Blogs, commentaries, and reports on education technology (EdTech) topics so often highlight the “rapidly changing” nature of technology. More often than not, this is framed as a challenge or obstacle. There are technologies and EdTech efforts, however, that stand the test of time and continue to be relevant for many years.
The 2015-2017 Project Reconnect is one such effort.
Project Reconnect was a bold and ambitious effort conceived by Google Germany, Google.org, and NetHope in late 2015. The project emerged during a time of crisis, triggered by the dramatic influx of refugees and asylum seekers into Germany. By the end of 2015, the number of new refugees arriving in Germany reached an unprecedented high in the recent history of the nation - nearly 200,000 individuals per month. Originally designed as a one-year initiative, Project Reconnect aimed to help refugees as they rebuild their lives in Germany by facilitating access to online education, language learning, culture learning, and information resources. To achieve this goal, NetHope with Google.org support, made 25,000 Chromebooks available for organizations serving the refugee community in Germany. By the end of the project, which was ultimately extended to August 2017, NetHope had distributed 24,952 Chromebooks Chromebook devices to 50 organizations. These organizations, in turn, made the Chromebooks accessible to refugees at over 1,000 locations across all 16 federal states of Germany, e.g., in education facilities, public libraries, and refugee homes.
The logistical and programmatic effort to launch and manage a grants program of this scale and to deploy 25,000 Chromebook devices all over Germany within this timeframe was tremendous. Grantee organizations and Chromebook locations faced at times almost insurmountable barriers due to gaps in adequate connectivity options, trained personnel, refugee-relevant online content, offline Chromebook functionality, and proven programmatic guidance. Yet, over the course of the project, NetHope, grantee organizations, and participants at the Chromebook locations learned many valuable lessons and gained significant capacity in the deployment of technology, and its programmatic integration with refugee work. A great enabler was the versatility with which Chromebooks enriched the grantee organizations’ refugee work – in education, information, counselling, communication, and leisure activities; as well as provided specific opportunities for women and children, especially unaccompanied minors.
As an emergency intervention, Project Reconnect was neither designed as an education project, nor an employment intervention for refugees. Instead, the project aimed to help refugees as they rebuild their lives by facilitating access to online education and information resources. There is no doubt that Project Reconnect has been able to achieve just that – for thousands of refugees across Germany.
This is the final report for Project Reconnect, written by RTI International and based on data from 50 grantee organization reports, 320 Chromebook location managers, and 304 refugee Chromebook users, highlighting achievements and lessons learned from the program. At a time when crises abound in the world, access to opportunity from anywhere through technology has never been more important. This requires an entire ecosystem of support, and meeting the challenges of hardware distribution and access is just one of them.