As the recent events in Ukraine and Afghanistan have shown, the number of refugees grows every year and today there are now more than 80 million displaced people around the world. It is often young people who bear the heaviest burden of displacement. As they get uprooted, their education is disrupted and future dreams shattered. Five years ago, two UWC alumni, Polly Akhurst and Mia Eskelund Pedersen founded the organisation Amala to solve a growing, global problem: the lack of high quality education available to young people who are displaced.
Amala has created the first international high school diploma programme for young refugees and also offers transformational non-formal educational programmes in countries that host large refugee populations including Jordan, Kenya, Greece and Malaysia. UWCSEA has been a committed partner since Amala’s founding, as staff, students and parents and supported Amala’s mission through curriculum development, providing expertise, volunteering, fundraising and raising awareness.
In this session, Polly and Mia will talk about their experiences of setting up Amala, the power of education in creating peaceful and sustainable futures in refugee communities and present on the future of their collaboration with UWCSEA and how the UWCSEA community can get involved.
Ellie Alchin: Welcome everyone who is here in person. It's wonderful to see you. And to all of the people who are watching online. My name is Ellie Alchin, and I'm delighted to be able to welcome you to this talk. In ]2016 two UWC alumni and then staff at UWC International Polly Akhurst, from UWC Atlantic and Mia Esklund Pedersen from UWC Mahindra, began learning more about the tremendous gap in secondary education for young refugees. During the Global UWC
Congress in October that year, they heard the UWC Syria National Committee's story of having to turn away more than 300 UWC scholarship applicants every single year. With UWC educators, alumni, volunteers and staff from around the world gathered in one place, Polly and Mia began talking with other people about how it might be possible to address the secondary education needs of refugees and displaced youth.
A serendipitous meeting with UWCSEA East's then director of teaching and learning, Stuart McAlpine, offered hope. When Polly and Mia asked him about whether he thought it might be possible to somehow develop a secondary curriculum for refugee and displaced youth, Stuart quickly responded Yes. Our curriculum articulation project and ongoing research had yielded both a robust K- 12 concept based curriculum and rich expertise in curriculum development among our educators.
As one of UWCSEA's curriculum experts, Stuart knew we could help to devise a tailored curriculum to meet the particular learning and community needs of refugees and displaced youth. Those early conversations led to a student group on the East campus picking up the cause of Amala. While our educators from both East and Dover and beyond joined in hackathons as we devised new courses together that would ultimately help to make up the Amala curriculum.
Special thanks also to Louie Barnett who is here today. Hi Louie, a UWCSEA teacher and co-leader of Initiative for Peace East, who now works full time with Amala as an education lead. Having been so inspired by Mia and Polly's vision. Just this week we signed a further partnership agreement with Amala, which will see our close association and continuing for at least the next five years.
On a personal note, I'm delighted to be able to introduce Polly and Mia to you all. I first met them at one of the hackathons for the Peace Builders course. Over to you, Polly and Mia.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: Hello, everyone. My name is Mia, and this is Polly over here. And we are absolutely delighted to be here today. Before we start the presentation, I think we just love to say a big happy birthday to UWC Southeast Asia.
And to celebrating and we're so delighted to be here with all of you today and yesterday to celebrate. 50 years of educating for peace and a sustainable future.
Our talk today is called the power of education, transforming the lives of young refugees. To the next slide, please.
OK, so we are Polly and Mia. And as Ellie said, we're both UWC alumni myself from UWC Mahindra College in India, Polly from UWC Atlantic College in Wales. We also work for UWC, and so we both have, you know, a sort of a big UWC background. And it's really the the UWC mission, which has inspired what we do now in our jobs and in most of our lives, which we're here to talk to you about a little bit more today.
Next slide, please. So in today's session, we're going to try and answer three key questions. The first one, why does Amala exist in the first place? What's our journey been to where we are today? And in what ways is Amala impacting the lives of young refugees? Next slide. So we'll start with the first one. Why does Amala exist?
Next slide. OK. Last year in June, the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, they released their annual report on global displacement. At that time, 82 million people around the world was forcibly displaced from their homes. Since then, as you will have known from everyday looking at the news Afghanistan, Ukraine and so on has added another five to 6 million to the statistic.
I'm from Denmark, a country of five to 6 million people. So as many people who's in my country have now had to leave their homes because of war, persecution and conflict. But it's not just Afghanistan and Ukraine. Continued conflict in places like Ethiopia, Yemen and South Sudan that we just don't hear that much about continue to produce refugees. And the reason why we're here is the second statistic over there, which is that less than one in three young refugees get to go to secondary education.
