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Rwanda: refugee students on a space mission
15 December 2011

Skype and other web-based technologies used in many western classrooms are not a part of daily life for students in Kibuye, Rwanda (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
For the students in Kiziba camp, it was also an opportunity to connect with a world far outside their own, and practice skills that few of their peers have a chance to learn.
Kibuye, 15 December 2011 – For just one day, 18 students at the JRS school in western Rwanda were given an opportunity to forget they were living in a refugee camp and were transformed into astronauts on an exciting simulated mission through the Solar System, using the technologies that their western counterparts often take for granted.

Instead of holding class as usual in front of the blackboard, in early October the students took part in a Skype video conference call with the Challenger Learning Center (CLC) at Wheeling Jesuit University, in the US state of West Virginia.

"In Western countries, children are accustomed to using computers and the internet to watch videos, play games, do school work and go shopping. The same is not true for children in Kiziba, who live in areas with little access to technology and input from the outside world", said JRS Rwanda Director, Erin McDonald.

Sitting in front of a computer screen in their small classroom, students were greeted by a Wheeling Jesuit University professor playing the role of an astronaut; she then asked them for help to find a missing space ship and save other astronauts who had been lost in outer space. In order to help the astronauts safely return back to the space station, she said that the students, assigned in teams, would have to solve a series of mathematics, science and communication problems.

"The children and teachers were very enthusiastic to experiment with this interactive teaching tool. These types of activities help enrich the education of our students and help them to develop important problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. A good education should also stimulate a child’s imagination and this special project helped our students open their minds to new places and ideas, as well as improving their math and science skills", said Ms McDonald.

Connecting worlds

Through their distance learning programmes, the CLC provides students around the world with the opportunity to practice their mathematics and science abilities by problem solving their way through simulated space missions.

For the students in Kiziba camp, it was also an opportunity to connect with a world far outside their own, and practice skills that few of their peers have a chance to learn. What may have been a normal classroom exercise for students who use a computer on a daily basis was a wholly new experience for these students, many of whom were forced to leave behind even the most basic possessions as they fled their homes.

"The lesson had several benefits for the students. They used new technologies, such as Skype, they had never used before, practiced creative learning techniques, and spoke English with a native speaker", continued McDonald

The use of Skype and other technologies to teach students science and mathematics is part of a joint project between JRS and Wheeling Jesuit University. If more funds were available in the future, JRS would like to offer more refugee students a chance to strengthen their critical thinking skills through creative activities.

JRS has been working in Rwanda since 1995, assisting Congolese refugees living in Kiziba and Gihembe camps through the provision of formal and informal education, as well as providing IT and pastoral services, and other assistance to groups in the most vulnerable circumstances.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 6897 7465