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Crisis Classroom: If you can't go to school, school can come to you. Training communities to deliver quality education in mobile classrooms.

We train volunteer educators to deliver skills & language-based activities to people unable to access quality education.

Photo of Kate McAllister
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What problem does your innovation solve?

We address the issue of access to high quality, context-specific education. We train local people to become educators, turning them into human classrooms; so that if you can't get to school, school can come to you. More than verbs and algebra, our education model focuses on re-building human beings, meeting basic needs and learning skills for life. Through training & mentoring, we prepare our teachers to become responsive, inclusive, safe and creative facilitators focussed on student need.

Explain your innovation.

The Crisis Classroom resources and methodology are the result of combining pedagogy and trauma therapy to create a unique human-centred approach; which sees education as partnership and teacher development as key. Educators become mobile classrooms and take learning to those who cannot access school. We have developed a series of trainings and volunteering opportunities which develop skills and languages, making learning accessible for all those who find themselves outside of formal educational settings. By developing the skill set of the local community and linking them with volunteers who are experts in their field, we are building a global network of trained educators and facilitators who are able to respond to the needs that arise in times of crisis; short term or protracted. Our model of education sees learning as a patchwork rather than a ladder. It is designed in this way so that each individual learning experience develops a new skill, strengthens feelings of well-being and belonging and provides opportunities to practise language and build toward a sustainable future. It is often impossible for students to commit to a course of study for myriad reasons. The Crisis Classroom methodology allows students to learn in family groups, individually and in various contexts. Each individual hexagon leads to another with communication being the thread that links them all; building up a patchwork of skills, knowledge and understanding which prepares them for independence.

Who benefits?

Crisis Classrooms act as a catalyst for communities to respond to and meet their own needs; safe spaces that hatch sustainable, community driven and focussed projects to the benefit of all. Educators and students develop new techniques that enable positive human relationships to flourish & build life-skills that are transferable into further education, training and employment. Teachers identify needs within their communities and respond by developing psychosocially protective, skills and language based learning activities in partnership with other local actors. Our education model focuses on developing skills which enable the successful acquisition of knowledge. Rather than teaching these explicitly, we create inclusive activities which foster these skills; creating resilient, creative, problem-solvers who are capable of working together, building healthy human relationships and actively shaping their own futures. Our success is measured in educators trained and in projects initiated.

How is your innovation unique?

The main reason that projects fall over is because people falter. Through our training and preparation we are creating an agile and responsive network of volunteers who are able to work together to address the educational needs of people in crisis. During our year in Calais we witnessed volunteer burnout, secondary trauma and lack of preparedness; which meant that the quality of educational response was severely compromised and continuity of care was diminished. Our initiative is to create an entire infrastructure to support teachers and the development of small, independent educational projects. Crisis Classrooms are needs-led. When a crisis occurs, volunteers can self-organise, deploy a pop-up school and have a school up in days, not months. We train the local community and refugees themselves to become educators who can maintain, sustain and develop longer term projects, or to pack down without a trace if there is no longer a need, leaving behind only the learning and memories.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We would welcome support with putting systems in place for monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of the model. We know it works, we've lived it for a year and are now expanding our team, but we would like to be able to measure the longer term impact on communities of Crisis Classrooms. How much support is required in different contexts? What is the average cost of setting up a project? What are the common factors in successful projects? What are the common challenges? Are there further trainings that could be put into place to better support projects / educators? We also want to work with technical support for the pop-up classroom, to see what tech could be integrated into the classrooms to support hi-tech, digital learning.

Tell us more about you.

We are Kate McAllister and Darren Abrahams, co-directors of Crisis Classroom CIC. We have now trained over 100 volunteers in the UK. We are visiting Tuscany and Lesvos over the coming months to train more volunteers and develop projects as described. We have received funding from Google to pilot the training/pop-up classroom and are working with project partners in Turkey, Italy, France, Greece, Belgium. We're developing links with UK universities and businesses to recruit more volunteers.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Our pop-up classroom can be deployed in 48 hours to the scene of a crisis. It inflates by battery powered pump in 10 minutes, packs down in 25 and can be linked to other structures to form a 'school'. It fits into the boot of a car or bicycle trailer and can therefore be taken into communities where girls and their families or refugees in crisis situations cannot freely access education. Once the first-responding team has trained locals and created a safe, sustainable 'classroom', it moves on.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

We currently work with the local population in Brighton UK and Sarteano Italy, refugee populations and local volunteers throughout Europe. Because each context needs a unique solution, the pop-up classroom is adaptable to a range of contexts and the training is designed to create independent, equipped, resilient and responsive educators. We will work with refugee adults, youth and children in refugee camps, families in host communities and the wider communities; schools, employers, FE providers.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Google: 6 month pilot funding for pop-up & in the field training Cambridge English: co-creating a MOOC for volunteer educators Brighton & Hove Social Work & Fostering Team Team Up2Teach: MIT Solver team of educators co-creating educational resources for volunteer teachers NGOs in UK and Europe: WorldWideTribe, Techfugees, Brighton City of Sanctuary, Brighton University, Sussex University, MARS, Refugee Youth Service, Hummingbird Project, JCRAG, SB Overseas, Crunch Accounting (local employer)

