Scholars Helping Syrian Refugee Students in Lebanon Gain Education through a Mobile App

Mahmoud Kanso, Nour Al-Bidewe, Zainab Al Mohammad, and Eslam Abo Alhawa are Syrian students living in Lebanon who have started a social venture called EduPass, a free-of-charge service to help other Syrian children in Lebanon who have dropped out of school due to an inability to pay school fees.

They were among the top students in their classes in Syria and were performing well, with high hopes for the future like any other children would have for when they finish school, until war broke out in 2012, forcing them to migrate to Lebanon as refugees.

Adapting to the new situation in their host villages in Lebanon created a gap in their education, and though they were enrolled in school after nine months of transition, they did not find it easy to learn in English, as Arabic had been their language of instruction back in Syria.

In August 2016, the four, in their early twenties, enrolled at the American University of Beirut as part of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. Mahmoud, studying civil and environmental engineering; Nour, studying computer science; Zainab, majoring in public administration and minoring in public policy and civil society, citizenship, and the nonprofit sector; and Eslam, is majoring in computer science and minoring in economics.

EduPass will tackle forced dropout, the language barrier, and gap years by creating a mobile application that will help students make up for the missed academic years. Using an entrance exam for all scientific subjects, the application will recognize the student’s actual level in each subject. Each chapter of the offered subjects and levels will include concepts, lessons, practices, and quizzes which the EduPass team will gather from reliable resources and experienced teachers or professors.

“We started EduPass during one of our discussions about the struggles that our fellow Syrian youth have been facing here in Lebanon since their immigration. We started structuring our venture while applying to the Innovate Education competition, which aims to use technology to solve educational problems,” explained Zainab.

In 2019, they applied to the Resolution Social Venture Challenge to receive full mentorship and financial support for their project, and were one of 15 teams chosen.

The Resolution Social Venture Challenge is a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders and change-makers earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.

“For later stages, we will try to contact the Ministry of Education, whether in Lebanon or Syria, to accredit our application and take the levels achieved on EduPass into consideration when placing students in their assigned grades. Our virtual and live assistants will continue to follow up on students’ real progress. We will also organize regular workshops to ensure that knowledge is being properly delivered to the students through the app,” explained Eslam.

The six-month pilot stage will start with 40 students, 20 each from grades 9 and 10. Next, it will benefit 40 students from grades 8 to 11. The EduPass team aims to benefit 100 students within 18 months.

“Two years after launch, we will have a well-designed curriculum for grades 7 to 12 and 150 students using the application. At that stage, EduPass will be open to everyone and we might expand the application to add different curricula for refugees in other countries,” said Mahmoud.

Among the challenges the team anticipates as the venture kicks off is a poor internet connection in some marginalized areas and the length of time it will take for the team to develop the curriculum and source the teachers who will learn how to deliver it. However, the EduPass team sees the Social Venture Challenge award as a great platform that will help them achieve their goal.

“It feels amazing to move from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Winning the SVC is a great opportunity for us to get guidance from experts to implement our project that will help us put smiles on the faces of Syrian refugees. Our message for the youth is that education is your international passport that will take you wherever you want, so keep fighting and never put an end to your learning process,” said Nour.

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