UNICEF Pi Project to Educate Syrian Children in Lebanon

Ben: here’s a guest post from one of our great community members, Alex Eames, who’s providing his Kickstarter-funded HDMIPi screens to a UNICEF education project in Lebanon.

At the end of December 2013 James Cranwell-Ward (@jcranwellward) a Technologist working for UNICEF Lebanon emailed us about HDMIPi. In case you don’t know, HDMIPi is a 9″ low cost, High Definition (1280×800) HDMI screen for the Raspberry Pi, which was crowdfunded on KickStarter in November 2013.

James was only going to be in the UK for another couple of days and wanted to talk to us about our screen. It looked like exactly what he needed for a large Raspberry Pi based project to help educate displaced Syrian children in Lebanon.

The idea is to have a low-cost computer, containing educational materials, such as Khan Academy Lite, to help get these Syrian children, whose lives have been so drastically disrupted, back into learning.

James is a technologist in the Innovation section of UNICEF, where they use private sector knowledge to assist UNICEF with their projects. He had a couple of Raspberry Pis on his desk and one day his boss walked by and asked about them. James gave a demo and a plan was hatched. But they needed an inexpensive screen. That’s where HDMIPi came in, freshly out of crowd-funding.

At the time, we had our two KickStarter prototypes and just one other working screen, which we gave him (uncased) when Dave Mellor (@Cyntech1) went to meet him in London. He took it back off to Beiruit and made an initial prototype, which he blogged about in February.

Fast forward a couple of months and James is getting ready for a large Raspberry Jam to kick off the Raspberry Pi for Learning (Pi4L) project. He needed 50 units, but we’re not quite into production yet because we’re implementing several new Pi-specific features on the driver board. So our supplier found us a similar but different (more expensive 10″) option that could meet the interim need. But could we handle the case too? Eek!

Dave scooted off up the M1 to the Pirates of Pimoroni in Sheffield and spent a day with Paul, Jon and Rory cooking up this lovely design, with integral stand and the Pi hangs on the back…

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HDMIPi UNICEF edition prototype 2

Jon then worked double-time at the weekend to get these laser cut (big thanks and much kudos). Paul took a couple with him to the San Francisco Maker Faire last week. He said they generated a lot of interest.

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Nice colours

Over the summer, the plan is that the Pi4L project will go into refugee camps for a pilot test. I’ll let James describe it…

What I am most excited about going forward is a new project which will see the launch of an e-learning initiative in refugee camps, which will be piloted for 3 months this summer. It’s untapped ground and it will be really interesting to see what e-learning can do in a context where schools are drastically overrun and there are just not enough school places for children.

The e-learning programme consists of 3-4 courses delivered on a new cheap computer called a Raspberry Pi. There will be basic literacy, numeracy and science, content based on Khan Academy produced by the Foundation for Learning Equality. We are also going to run a programme called ‘learning to code and coding to learn’. Children will be able to explore how to make games whilst also learning about their rights as a child. It’s a learning activity and it is also fun. There will be another course for teachers, so they can support the children as they start using these tools.

In every location the summer school is running – from schools to refugee camps, we are going to leave the lab in place once the summer school is over so it will be a permanent installation. This will mean that beyond the summer programme children can continue to learn and develop using these tools.

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Integral stand

We are very excited and delighted to be able to be involved in a project that could actually “make a difference” for large numbers of children. Who would have thought, when we started the HDMIPi project a year ago (I’ve just renewed the domain) that a small, portable, inexpensive screen for the Raspberry Pi might find its way into a UNICEF project like this? But now I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see lots of ‘developing country’ projects involving the Raspberry Pi in the next couple of years. It’s a very good fit.

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Round the back

The 9″ HDMIPi should be in production soon. We hope to ship KickStarter rewards towards the end of June. We’d like to emphasise, to those who backed HDMIPi on KickStarter, that this UNICEF project has not and will not delay fulfilment of their rewards. To pre-empt the question, as I will be away on holiday when this article goes live, the case shown here in the UNICEF prototypes is different from the standard HDMIPi case. But, no doubt, if there is demand, alternative case(s) will spring up in due course.