A Swinburne University of Technology lecturer, Dr Ashir Ahmed, is using learning from his pioneering ‘Digital School in a Van’ initiative to change women’s lives in Dandenong, Victoria.
Background of the Initiative
- Since the late 1990s, hundreds of members from the Hazara community have fled violence in Afghanistan and migrated to south-east Victoria.
- For the most part, children go to school and husbands to work, often leaving mothers and wives at home and experiencing a dramatic social and digital gulf.
- The lecturer teamed up with a not-for-profit organisation working with refugee communities.
- He has applied his learnings from ‘outback’ Pakistan to help guide a group of 24 Dandenong-based women into the digital age, many who never had a formal education.
Digital School in a Van
“The ‘Digital School in a Van’ was piloted in December 2018.
It took contemporary Australian educational approaches and computer technology to the most isolated of communities in the Pakistani countryside.
It was while the team was working with female orphans when it occurred to the lecturer that there were groups just as isolated at home.
In Pakistan, the key learning was that digital technology is now intuitive.
If fear of the new is broken down and education is provided in a culturally appropriate and fun manner, dramatic educational outcomes can be unlocked.
Digital Education Course for Hazara women
- The digital education course was created by working with the CEO of the not-for-profit organisation and members of the University’s Winter Impact Scholar program, where scholars lend their expertise towards social good.
- It was culturally very important that a female gave the instruction and that the males involved understood social distancing cultural requirements in order to create an educational opportunity for this otherwise isolated group of people.
- They, therefore, appointed a professional to translate English to Persian (Farsi).
- It is clear the outcome of this initiative will be significant. These women live in digitally-equipped households, where mobile phones and laptops abound. However, they were excluded.
- Their level of enthusiasm for this knowledge is incredible. It will improve their lives in Australia as well as help breach the generation gap within their families.
- To see intelligent and competent people realise the power of digital communication and its necessity in society is really exciting for everyone.
- The University’s Digital School in a Van’ initiative will return to Pakistan during the Australian summer.
- In the meantime, however, they will be working with the Hazara community in Dandenong.
- Hopefully, while doing so, they will gain further insights that will increase the impact when the van returns.