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How EdTech plus teachers are breaking down language barriers for refugee and migrant children in Greece

Digital language course substantially improves students’ language skills
04 Dec 2020


(9 December 2020) Worldwide, an estimated 13 million children are refugees and 19 million children are displaced within their own countries. As of early 2020, around 42,500 refugee and migrant children resided in Greece alone. For many of these children, learning remains out of reach due, in large part, to a lack of knowledge of the host country’s language. As teachers navigate teaching children from various linguistic and academic backgrounds in the same classroom, education technology (EdTech) helps break down this barrier by personalizing learning so each child can learn at their own pace.

The Greek Unlocking Learning Digital Language Learning Course is one such example. The course uses a ‘blended learning’ approach, where the digital element complements traditional face-to-face teaching. The course was co-created by the Akelius Foundation, UNICEF, their implementing partners, and Greek as a Second Language (GSL) teachers. While Unlocking Learning uses a blended learning approach, it can be adapted for remote learning, which has become a priority due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New research by UNICEF Innocenti, Unlocking Learning: The Co-creation and Effectiveness of a Digital Language Learning Course for Refugees and Migrants in Greece, investigates the development, implementation and effectiveness of the course.


“This report illustrates what UNICEF is doing through Reimagine Education: using technology to tackle the learning crisis with the help of innovative private sector partnerships. And we are doing this in challenging settings, supporting girls, refugees, and migrants with no easy access to connectivity,” says Robert Jenkins, UNICEF’s Chief of Education. “This report’s findings and recommendations not only generate evidence on how the Unlocking Learning digital course improves learning outcomes, but it also provides key lessons on how to create and implement EdTech solutions that support teachers and work for vulnerable children. These lessons can be used by the education community to ensure the most in need are not left out as governments around the world invest in digital and blended learning approaches.”

What impact does the Unlocking Learning digital language course have on learning?

The digital course increases in students’ language skills, ranging from 8% and 9% in listening and reading, to 25% and 34% improvements in speaking and writing skills respectively. What’s more, use of the digital language course in classes increases students’ confidence, improves attendance, and decreases drop out. The interactive nature of the course with games and instant feedback increases engagement in the learning process and promotes mutual support amongst students. The personalized ‘blended learning’ approach benefits students, especially those at lower learning levels. By splitting the class into learning groups, teachers can provide tailored attention to certain students, while others work independently.

Beyond Greece, the Unlocking Learning course is also implemented in Lebanon, Mauritania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Serbia with plans to expand to additional countries and languages.

Lessons on implementing EdTech

  • Think low connectivity first: When designing EdTech for the most marginalized, it must work effectively in low connectivity settings. In Greece, by making the course usable offline, it expanded rapidly to refugee camps and accommodations with poor connectivity. The right balance must be struck between high quality interactive content and optimizing applications for low connectivity.
  • Teacher training is essential: While Unlocking Learning helped teachers structure their lessons, integrating it into their teaching was initially a challenge. Given the high teacher turnover, especially in humanitarian settings, an online training and a guidance manual on how to integrate the technology within lessons helps ensure EdTech is continuously used effectively.
  • Continuously improve through in-built monitoring and research: With each new version of the digital course, teachers reported higher rates of satisfaction and increased use in their classes. Monitoring these changes is essential to understanding “what works” and the “how to”.
  • More lessons to be learnt: Further research on Unlocking Learning is needed to continue informing its development, including: sustainability of effects of digital learning over time, different use cases for digital learning (e.g. remote learning during COVID-19), and how co-creation adapts as the course expands to new languages and contexts.


Read the report Unlocking Learning: The Co-creation and Effectiveness of a Digital Language Learning Course for Refugees and Migrants in Greece. Discover all our research on Education.