There are no statistics out there that talk about how many people are able to complete their secondary education. But we expect that it's much, much less. Next slide, please. So behind these statistics are people. So young people around the world who have unique talents and potential to positively shape our world and make it a better place for all of us.
Except that those who are displaced, the people we saw on the previous slide, they face so many barriers to go to school. They face barriers to have a high quality education that will help them to harness that potential and make the impact that they would like to. And the barriers that they face are numerous - things like poverty, having to pay for school fees, having to work in order to feed their families, language barriers, distance to school, transportation being expensive and having to work and have responsibilities in their families.
Well what we find is that these young people who some of whom we've quoted up there, who are some of our students, they're incredibly motivated, they're committed, they want to learn and they want to make the change that they see. That is so desperately needed in their communities. And so with that, inspired by this and the UWC mission and values,
Polly and I set up Amala five years ago to create an alternative programme for those who were out of school and needed to get an education. Next slide, please. So our organisation called Amala and our mission is to use the power of education to transform the lives of refugees, their communities and the world Our name is Amala.
Some of you will have known it as Sky School, as you were first called. Now we're Amala. The name is inspired by the Arabic word for Hope Amal and we hope that the education we provide also provides a sense of hope to not just our students for a better world, but to all of us that there could be a better world out there.
Next slide, please. And so just to give you a quick overview of our work, we'll go into a bit more detail about this, but we essentially do two things. We have created the Amala High School Diploma, which is an alternative pathway to completing secondary education. And then we also do informal, what we call changemaker courses so ten week courses on things like ethical leadership, peacebuilding, social entrepreneurship and so on.
Next slide, please. All right. I'll hand over to Polly for the next bit.
Polly Akhurst: So what has our journey been? How have we got to where we are today? I'm going to tell you a bit about how we were started and what that process looked like. So next slide OK. How to summarise this better than Ellie. She did a very, very good job at the beginning. But I should say that Mia and I, we were working on UWC's refugee initiatives, so fundraising scholarships towards refugees to attend the UWC schools and colleges, which is absolutely amazing.
And we saw that, you know, for every one scholarship available, there were around 100 applicants. And so we started to ask ourselves, now what happens to the other 99? And so we started to speak to some of the people that didn't get places at a UWC school or college. And they told us, and, you know, this speaks to the slides that Mia showed around the barriers to education and what people want.
They told us that, you know, at the age of 16, 17, 18, there were very few opportunities available for them. So many of them said, there's nothing else for me. This is my one dream, my one hope. And so that really led us to ask the question how can we enable even more people, even more displaced youth, to access a transformative education in the same way that a UWC education is really transformative.
But how can we do that for more people? And so that's when we kind of well, the answer to that question was basically, you know, could we was answering the question, really could we create some kind of global high school for refugees? Might that be possible? And so we started to talk to a lot of people about it, and among them, the UWC Syrian National Committee, who we knew quite well And this was during the kind of height of the Syria crisis.
And, you know, they said this is really, really needed. You should do something. If you don't, I don't know who will. And so it was a big it was a big idea, a big task. And we felt a little bit overwhelmed about where to start with this big idea. And but we decided to start with thinking like, what is the smallest thing that we can do?
What is the smallest kind of unit of innovation we can do to see even if this if this has legs, if people want this kind of, you know, the learning that is similar to learning that happens at a UWC. And so we decided to roll out a short course, a six week course on social entrepreneurship, and we decided to that we were going to run this course in Jordan.
And we kept telling everyone September so we're going to run this course in Jordan. We're going to run it. And that made us do it essentially. And as we were doing this, as we were making this announcement, we got contacted by people in Greece and people in Kenya who said, hey, I heard about this course. You're running in Jordan.
Can we run this in Greece and Kenya? And we said, why not? Let's just do it. So that's to say, we piloted this course and it went very well. It went much better than we had expected. We were surprised there were about 70 or so students on the course, and we did quite a lot of monitoring and evaluation.
We had people running the course in the sites in Jordan, Kenya and Greece, and you know all of the students from the course told us was this was good, but it was really short and we want more. And that really created the basis for, OK, this learning is wanted and needed. People want more than this. People want a diploma was what they told us.
And so at that point, we had met Stuart McAlpine, who, as Ellie mentioned, was then the director of Teaching and Learning at UWCSEA. And that was really a kind of a blessing because at that point we had another problem, which is that Mia and I, we're not educators by trade. And so we were trying to think about how do we create this curriculum that we want to be grounded in the needs of refugee youth.
