Why do we teach 21st-century skills to Stateless Children?
The school is a small but enchanting wooden structure in the middle of nowhere. There’s just one muddy and bumpy dirt road that leads there, and the school is surrounded by wilderness on one side and a river on the other. You would never guess that it’s actually on the edge of a village, as it seems to be almost hidden away.
From inside the classroom, a teacher teaches enthusiastically. “Who is your grandma?!” the teacher shouts. “GOOGLE!” the students shout back. He continues, “and who is your grandpa?!”. “FACEBOOK!”.
It seems like a strange conversation to have with these young students in a school that does not even have electricity. Even more so once I tell you that these students are all stateless.
We’re in Sabah, a state in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. This state has the highest rate of statelessness in the country, and about 50% of them are youths below the age of 21. The exact numbers are unclear, but we’re talking tens of thousands of children.
The situation of statelessness is a complex issue and policy makers, international and local NGOs, and community groups have been discussion and dealing with the situation for years. UNICEF is one of those groups, who is especially concerned with the rights of the children.
While the conversation continues on policy level, they contacted us a few months ago to go and teach vocational skills to some of these youths. Fast-forward to today, and we have began piloting a Digital Literacy programme with these youth.
What kind of skills would you want to learn if you were stateless? Keep in mind, the chances are quite small that you will manage to solve your problem; to be recognised as a legitimate citizen and be able to get a real job. So you need something practical that you can use right away to earn an income, something that you can use fairly independently.
So how about digital skills? All you need is a laptop, tablet or a phone. And what do all the youths have? Phones. Even if their own phones are not great, it is still possible for everyone to gain access to a good phone or laptop. They all have social media accounts and they all watch youtube. This is an opportunity for us to turn their use of their devices around; from consuming content to generating content.
What digital skills are useful? So far, we have taught them how to register a google account and how to use the apps on google drive (cloud computing). We’ve also taught them about the business that is done using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. We’ve taught them how to create quality content, how to tell a story, and how to target it to the right audience. The students are learning how to do graphic design on Canva, and are editing their videos using an app. Only 1,5 months ago they had never used a touchpad or a physical keyboard before, and now they are shooting away with shortcuts and navigating multiple tabs.
In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be teaching them how to create a website and how to run a crowdfunding campaign. By the end, we hope that they will have raised enough funds to upgrade their school and get themselves some laptops. All of this within a 100-hour course.
Another advantage of teaching digital literacy is that once you have the basics, you open up to an entire universe of self-study. We’ve taught the students how to get answers from Google and Youtube, and even given them access to more dedicated learning portals such as Google Classroom. Once you know how to use such resources, the world is your oyster!
The thing is, you don’t need an IC to create an account. You just need to be human. In that sense, the internet does not discriminate. Apps and websites don’t care much if or where you hold citizenship. Therefore, isn’t digital literacy the most empowering skill to have? It goes beyond the red tape and enables the user to be a modern-day individual, with access to information and knowledge. It allows her to self-learn, become more skilled and turn that skill into an income.
So what if a kid walks into a car servicing workshop and tells the boss that he can create targeted ads to reach out to potential customers in the area? What if another can help a beauty salon to digitise their customer records and create a basic accounting sheet? What if a young lady can help to raise funds to renovate the local community’s house of prayer? All that these students need is digital literacy and a bit of confidence, and they’ll be rocking the show.