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

We each have more than 20 years' experience in the field of education. We have worked together piloting the methodology and training in the Calais Jungle since August 2015. Darren has worked globally as a musician and trauma therapist ( and Kate's work with can be seen here We have both worked in UK schools to build self managed learning programmes. We plan to develop a global team.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

We are based in Brighton UK


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Participating in OpenIDEO has shown us our service could support many other global initiatives. Work needs to be done on quality controlled scalability and robust organisational models. Recently returning from Italy we learned the importance of translating/delivering training in the local language and funding a local co-ordinator to manage volunteers and ongoing classes in situ. Function of the pop-up classroom is context specific: important as "third space" for communities to safely meet.

Who will implement this Idea?

Both co-directors are keen to work full time on this. In the short term we need a full time Administrator to support growth with potential to increase team to 5 by end of year - marketing, training co-ordination, accounts. Our vision is for a distributed, network of collaborating Classrooms, managed locally by a franchisee and administered by a small core team based in Brighton UK. We need part time local co-ordinators for each project and a training assistant for each training, preferably from the local refugee community. Partnerships with universities/businesses give access to volunteers.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

1) Logistics - following training the biggest issue preventing teachers from taking action is anxiety about the unknown. Where do I go? Where will I stay? Who will I meet? etc We are putting a full opportunity structure in place to make taking action easy. Up front knowledge is needed to feel safe enough to take the next step. 2) Understanding local contexts - to provide logistical support for individuals we need local knowledge. Staying on top of local regulation/bureaucracy, providing accommodation/transport, having the right structures to operate within different contexts (refugee camps, urban, rural). This takes time and money as local co-ordination needs to be sourced and paid for until each hub can be self sustaining, and a fully functioning part of the wider network.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

We see ourselves as a trainer of teacher/facilitators and an incubator of collaborative education start-ups. Sustainability lies in our paid for training model, provision of resources and members portal. Our aim is to stay small/inexpensive as an organisation, but to grow through a network of Crisis Classroom social franchises. We have 4 main training markets: individuals, universities, corporates, NGOs. As a social enterprise our profits will go back into bursaries for teachers and start up funds for projects. We will use crowdfunding to support teachers. More info in attached Business Plan.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

IMPACT: By 2022 we aim to have empowered a global network of Crisis Classrooms able to respond to local and international need for emergency education, fed by an army of volunteers from universities, corporates and NGOs around the world. QUESTION: How do we maintain quality control over such a large network and assess impact in key areas of educational progress, entrepreneurship and self management without losing flexibility, spontaneity and imposing too much centralised control?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Output: numbers of teachers trained and projects implemented. Outcomes: qualities of self management for both teachers and learners - resilience, skills development, ability to learn, relationship building, adaptability, self regulation. We hope that both learners and teachers will feel empowered to keep expanding their skills. We are working with to adapt a digital self assessment tool already used in UK schools to measure relevant KPIs through a smart phone app.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: Single Hub - build a sustainable model from Brighton supporting core team Design full training programme up to Level 3 Launch Members Platform Create range of physical and digital resources Form partnerships with up to 5 universities, corporates and NGOs Support up to 3 projects in the field Build team and marketing strategy Year 2: Second Hub - pilot processes to duplicate model in another country Year 3: Social Franchise - develop social franchise model and run a training pilot

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Under $50,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 1 and 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
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Attachments (2)

Crisis Classroom Business Plan.pdf

A full overview of Crisis Classroom - vision, mission, organisational structure, services, markets and revenue streams.

Feedback From Crisis Classroom Training.pdf

The results of a feedback survey we sent to people who had taken our training and been active in the field.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate McAllister

Hello Rebecca. Thank you so much for taking the time to look at our initiative. I'm aware of the amazing work that TWB does. We'd absolutely love to have a conversation with you about working together to see how we can support more educational projects in more countries. One of the things we would like to do with the support from the IDEO community is to translate our training into local languages and mother tongue languages so that each country can offer Crisis Classroom training for local volunteer / refugee educators in their own context using volunteers with local expertise. I'm a newbie to the IDEO platform. How do we take the next step? Kindest regards, Kate.

Photo of Rebecca Petras

Greetings Kate,
Your initiative is a very interesting one and is crucial for providing quality education for numbers of children especially minority groups who are not receiving education in their native languages.

I am the Deputy Director in Translators without Borders (TWB); a U.S. non-profit organization that aims to close the language gaps that hinder critical humanitarian efforts worldwide. We recognize that the effectiveness of any aid program depends on delivering information in the language of the affected population. By maintaining a global network of professional translators, we help non-profit organizations overcome communication barriers, increasing access to critical information and services while fostering a climate of understanding, respect and dignity in times of great need. We invite you to learn more about our work through this link. Translators without Borders is a non-profit organization supported entirely through our volunteers, grant funders and generous donors and sponsors.