That is you know, that is really very strong. But we had no curriculum expertise whatsoever. But Stuart did. And UWCSEA did. And so Stuart basically sort of set about creating a student group on East Campus to engage students in this work, but also just told loads of people at UWCSEA about it. And, you know, what was clear was that people wanted to be involved and use the expertise through UWCSEA's own curriculum articulation efforts for good and for Amala. So that solved a really, really big problem for us to be honest.
And and that kind of you know, that was the beginning of Amala essentially. So we went through this whole process just checking where I am on the journey. So I kicked off this whole process of curriculum development and we decided, OK, we, you know, we want to bring loads and loads of educators into rooms with refugee youth to create this curriculum.
And so what we did was we held hackathons where basically it was one weekend, one course, and over 150 educators, many from SEA but also from across the UWC movement and beyond, came together also with refugee youth to develop this curriculum. Next slide please. OK, And this is what it looks like, the Amala High School Diploma. Now, as you can see, this is probably not the typical high school diploma.
What we focused on relentlessly was this idea of agency. How can we enable our learners to develop agency no matter where they are, no matter what situation they're in? And how can we then kind of look at that through different lenses and, you know, and see different areas and different domains of study in relation to that agency? So that was our starting point.
We wanted to create learning that was, you know, that was super relevant in the lives of our learners today, but also would equip them with the competencies needed for the future OK, so yeah, this is it. And what happens during this programme is that students do come together in classes and groups with their facilitators in person. And but they also learn within the community.
So many of these areas, all of these areas, in fact involve them actively going into the community, looking at what are the problems to do with peace in my community, what are the problems that I might need mass for my community, what are the problems that, you know, that science can help me solve in the community and really addressing those problems actively and practicing practicing all of those things throughout this home on the high school diploma.
And, you know, they get good at this and they also develop a personal interest project, which is an opportunity for them to choose their own thing. Their own area of interest and passion and work on that in an extended way throughout the programme. And they also complete a Pathways programme, which is all about kind of, OK, what am I focusing on now and how does that relate to what I want to be doing in the future?
How can I kind of develop that ambition but also work towards it right now? So that's the programme next slide, please.
And I would mention as well that as we were developing this, actually, could you just go back one slide. As we were developing this, the curriculum development took two years. It was a long time. What we decided to do was as we were developing to pilot individual modules, individual courses within this.
So we piloted social entrepreneurship, we piloted ethical leadership, piloted peacebuilding. And we saw that each of those courses had a tremendous value in and of itself, even outside of this diploma programme. And that was what led us to kind of develop a whole new offering, which is our changemaker courses. Next slide OK, so that led us to 2020.
It took two years to develop the curriculum. And I should mention as well that there are quite a number of people in that room who were involved in that effort. And you probably remember this quite well who we will always be grateful for. And so we finally launched the Diploma in 2020. It was originally intended to be launched in March 2020, and we know what happened in March 2020.
We did manage to launch it, we launched it in Amman, Jordan and you know, managed to get students through this programme throughout multiple lockdowns and going online and offline and back again and all of those things we then expanded the programme in Jordan and launched it last year in Kakuma Camp in Kenya. So a very, very different context and the first students from the high school diploma graduated last year and we have more graduating in a few weeks in Jordan and more
in the first cohort in Kenya in July of this year. So that brings us to today, pretty much. So today we have our first cohort who have graduated 25 students who are now actively looking and some of them have been accepted to higher education pathways, which is very exciting. And then we are also seeking joint accreditation with the Council of International Schools
And NEASC New England Association of Schools and Colleges we'll talk a bit more about that and the kind of, you know, what comes next a bit later. Next slide. OK, so right from the beginning, you know, we this is a global issue. We are trying to we're trying to respond to basically. And so this is part of part of the reason why, you know, we've launched the diploma not just in one place but in two places.
We want this to be global and it has been global. So we have been working mainly in Greece, Kenya and Jordan to date. But we have also worked in a number of other places, including probably closest to here in Malaysia. We work both kind of both by delivering the programme ourselves, but also in order to grow it and enable more people to access it with partners as well.
