British Council and Gaza Sky Geeks
Developing an English communication skills course to support graduates in Palestine in the digital economy.
Freedom of travel and trade are severely restricted across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and even more acutely in Gaza. This means that many young people are unemployed (around 60% of graduates in Gaza as of 2020), even when highly skilled, able and motivated to work. This negatively impacts the individuals, the families they support, and the OPT in general.
The situation has led many to seek freelance employment in the digital economy, or to start up their own online businesses. However, English communicative competence and digital workplace skills are often barriers to this type of work. A further challenge is a lack of skilled online English trainers with a background in digital freelancing.
The British Council team in Palestine set up the @Palestine initiative to address these problems by helping to prepare young Palestinians for the digital workplace. LearnJam won a tender to be involved in a key part of this initiative: developing a course in ‘English for digital freelancers’ and an accompanying train-the-trainer course in collaboration with British Council Palestine and Gaza Sky Geeks, a local tech hub offering English classes to technically skilled graduates.
Through this project, LearnJam’s intention was to:
- Remove barriers to access
- Reduce wealth inequality between Palestine and Israel
- Connect people with opportunities to work and earn
LearnJam aimed to achieve this purpose by:
- Building on and connecting with existing initiatives in the OPT and in particular Gaza
- Improving learners’ communicative competence in English
- Developing learners’ skills needed for the digital workplace
- Developing trainers’ skills at delivering a blended course
Alignment with LearnJam’s purpose
LearnJam exists to:
- Remove barriers of access to education and work
- Support learners who are currently underserved
- Develop skills that we need for the future of humanity, such as more effective communication, empathy and understanding
Individual purpose within the team:
“I am a strong supporter of the Palestinian people and so was proud and excited to be a part of a project that helped provide opportunities and access to education and work. I visited Gaza as part of a different British Council project in 2018 and it was shocking and devastating to see how badly people in Gaza are treated by the occupying forces. Working on this project enabled me to connect with and learn from some really amazing people based in Gaza and Palestine and it is really rewarding to see the impact the course is having in Palestine and beyond.” Jo Sayers, account manager for the project
“Before working on this project, I had a fairly superficial understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I learned more, I felt compelled to take on this work and to support people who are undeservedly marginalised. I strongly believe that where we are born and who we are born to should not determine our fate.” Delphine Phin, project manager and learning designer
“I was amazed at how LearnJam was able to take what I had envisioned and transform it into a full programme with complementary components that went beyond our expectations in content, structure, accessibility and visual design.“
Runna Badwan, English Projects Manager, British Council, Occupied Palestinian Territories
During the research phase, we conducted interviews with British Council, Gaza Sky Geeks, learners, trainers and a potential employer; and reviewed the existing face-to-face course materials, in order to:
- Define project success as (i) participants successfully negotiating and winning digital freelance work in English (ii) the online courses being used by a wider range of participants within the OPT (iii) the online courses being used in the wider MENA region
- Create learner personas – which we revisited throughout development
- Develop key recommendations / principles for the course design
We ran concept workshops to generate lots of course ideas, thinking as well about how to best include local voices, and how to exploit audio and video.
We always recommend building and testing a prototype, so that the final course delivers optimal value to learners and the client. In this project, the prototype helped us to make a major decision – to change the platform! This gave access to a wider range of interactions and allowed us to implement a mobile-first approach, which improved course accessibility (learners could work on asynchronous elements when offline, e.g. if there was a power failure).
Prototype testing also led to the following changes: streamlined content; more scaffolding to meet different learner levels and to support online delivery; and more localisation and cultural sensitivity, to ensure learners could relate.
- We produced both courses in nine weeks, including the platform build and audio-visual assets. This quick turnaround was hugely facilitated by what we learned during the research and prototype stages.
- We were greatly supported by both British Council and Gaza Sky Geeks, and were able to call upon their network of local freelancers and involve some of them in the development process.
- The pilot courses have been well received, generating interest from the wider geographical area. And we have been contracted to do further training in Palestine to support subsequent learners.
“It was a great experience working with LearnJam. They have produced high-quality content to help digital freelancers to communicate in English and improve their skills. The content is well-structured and interactive.“
Mohammed Alfarra – Freelance Program Officer, Gaza Sky Geeks