"I have always loved education," says 19-year-old Amani, as she clutches a smartphone, scrolling casually through the Learning Passport mobile app.
For almost a decade, the road to a successful education has not been easy for Amani. Her family fled violent conflict in Syria, arriving in Jordan's Azraq refugee camp when she was 10. Growing up in a cramped tent with nine family members, Amani was encouraged by friends and family to drop out of school and marry at a young age. But Amani has always been steadfast in her desire to receive an education.
"When someone asks me why I didn't get married as young as my sisters, my answer is always the same: I have too much to achieve in my life to do that!" Amani exclaims. "My sister has five children, and she is only 18 years old; it is a lot of responsibility for a young girl."
When someone asks me why I didn't get married as young as my sisters, my answer is always the same: I have too much to achieve in my life to do that! — Amani, 19
Education remains a strong protective factor against child marriage, particularly for girls. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. They face worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which impacts the outcomes of their own children, further straining a country's capacity to provide quality health and education services.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 million girls were expected to marry before the age of 18 over the next decade. Now, up to 10 million more girls are at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.
The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on students who already faced barriers to education
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Jordan, schools and other education centers were closed to protect the population. Learning switched from in-person in the classroom to remote online. For many students, like Amani, the change was difficult at first.
"It wasn't easy, as teachers were not there in person to help me catch up," says Amani. "They'd record videos of themselves explaining the lessons to send to us, but it would take almost a day to download the videos, as the phone I was using was old and the internet connection was poor."
Through an initative aimed at encouraging high school graduates to continue their education, UNICEF provided Amani with a new smartphone that had a larger capacity to download videos and a strong 4G connection.
The phone gave her access to UNICEF's Learning Passport, a platform designed through a partnership between UNICEF, Microsoft and the University of Cambridge to help displaced and refugee children and young people continue their education through digital remote learning. The platform also provides content that focuses on girls and issues of gender equity, looking at, for example, gender equality in STEM, preventing gender-based violence and comprehensive sex education.
The Learning Passport provides key resources to help young people continue their education
With hard work and determination, Amani graduated from high school with high marks. Equipped with her new phone, Amani now takes the time to help her younger siblings with extra learning through the platform. "The Learning Passport has helped me and my siblings greatly," she says. "Because without in-person learning, we all needed that extra support to understand some of the more difficult subjects.
"My siblings benefited so much from the Englilsh courses on the platform because they didn't have any knowledge of English before," Amani explains. "The digital literacy program, meanwhile, improved their knowledge of technology and computers.
"It made a big difference for my siblings, and they started catching up on their learning. This platform has changed everything for us." Beyond the valuable content, Amani found the Learning Passport's design and functionality appealing: "It was designed in such a friendly, understandable way for anyone to use and understand."
[The Learning Passport] made a big difference for my siblings, and they started catching up on their learning. This platform has changed everything for us.
The new phone has had another advantage: consistent internet connectivity allowed Amani to learn about further education application procedures with delays. As a result, she was able to enroll in a university where she is already in her second year of studying for a degree as a nurse.
"I hope that the Learning Passport evolves as it is a great platform," says Amani. "I'd love it to include more courses relevant to health care, such as medical terminology and first aid. This would help me immensely at university."
Thanks to enhanced digital learning platforms like the Learning Passport, girls and young women like Amani can not only unlock extra courses to improve their school results, but also unlock their right to education and a pathway to a more fulfilling future.
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Top photo: At a youth center in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, home to more than 37,000 Syrian refugees, 19-year-old Amani accesses remote learning resources via the Learning Passport mobile app on a smart phone she received from UNICEF. © UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021