So, yes, it is a global programme next slide. And I guess just a few things about what makes this unique. As I said before, this is a programme that has been designed with our learners at the centre. We've consulted them all along the journey. They've been involved in the hackathons. We're getting feedback from them all the time. Even in terms of the structure of the programme.
we know that our learners can't study full time. Many of them are working, looking after family, all of these things. And so we've adopted the programme to fit their needs. It's context inclusive. So we have a curriculum, a written curriculum that can be delivered by facilitators who we train, but they can also be adapted by them according to context examples can be used from the context that they're in, and the facilitators are from the places where we're working.
So that makes it very adaptable. And the final point is that we're technology assisted so a lot of people say, oh, you're online, right? You're all online. No. So we are mostly delivering learning in person, but we use online tools in order to to kind of make our offering more flexible and to develop digital literacy in students.
So that has been the journey to date. And I'm going to hand over to Mia. Well, for the beginning of the next section.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: OK, so the final section of the of this session, as you know. So OK, we've done all of these programmes but what's the impact? And so for that, we'd like the next slide. So of an overview, a few highlights. We've been around for four, five years now. We've become a smaller organisation of about 22 members of staff we've reached 1300 students from something like 20 countries.
225 of those have been on the Amala High School Diploma Programme Of course when you're in a school like UWCSEA that feels very tiny. But we have big ambitions and hopefully that number will just continue to grow and I think what we're proudest of with all of this though is that the vast majority of the students who come to Amala and come to the first day of the programme, they stay there stick to the end.
80% in a school like this might not seem like a lot, but in a refugee setting where a lot of online programmes have retention rates are something like 10% 80% is like a lot, which just speaks to the life where learning the agency piece that students who come, they also find that the learning is relevant. They can see why it's useful to them.
But what we're even prouder of is what the students say about the programme and the impact that it's had on their lives. And so I would like the next slide for them. And so we have a few quotes up here from students who have gone through the programme. When we talk about impact, I think we often talk about the long term what's going to happen to someone after they finish their education, when they finish university, when they, you know, what kind of job are they going to get long term but for us or our first graduates are just six months out.
And we think about impact both in the immediate term, the medium term and the long term. And so what we see is that students who come to the programme and what we'd like to see is that they're not thinking, how am I going to make an impact in five years time? No, we would like the learning to enable students to make impact now to have impact on them.
And we see that students are developing the the confidence and the competencies to make change. And through that, they're developing the agency to improve their own lives and the lives of others. And yes, and also you can see that, as with our students, you can see that there's a huge mindset change, that suddenly they go from I'm a victim to I can help other people.
And as you can see up here, some of our students, they've gone on already to set up initiatives. They've helped provide water in their community. They do campaigns that change the mindsets of others, promote global issues. And also some of them come back to help Amala. In fact, we just hired two of our very first alumns to come and facilitate on the next high school diploma, which is amazing.
And I will give a few more examples of students.
Polly Akhurst: Next slide, please. Amazing. So the first so we're going to talk about two students, two students slash alumni, actually, as you call them. So the first is Sarah and Sarah is from Iraq, and she has studied on our second cohort of the high school diploma in Jordan. So she has just finished and will have her graduation in a few weeks.
Now, Sarah told me that at the beginning of the programme, she was really shy. She didn't really leave the house. She didn't really go out much. She'd been bullied before the programme because of her Iraqi accent in Jordan. And she didn't have many friends 12 months later, Sarah was talking on an online panel alongside Andreas Schleicher at the OECD.
We heard from yesterday and she was extremely confident, extremely articulate. And she you know, when I said to her, how did this happen? And she said it's you know, it's this programme. It's enabled me to realise what is what is within me, all of the kind of assets that I have. And it's also being with a group of diverse people in Jordan.
Our classes three, usually seven to eight nationalities in one class. So, you know, a tremendous atmosphere and culture of inclusivity where she feels for the first time part of part of a community for the first time in a long time, at least. During the diploma she set up with a group of her friends on the cohort, a project about cyber bullying to raise awareness of it, and which is an issue that she faced in her own life beforehand.
So really taking action and realising how agency and doing something about it. And she is now, as you can see from that photo, kind of regularly volunteering in the community as well. When I spoke to her a few weeks ago, she said she's now finished the diploma and she's, you know, seeking more impact through wanting to study social work at a higher education level.
So we are we are helping her with that at the moment. And fingers crossed she will get there. next slide. I also want to talk about Nhial I think some of you in this room Nhial or have worked directly with Nhial. So Nhial is an alumn from one of our Changemaker courses. In fact, he took the first Peacebuilding course that we ever run in Kakuma camp.
Several years ago. And shortly after the course, we really noticed Nhial he was suddenly everywhere he was on Twitter, he was talking about Building Peace and Kakuma on Twitter using it as a platform. And that was actually a topic that's covered in the course. So that was really nice to see. And he became an ambassador for peace in Kakuma as well within his community.
At the same time, he had aspirations to leave Kakuma and to kind of expand his sphere of influence. And that was actually quite obvious through Twitter where he could already have a bit of a global reach actually. And in 2020 he applied to Berkeley in the US and actually was accepted but it was a bit of a sad story because that acceptance did not include financial aid.
And so several people in this room, the powerhouses that are Nikki Dinsdale and Joni and some others worked together with Nhial to try to transfer him to another university that would have financial aid available. And so that photo at the top is the is the announcement that he had got into her own university in Canada on a full scholarship.
And so what's really special about Nhial though, and this is how we see the Amala learning kind of manifesting itself in our alumni, is that he's at Huron now, but he's not just focusing on himself no, not at all. That is not Nhial. He is using his position and, you know, the sphere of influence he now has available to him to advocate for other refugees.
And so his big, big mission is really to kind of change perceptions of refugees and really bring out his own and use his own experiences to to ensure that people recognize refugees as humans. And so you can see him here. I mean, he's he's been speaking on CNN. He's been speaking on he's been writing for Al Jazeera most recently, but really kind of, you know, committed to improving his community and communities around the world.
So we can tell these stories, Sara and I and many others. But there is nothing like hearing from our students and alumni themselves. So we want to share a video with you. It's a video of a very important milestone in our journey, which was the graduation of our first diploma programme students in Jordan last October. And in the video, you'll see their graduation, but also hear them talking about their experience and their journey with Amala.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: So, yeah, play the video and enjoy.
Polly Akhurst: They're far better storytellers that I was right? They're incredible. So our first cohort graduated last year. This is this was them. And after that we were asked of what's what's next? What's next for Amala. We can go to the next slide. We'll show you what is next and what is current next slide OK, I'll start I'll start talking to it.
So we have proven that this that our model can work for a relatively small number of students. And our big task now is is to really grow this. And so our long term ambition is to be able to to serve every student that wants to access our programmes. And the first step of how we get there is really kind of iterated in our first strategic plan, which we developed last year.
And so our ambition is to really kind of to increase the numbers of students that we serve over the next the next three now two years to reach 5000 students by 2024, and in doing so grow an existing location. So in Kenya, Jordan and Greece, where we've already established a kind of a good base for working, but also to enter new locations, we've said that we're going to be in two new locations in the next few years.
We don't quite know where they are, but we know that we will be in order to really kind of enable in particular the high school diploma to reach scale. We need for it to be recognised and accredited and so we are on an accreditation journey for anyone who's done an accreditation journey. It's quite a long journey, but we are on that journey with CIS and with NEASC we have our next evaluation visit in just a few weeks.
And so our aim is, you know, by this by this time next year, ideally for this to be accredited and at the same time, we know that we can only grow a certain amount on our own. We need to develop partnerships to really kind of extend what we're doing. And that can look like a whole number of things.
But we want to be able to partner with organisations big or small in the areas where we work to spread this programme and to really spread the impact.
So next slide, please.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: OK, and so we are very proud to have partnered with and worked with the UWCSEA community over the last five years, pretty much from day one of Amala. And it's pretty much been a community effort over the last five years where different people in different capacities with different expertises have supported help, put in endless hours for curriculum development, connecting us, advocating doing all sorts of things to help make the Amala mission and vision a reality.
And for that, we and our students will forever be extremely grateful and we are really excited that we have been working on on a new agreement between Amala and UWCSEA where we've committed to working to continue to work together for the next five years. And so some of the things we'll be working on are bringing peace education very much inspired by the IFP programme here at SEA to at least 1500 students over the next two years.
Most be working on developing a sustainability and climate change curriculum, which is something our students desperately need because climate change is impacting the areas where they where they live. And we'll continue to work hopefully with the guidance counselling team to support our students accessing further opportunities after they graduate from Amala. But as always, with, with SEA and collaboration, this is about more than an agreement.
And so we've had people helping with with coaching. So coaching our facilitators, helping with vital professional development. We've had people reaching out, providing connections to potential partners and donors who have raised awareness. Our student group at East spent the last five years raising awareness and changing mindsets about refugees and refugee education and yeah. So if you're interested in supporting, getting in touch, getting involved, please do contact us because yeah, it takes a village and we're so grateful for all the support that we that we've already had and look forward to continuing to work together so I think that's all that we had today.
