Providing Learning Opportunities to Refugee and Migrant Children during the Pandemic

The number of internally displaced children, refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers has grown dramatically and is only set to increase in the face of new and protracted conflicts. For migrant and refugee children who arrive in Greece, getting back to education can be a challenge. They might have gone through a traumatic voyage with their families, while most of them do not speak Greek or even English.

To help these children access learning opportunities, ELIX, a Greek organization promoting volunteerism in Greece, is implementing The non-formal education programme, titled “All Children in Education”, in Attica and Peloponnese since September 2021 with support and funding from UNICEF. It is the continuation of the successful “Learning for Integration Project: Quality Learning and Non-Formal Education for Refugees and Migrant Children in Greece”, which was implemented from March 2019 to August 2021 in Greece, supported by UNICEF, IOM and DG HOME and benefited refugee and migrant children, aged 3-17, and their parents. The aim of those programmes is to ensure that all school-age refugee and migrant children (4-17 years old) find a pathway to Greek formal education and to support and facilitate their smooth access to Greek schools and continuous attendance. The programme “All Children in Education” is implemented in ELIX Homework and Creative Activities Centres in Patision 20-22 Str, Elaionas and Korinthos Refugee Camps and in the wider Peloponnese geographic region.

“In the beginning, ELIX was implementing programs to promote volunteerism in Greece. Later, in 2015, with the first refugee flows in the country, the organization turned to non-formal education (in cooperation with UNICEF and the Refugee Trauma Initiative), which support us in the implementation of educational programs,” said Marianna Liakou, an educator working in ELIX.

“The aim of the program is to support children in their participation in formal education, and the basic core of the courses we offer are Greek, English and Mathematics to children 3-18 years old. However, we had the opportunity to provide courses for both adults and preschool children, mainly focused on their psychosocial support and support to cope with trauma or any psychological difficulties they face.”

Moving to digital learning during the pandemic

During the pandemic, ELIX switched partially to remote work. This was a time to rethink the way they offer their work and come up with new ideas and digital tools to continue offering their learning programmes. Of course, their endeavor to move to digital learning was not easy at all, given the fact that refugee camps lack internet access.

“In the refugee camp of Elaionas, where I work, unfortunately there was not the possibility of access to the Internet, so the provision of distance or online courses was quite difficult. So, we turned to other tools. We had a physical presence at the camp three times a week, and we were giving children homework packs, including podcasts and QR codes. Each paper had a QR code that the kids could connect to in order to hear the recorded instructions from the teacher,” Marianna explains.

Besides podcasts, ELIX also created audio-visual material; storytelling videos, narratives of conversations, etc., mainly targeting younger ages but also used by older children. “Overall, videos are more enjoyable for children to watch,” Marianna notes. “We generally tried to get the most out of digital tools. We formed a Facebook group that connected a lot of our students and parents. This is where we uploaded updates for both new measures and educational activities, videos, or announced the days we would visit the camp to share educational material.”

ELIX also used WhatsApp, while working from home. “We formed WhatsApp groups, based on the age of the children, in order to inform parents about our actions and keep open a communication channel while we were not at camp,” Marianna says.

When Webex platform was initiated in schools, and as part of ELIX’s aim to support children’s formal education, the organization provided internet to the camp, so that children could attend online courses and connect with both their classmates and teachers.

Moreover, Refugee Trauma Initiative, who is partnering with ELIX, created a blog where material from psychotherapists and program facilitators was published, containing suggested movement, relaxation, mindfulness and storytelling activities that parents could do with their children. Another important tool that ELIX used with the support of Refugee Trauma Initiative was the “Community Supporters,” a group of people from the community who worked with ELIX in order to retain communication with the refugee and migrant communities during the pandemic, and inform them about asylum and ID procedures, how they can make the necessary appointments, get the right papers, etc.

A new Covid-19 response programme

Apart from the aforementioned activities, ELIX created a new programme to ensure continuous learning and access to distant learning opportunities for refugee and asylum-seeking children, youth and adolescents in Greece. The programme was implemented with the support of UNICEF, Education Cannot Wait and Theirworld.

The programme has distributed 11,000 backpacks and self-learning booklets to children and young people. The self-learning booklets are useful guides and valuable tools for parents to support their children to learn the basics of their native language and develop basic communication in Greek. The programme developed learnia.gr with self-learning material for Greek, English and Numeracy with translation in Arabic, Farsi, French and Kurdish.

“A new tool, that we created when the pandemic broke out and was covid response, was Learnia, an educational platform with audiovisual material made by ELIX’s teachers and translated into Greek, English and in the children’s native languages,” Marianna says.

Another tool that ELIX used and tried to promote even more during the pandemic is Akelius; a digital language learning platform, as part of the blended language learning approach that combines online and face-to-face learning. “It’s a tool that we used in our pre-pandemic classes. The kids were using tablets, in collaboration with the teachers, during the classes. However, since it’s also available in an offline version, it was a tool that could be used on the camp as well, breaking the Internet access barrier,” Marianna adds.

Overcoming the obstacles

According to Marianna, the lack of internet access for most children was the greatest obstacle ELIX had to overcome in order to continue offering learning opportunities. But the very first obstacle was “ourselves,” she says. “We first had to adapt ourselves to these new circumstances in order to be able to communicate them to both children and the wider population in the camp,” she explains.

“At first it seemed very difficult, almost impossible, to get there in some way, either physically or digitally.” But it turned out that the great desire of children to continue their education during Covid was ELIX’s motivation to continue its work. It proved that the opportunity given to these children to participate in the learning programmes throughout the pandemic and the lockdowns helped them after all to continue their education and perform even better in school. This is the greatest reward a teacher could ask for.

A few words about ELIX

ELIX was founded in 1987 as an initiative of Ms. Eleni Gazi, ex-Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, aiming at promoting volunteerism in Greece through organized forms of voluntary work. Since the founding of the organization, hundreds of volunteer work programs have been organized by ELIX in several locations across Greece, focusing – among other – on the protection of the environment, the preservation of cultural heritage and the promotion of social cohesion.

Every year, hundreds of young people from all over Greece have the opportunity to enjoy the great experiences of volunteering by participating in one of the many volunteering work and educational projects that ELIX offers abroad, while at the same time over 150 volunteers from abroad participate in the respective programs of ELIX in Greece.

Thanks to these volunteers’ contribution, ELIX implements a number of social programs, which aim at supporting socially vulnerable groups, such as the “Summer in the City” and the “This Summer is Ours” projects,

Besides the valuable contribution of hundreds of volunteers, ELIX collaborates with a number of specialized professionals in order to implement successfully its actions and other projects such as “Learning for Integration” and “All Children in Education” and to ensure the high level of its programs.

You can find more information about ELIX in the organization’s website: