“We were enormously delighted by this project. I think the most important thing is that [students] get passionate about something they can turn into an initiative.”

Four students have set up Heart ELT School in a refugee camp near the Iraqi city of Dohuk, the first of its kind within this camp. Having met through an online course run by the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada – the world’s first online course specifically designed for group learning (also known as GROOC) –  the students from Morocco, the United Kingdom, Iraq and Canada established the Heart ELT (English Language Teaching) School. 

The aim of Heart ELT School is to help educate Syrian children who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing war and resulting refugee crisis. Roughly 100 children from the camp attend the school, despite the classroom having a maximum capacity of 45 people.

UK teacher Julie Pratten, one of the four students involved in the project, described it as “one of the most rewarding things” she has done professionally. Alongside fellow student and Iraqi refugee Khaniwar Ali, Julie joined the ‘Social Learning for Social Impact’ course with the intention to set up a school in the camp. It was through the course that she found other like minded students who wanted to help children affected by the refugee crisis.

Over seven fortnightly sessions, the students learnt at Heart ELT School learn how to create, design, scale, fund and evaluate a social initiative like the Heart ELT School. The range of topics helped make it possible for the team to successfully crowdfund to set up the Heart ELT mobile classroom and furnish it with school supplies.

Co-creator of the ‘Social Learning for Social Impact’ course, Leslie Breitner, said:

“We were enormously delighted by this project. I think the most important thing is that the GROOC participants get passionate about something they can turn into an initiative and that they commit to working with others for a specified period of time.”

Leslie went on to talk about how important opportunities like those offered through this online course are. She explained that one of the course co-creators, Henry Mintzberg, encouraged them to focus on the social learning aspect of their teaching.

Leslie said: “The only way to even hope to get there is to stimulate the type of initiatives that are developed in our GROOC. We hope they are sustainable and that passion will help to develop them further. We are now working on GROOC 2.0 and hope to announce soon the next opportunity to participate in this type of learning.”

The team responsible for the Heart ELT School is now working on creating mobile safe learning spaces in other refugee camps. When asked about this, Julie Pratten said:

“I actually want to get Internet into camps. This would enable children and adults to access a host of educational platforms, as well as making ‘open’ internet sessions possible. First we need to create a toolkit of materials and skills that we can share with potential school facilitators in the camps.”

Every aspect of this project will be crowdsourced, which means that a large number of people will be volunteering their time and skills to help create this toolkit for the Heart ELT project. This includes writing, editing and illustrating materials, as well as promoting, distributing and selling them. Work is already underway.

Julie told the IPF about the progress they have made so far: “We already have enough contributions for two ELT books and we are planning a third book of stories, fables and poems for general release. The poet Brian Bilston has written a poem especially for us and donated it to the project. Caroline Lucas, a Member of Parliament in the UK, has kindly agreed to write the foreword. We are now looking for celebrity endorsements as well as support from universities, publishers and corporates, not forgetting the Press.”

Julie said that there are a number of opportunities for people to get involved with the work being done at the Heart ELT School, as well as their upcoming projects. Alongside needing donations through their crowdfunding page, the school is also looking for volunteers who have experience with web design, application development, and creating video games. Julie and her team are also looking for help from universities to develop a toolkit.

To find out more visit the Facebook pages for Heart ELT School and Syrian Children Speak Out. To collaborate on the upcoming project, “The A-Z of Hope”, join the Heart ELT Publishing group on Facebook.

 You can also help further by making a financial pledge or placing a pre-publication order on the book, for which you will receive a 30% discount.