And next slide, please. We have our contacts off of there. If anyone wants to learn more.
Ellie Alchin: What an incredibly inspiring story. Thank you so much, Polly and Mia for sharing this with us. We do have a bit of time for some questions, so if you can just maybe have a little think and formulate your questions. I have. A whole load that I want to ask but I'm just going to pick one or two and I know that we'll have some from the online audience as well. So one key feature I remember when we were doing the hackathon for the peace building course that involving students, alumni, refugee youth themselves and educators, not just from UWC, but from a variety of different educational contexts was an incredibly important design feature that you were really, you know, felt very passionately about.
Can you tell us a little bit about why that was so important to you, that kind of model? Because we don't normally get students to write their own curriculum. So why was that so important to you?
Mia Esklund Pedersen: I think for us, the students that Amala serve, they have incredibly busy lives. We saw the stats in the beginning, less than one third go to secondary education, and there are a lot of reasons for that. So we wanted to make sure that students who come to Amala, that they see their education everyday as being relevant if they're going to stick with the programme.
We knew that they had to every single minute they were in class they had to be able to see, OK, I can see why I'm learning this. I can see why it's useful to me today. I can see why it's usefull for me in the future. So it's really, really important and you know, our students are incredibly wise.
They've had life experiences beyond what, you know, many of us will ever experience. And so having them support the design process was so important I think in previous sessions in the forum, we've heard how profound and wise our students are, and it's so important to involve them and their voices in what the learning journey should be. Yeah. Thank you.
Ellie Alchin: And one of the words you used in your presentation was about the idea of life worthy learning. And I think, you know, you really spoke very powerfully to that today. And I also think there's a really brilliant link with what both Musimbi and Faith talked about with the idea that UWC is more than just an organisation. It's a movement and the work of Amala is very much a UWC education, even if it's not in a UWC college.
I'm going to ask one more of my question, but I'm. Hoping that somebody in the audience might feel, Oh, we've got that we have got some other questions, so I'm going to hand over to the audience and then we'll hear from some online questions.
Speaker 7: Thank you very much for a speech, Miss Polly and Miss Mia. I have just I just have something that I'm really curious about because most refugee says their native language is not English. So I'm just very interested in knowing how you guys manage to solve this kind of question. Is the lessons provided in English or in Arabic or their own language?
Polly Akhurst: Thank you so much for that really, really relevant question. So I would say that we haven't solved the challenge yet. We developed the curriculum in English initially as a kind of version one also because we may well want to change it in the future and this kind of thing. So but we do want to translate it into different languages in the future.
It's still currently in English. However, I would say that, you know, there are a couple of things. So in Kakuma camp in Kenya, the language of instruction in the schools in many cases is in English. So students come to us generally with quite a good level of English. They are used to learning in English and Jordan obviously it is different.
So Arabic is usually the language of instruction. However, what we've seen from our learners and this is a bit of a dilemma in a way is that they really, really want to study in English. So while their English might not be so strong, they want this, they see themselves pursuing further education in English, which is actually available in that context.
So I think there are a couple of things that we're doing. So we provide additional support to students who who do not have the English that they might need to to get into the programme. We also refer students to other English programmes at the moment. If they really don't, if we really don't think that we can accept them in the programme due to their English.
But we are also considering translation in particular to Arabic at some point in the next few years.
Speaker 8: So my question is, is in your next five years, your vision a mission to reach more. What is the role of technology in particular? It's having 25 graduate, maybe 5000 over the next five years of a growing 80, 90 million refugees. So in particular as online using augmented reality virtual reality and in using that also having therefore simultaneous translation, AI. So just curious how you may use to leverage that to get good access and also lower cost for more.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: That's an important question. And again, I think something we have or technology assisted learning whereby students study for 60% of the time in person and about 40% either online or independently. And we do that to provide more flexibility to students because most of them are working full time to they can't come to class every single day from nine to five.
So they typically come on the weekend or so in that way. The technology helps us to reach more people because the programme is more flexible. But one of our key challenges is that a lot of the communities where we work does not yet have very strong infrastructure to provide that technology. And so, you know, in Kokuma camp we've just had to extend the classroom and put solar power panels on the roof so that the electricity wouldn't be interrupted all the time.
And that is, you know, the day that the daily life of many, many communities where we work. And so sometimes the more advanced technologies that I guess we'd like to make use of, I'm not sure they'd actually work. But hopefully, you know, these things are progressing a lot all the time. So I'm sure we'll be able to harness it a lot more in the next few years.
