-Maker intervention and is requesting that it be scaled in all public schools. 
  • To date, the Coder-Maker program has been implemented in 41 schools, and with 61 teachers and 1,420 students in Lebanon. 

Next steps

The next phase of the project, funded by IDRC and Ford Foundation, will focus on scaling the Coder-Maker intervention in collaboration with the Lebanese Ministry of Education and higher Education. The project will work with the Teacher Professional Development at Scale Coalition for the Global South to develop a sustainable approach to scaling that maintains quality and equity across implementations. Finally, the project will continue to emphasize the inclusion of girls and gender sensitive research and analysis.