Is learning mathematics a privilege? Unfortunately, yes.

20 April, 2021

Mery Helenn Guardo Rincon and Nena Siomou

In the aftermath of a disaster, a school is often anything but a place for education. It can be a shelter, a food distribution center, or a meeting place for humanitarian actors and community organizations, leaving the typical users of the building – the students – without a place to learn. Children affected by emergencies experience a rapid change in circumstances which can lead to long-term trauma. They may have been displaced, lost family members, or their parents may have been left without a source of income. And on top of that, now their daily routine at school is disrupted.

For refugees in Greece, education is more than learning skills for the future. It’s about integrating into society, now. Many children from refugee communities are registered in the public education system, but despite this, they are often not familiar with basic math concepts or even numbers. One significant factor is the type of classes they attend. Refugee and migrant children are sent to integration classes specific to their needs, aimed to rapidly teach Greek. But this means they’re missing out on other subjects. With extensive bureaucratic requirements, mixed migrant children in Colombia, many of whom arrived in the country recently from Venezuela, are left in a similar situation, often excluded from the mainstream system without much investment in their talents.

How can refugee and migrant children fully integrate without something as simple as good math education?

Over the last six months, IsraAID has been partnering with an Israeli start-up company, Imagine Machine, which developed Mathika, an online mathematics application to help children self-teach. Mathika is part of IsraAID’s joint pilot fund with the Pears Program for Global Innovation. It allows a teacher to track where they are and offer support, while also encouraging the child to move at their own pace, thereby reinforcing lessons that perhaps were lost. Through this program, our teams in Colombia and in Greece were able to boost children’s skills in this critically important subject.

Mathematics shouldn’t be a privilege, but a right.

IsraAID Greece’s integration program involves much more than the Greek language. It addresses the gap between refugee and migrant communities and the local Greek community, the team’s biggest concern being the integration of children as equal members of society. Improving the math knowledge of refugee and migrant children, the Mathika pilot program felt like a gift to these children, another tool to help achieve integration.

Under-educating the children of today is failing to prepare the leaders of tomorrow. The best investment a country can make in its future is in the education for all its inhabitants, but without appropriate skills and training, displaced communities like those in Greece and Colombia are more likely to get stuck in the poverty cycle. Just being told that they can learn and knowing they have the option to challenge themselves can significantly boost children’s self-esteem. IsraAID’s educational frameworks around the globe seek to combat this issue, offering innovative solutions like Mathika.

 

Mery Helenn Guardo Rincon is a Children’s Pedagogy expert in Colombia and Nena Siomou is an After-School Teacher and Math Tutor in Greece.

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