Maybe just to add to that, you know, the first course that we did on social entrepreneurship, we did a kind of blended learning version, so in person with some online study. And then we did an online first version and we found that the retention rate for the online version was 17%. So 17. Whereas the retention rate for the blended learning programme was 70%.
Right? So I think, you know, we want to be able to use technologies to harness scale but I think what we've seen is that our students really appreciate this human in person aspect of the programme, and that's what keeps them coming. So it's how do we balance those things? But also the resource kind of constraints that Mia mentioned as well.
I think we've discussed having when we're a bit bigger, having different being able to offer different delivery models and having, say, online only versions for people who are actively on the move in crisis. We're not we're not quite big enough for that yet, but there's a lot of possibility ahead.
Ellie Alchin: I think we have maybe a question at the front.
Speaker 9: Thank you, Miss Mia and Polly. I'm really appreciative and I've been really inspired by your achievement and I myself am from a country where we have a lot of refugees and IDPs in Burkino Faso West Africa. And I would also like to aid my community because since we have refugees and IDP, I would like to take an example of like Amala and like I will ask you, like since you are not from Jordan or like Kenya, how have you been received by people there?
How did you meet like the refugees? And since they don't speak English, how did you OK, did you train local teachers to teach them or like how did you go exactly? Because like, I'm wondering.
Polly Akhurst: So we, we hire people locally in the places where we work. And so both facilitators but also other people who are running the programme. So we have people in Jordan, people in Kenya, people in Greece as well. So they're kind of rooted in the contacts where they work. And they are context experts as you like. So all of our facilitators come from the local community in Kakuma Camp in Kenya.
They are refugees themselves, often who have been through education programmes in the camp and then want to facilitate basically for us. So we have we're trying to combine this kind of, you know, the global model and being able to create something that is that is relevant globally with, you know, context specificness and rootedness in the community. I should also mention that in terms of our model, we work with community based organisations or even larger organisations that have infrastructure, have a bit of a presence there, but don't necessarily have programmes to run.
So we embed ourselves in that way as well. For working with other organisations.
Ellie Alchin: Thank you. Thank you. I'm going to turn to Sinead now.
Sinead Collins: Yes. Actually, it's not so much a question I just wanted to share that we have had so many comments in online. People so hugely inspired and saying thank you and wondering are you coming to Uganda or are you going to New. Zealand? Can they meet you in London? So just wanted to say you have a global community of positive support here. So for sure and I know matched in the room, so I wanted to pass that on. And we're keeping all their contact details. So over to you Tina, I think there's a question over there.
Speaker 11: I'm just wondering because you work in a different refugees area, have you sort of considered working with the government or how has the government in these areas responded to your work in education here?
Mia Esklund Pedersen: Government yes, governments. It's a tricky thing, especially for us. I think if we had started doing education at primary level, we would have faced a lot more opposition from government. I think we've slightly taken the approach that, you know, it's it's better to ask for it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. And unfortunately, there are so few actors in the plus 16 space that we've had so much demand that we've not really yet had to work with governments.
And so we have sort of just gone ahead and done it as, as an NGO. But in the future we do see that we'd like to work with ministries of education and others to both recognise the diploma as an equivalent in their, in their country, but also hopefully to provide more access to high quality secondary education
Ellie Alchin: I'm going to jump in here actually with something that I think might be helpful for a lot of the members of the audience online, especially I suspect that we have a lot of alumni and, you know, about to graduate UWC students listening and feeling very inspired by your stories. And Faith talked a lot about leadership. And yesterday we heard a lot about good work from Howard Gardner.
Could you tell us a little bit about your own leadership journeys as youg UWC Graduates?
What might be some of the dark times that you faced? Because this has been a tough journey, I know with many bumps on the road and what have been the highlights and the things that sort of got you through and helped you to remain resilient despite the challenges.
Polly Akhurst: It's a good question.
Mia Esklund Pedersen: I think maybe we can start on the on the positive note. I think when we started, Amala, I think we in many ways had two, two goals. One was create really high, impactful, transformative education programmes. And the other was to create a really nice place to work where someone would, you know, look forward to coming to work on Monday morning.
And so I think we've very much inspired by a lot of the things we've learned about the UWCSEA community. We've tried to, you know, put in place we've tried to lead the organisation in a way that everyone hopefully feels empowered. We've had some of our team members say, you know, we feel everyone's a co-founder. I'm empowered to make decisions.