TWB’s current translation capabilities exceed more than 190 language pairs with over 20000 translators. So far we have translated over 45 million words as part of humanitarian crisis response, and health and education services. We have also provided basic translator training to over 250 trainees in our translator training centre.

Since 2010, Translators without Borders (TWB) has played a crucial role within the humanitarian and development sectors leading on localization and translation of complex and lifesaving information into more than 190 languages, especially for populations in crisis. TWB has contributed to building the capacity of local translators in different parts of the world including in Kenya, Guinea and Greece.

Translators without Borders is expanding its program to support Mother Tongue Education programs. We want to work in collaboration with education providers to overcome the language barriers to mother-tongue education. TWB has the expertise and to:

Translate and adapte educational materials in local language, including training translators in local languages
Support Ministries and education providers to develop materials to support teachers in teaching in mother-tongue languages

We believe that our expertise around language and localization when coupled with your expertise and efforts in Education will expand the outreach to marginalized populations unable to benefit from quality education opportunities. It would be our pleasure to connect with you and learn more from you on your ongoing projects and discuss possible ways of cooperation together.

Photo of Dave Hughes

Hi Kate, this is a great idea! My name is David Hughes and I am the Project Director for the Bendigo Inventor Awards.

Now in our 7th year, the Bendigo Inventor awards have as our focus inventions that address needs in the Emergency Services and Disaster Management space, and we offer a AUD$10,000 prize for the winning entry. The Bendigo Inventor Awards has also created an environment for inventors to obtain support for their ideas by bringing together a coalition of partners with the knowledge, skills and networks to accelerate the progression of ideas from concept through to commercialisation. Major Program Partners include Engineers Australia who are providing technical feedback, KPMG who are offering advice on commercial viability and the path to commercialisation and Red Cross, who are providing their perspective on the relevance of many inventions to disaster relief efforts. Our judging panel also contains representatives from Emergency Management Victoria, who are able to provide similar feedback on the applicability of inventions to the emergency services.

I believe your idea would be a fantastic entry into the awards. Applying is easy and can be done through our website Simply select the category that your invention applies to – ‘Concept’ or ‘Product and Prototype’, and answer some questions about your invention. All judges are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so your idea is protected. Entries close 5pm Friday 29th September 2017 AEST.

I very much look forward to seeing your invention go on to great success, and hope we are able to assist you in enabling that to happen. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch on the phone number above, or via my email at

David Hughes
Project Director
Bendigo Inventor Awards

Photo of Christel

I am so inspired by your idea and love the name. I have a few follow up questions if you don't mind. 1)How long is a pop up school able to sustain itself? 2)How do you get community buy-in for this type of project? 3) Are the lessons government approved? 4) Are you equipped to work in conflict zones?

Photo of Kate McAllister

Hi Christel
Thanks for your message! I'll do my best to reply.
1) How long is a pop up school able to sustain itself? We don't know as we have only just started trialling our prototype, but the structure itself has a shelf life of about 10 years and is easily repaired if something is damaged.
2) Community buy-in? We are currently working through local partners who have strong connections in the community. Our model is to train locals but to augment their work with trained volunteers from other locations. Once you've trained with Crisis Classroom you can volunteer in any partner project, so there is the potential of fresh expertise from around the world coming in to any local area. Classes are open to anyone, so we would expect to see locals taking advantage of these opportunities too. This model also ensures that the local economy benefits from volunteers staying in local guest houses, eating in local restaurants, etc
3) Are the lessons government approved? Not at the moment. We are not teaching an academic curriculum, but rather through skills based activities. We are looking at ways of evaluating the efficacy of our lessons and of gaining university certification for our training, but the point of our lessons is to build relationships and support pathways into further education and employment, so we are not trying to replace formal government sanctioned courses. The misunderstanding is that we are building a set curriculum of activities, and this is not the case.
4) Are we equipped to work in conflict zones? Not specifically. Our model has been built in European camps and other environments where refugees and migrants are settling, so the context of our work has been in stable countries. But this does not mean the model could not be adapted for conflict zones. The principles of the way we teach would be the same... it would be up to the individual educators to decide where they do that. We would need to know more about the safety implications of entering zones of conflict to be able to design for this situation. Our lessons are not dependent on the pop-up classroom - our basic unit of education is a teacher with a backpack, so wherever a trained teacher can go, Crisis Classroom can follow.
I hope that helps. Please let me know if I can be more helpful.
Darren (co-founder Crisis Classroom)

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Love the concept. "We train the local community and refugees themselves to become educators who can maintain, sustain and develop longer term projects, or to pack down without a trace if there is no longer a need, leaving behind only the learning and memories."
Good luck, folks!

Photo of Kate McAllister

Hi Mitul, Thank you so much for the message and for your good luck wishes. So kind!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Kate thanks for jumping into the Challenge! It'd be helpful to learn a bit more about how this idea would work by adding more content to the Full Description part of your post. To update your post, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to your Full Description field. Then click Save after you're done updating! Let us know if you have any questions.

Excited to learn more about your idea!