I'm empowered to take the time to do the mission in my way. And so in that way, I think we've created a really amazing community of people who support Amala, both the people who who we employ and work with every single day, but also the people like you, the wider community, the people who support. And so really, I think everyone here is is leading each other, being inspired by both the UWC mission and the Amala mission. So, yeah, that's the positive thing. I can't really think of a dark time.
Polly Akhurst: I'm just going to hand over to me for the negative stuff. Now, I mean, I think that there's a lot of this huge uncertainty in the world generally, as Andreas was talking about yesterday, but also kind of in leadership and in, you know, in our journey as well. Along the way, we've had to make a lot of brave decisions.
People have called us crazy at various times, you know, why did you develop this diploma from scratch? Like, why did you take this, in some ways, the harder route, right? So I think, you know, being able to kind of stick with that conviction for why you're doing something when you're getting a lot of questions, when you're getting people maybe not trusting your your capabilities or questioning those, I think that's some of the kind of harder the harder times that we have faced.
But I don't think we've ever regretted the decisions that we've made. And I think something that's really helped us as well within Amala is that we are we're co-executive directors, so we are kind of jointly leading the organisation. And that means that, you know, we are able to discuss decisions a lot together and work in a really collaborative way.
So I think that that's really helped us.
Ellie Alchin: Thank you. I know that we have probably time for one more question. I'm just scanning the audience. I still have plenty more. If you don't. We do. Final question.
Speaker 12: May I ask a bit of a personal question? Because I think that you are inspiring a lot of people in the audience here to think about what we can do. Also, in terms of entrepreneurship, like supporting students, particularly those who are, I guess we call left behind. So I guess I'm wondering what personally you all have learned about yourselves as founders and what advice you have for maybe somebody sitting in this audience who wants to someday be running a nonprofit or trying to do what you're doing, which is make some sort of global impact, solve some sort of problem.
I hope you don't mind the personal nature of this question, but feel free to answer it however you would like. Thanks
Polly Akhurst: Yeah. I mean, there's so much. But maybe I would say you know, have a big vision, but start small. I think a lot of the time, and we were definitely guilty of this in the beginning, as I said, like we had this big idea of this thing that we wanted to do, but it seemed the road to get there seemed very unclear.
And and I think that that's, you know, people often have ideas about things that they want to do. But but they don't know how to kind of put that into practice. And then they lose confidence and they think, oh, that's too hard. I can't do this. So I think it comes back to well A having faith in the idea as a whole, but then really thinking like, what is the smallest step I can take to get there?
You know, we didn't start with developing the whole diploma and delivering it to 25,000 people at one time, right? Like, we've gone in stages and that has made it manageable and it's doing something like this is like it's a marathon it's not a sprint. It's, been five years and we still feel like we're just beginning, you know?
So I think that being able to break it down in your head and just do something, just get started. Don't let that kind of fear of, oh, it might go wrong, it might not work kind of get you too much. It may not well not go the way that you expect it, but you'll learn so much. So, yeah.
Break it down. Break it down into stages. Smallest. What is the smallest unit of innovation you can you do
Mia Esklund Pedersen: If I may add to that? The importance of focus. I think along the way, we've had so many people have said, oh, you're focusing on secondary education. What are you going to do for the little kids? What about over here? You could also work in that country or this country. And we've always said no. Our focus right now is this is the Amala High School Diploma and the changemaker courses and those we think are best placed to serve because of our UWC background and the support we have for people who are secondary education educators and then there will be as Faith set in this whole before no one can solve all problems at once.
And so actually, I think we've learned the importance of of not drifting, not sort of getting distracted and just stay focused, even if it takes a long time to make progress. The progress is always there. Thank you so much and such sort of practical words of wisdom. And I just like sort of add to that, I think we've really learned so much from you and from the journey that you've been on. I think some of the takeaways that perhaps it's worth flagging is the value of a UWC education in preparing you to
Ellie Alchin: kind of do good work. I think we've really seen that the power of collaborating together with people who become your friends, but also your colleagues, the value of I suppose mining the UWC network for expertise and for not being afraid to ask for help, but also, you know, working with other people.
The incredible power of working with the partners and with the people that you're working with and using their knowledge and expertise and ideas to inspire what you're doing So many valuable takeaways for us as we move into our next 50 years. So I'd just like to say another very, very warm thank you from all of us. Both here and online.
Thank you for your work and thank you for coming to inspire us this afternoon.