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Koulu School – Everyone has something to teach

Transforming refugee youth into peer teachers to support quality education in classroom and to create learning opportunities outside it.

Photo of Outi Kuittinen

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Koulu School addresses two problems: scarcity of education resources in emergencies, and young people’s frustration and disempowerment facing lack of opportunities to learn and to contribute to the community (No Lost Generation, Although education is the fourth pillar of humanitarian response, resources for organising it can be scarce leading to short school days, large groups, and overwhelmed teacher resources.(UNHCR,

Explain your innovation.

Koulu School is a tested peer-to-peer teaching model for youth that consists of skill discovery and learning the basic pedagogical skills for turning these skills into an engaging lesson. It engages youth to support the delivery of quality education, creates opportunities for civic engagement, and strengthens psychosocial well-being. It can be utilized to support formal education and to create after school activities. In its core is a simple method of training basic teaching skills to anyone,based on Finnish education expertise. The training lasts a few hours a day over a few days. In the end,new peer teachers teach their lessons to the community members. (See attachments.) The pilots have been praised both by youth and teachers. The model also includes Training of Trainers and Impact Measurement (See UX Map). The aimed impact is to: 1) Ensure quality learning: Through learning to teach a lesson, youth take more responsibility for their own as well as the shared learning in classroom. This brings in the resources of the community to support the burdened teachers. 2) Strengthen psychosocial wellbeing: Teaching and supporting their peers is an opportunity for youth to contribute positively to the community. This instills dignity, sense of normalcy and joy. The skill discovery in peer teacher training also enables creating study and hobby groups outside formal school led by youth. Encouraged by the first tests in EiE context we want to design a service that scales

Who benefits?

Koulu School is first targeted towards empowering the displaced youth in refugee situations. Our target group is adolescents between 15 to 24 years living in Jordan and in Greece, as this age group is critical but seriously unaddressed. Currently, the number of refugees and migrants is 691800 and 48800 respectively. Of these, approximately 30% are in our target group. The concept is targeted to all genders, however, in our pilots, girls have been particularly excited and empowered by it. To enable the peer-teaching model to root, we will provide training also for teachers, for them to learn to harness the capabilities of students in supporting their peers in the classroom. In EiE context, three pilots (2-4 days / each) have been implemented in Nepal, Greece and Jordan, reaching 250 young people and 40 teachers or trainers.Through the current operations of FCA and its partners,10 000 people can be reached. If spread to be used in its networks, the scale can reach tens of thousands.

How is your innovation unique?

Based on our benchmarking of other models and our hands-on experiences, strengths of Koulu School are: - brings (Finnish) state-of-the-art pedagogical theory to practice in fragile contexts - a method for teaching that is research-based but easy for anyone to adopt - requires very little infrastructure and is quick to implement - based strongly on youth’s own agency and ownership: everyone finds something to teach and in the trainings the curriculum is truly co-created, without pre-determining what is worth sharing or not It might not be unique to Koulu but we need to mention that the magic of peer-to-peer teaching – the joy, the empowerment, hope and courage it brings about in people – astonishes us every time and is ought to be harnessed for true impact. Also, our advantages are that we have potential to great scale, not only through FCA’s own operations but its partners, and to great depth through the active research component by Demos Helsinki and Aalto University.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

-Service design and sustainability model: -- Who are the most suitable organizers who roll out Koulu School in the field? What do they need to be able use it and adapt it independently, sustainably and frequently so that it really can improve learning outcomes and psychosocial well-being? How to ensure support and quality in scale? -- The method needs “a language” that is intuitive and motivating to the youth target group -How to measure impact on learning outcomes and psychosocial wellbeing in a meaningful and rigorous way in the long run?

Tell us more about you.

Our consortium combines humanitarian, innovation and research expertise. Think tank Demos Helsinki (lead of concept development) specializes in innovation in Democracy & Capabilities. Its expertise is co-creation, foresight and youth participation. Finn Church Aid (FCA), Finland’s 2nd largest NGO in humanitarian assistance, has implementation and scaling networks and expertise in contextualizing educational solutions to fragile situations. Aalto University brings in rigorous research expertise.

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

  • Natural disaster
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

The first implementation setting is prolonged displacement by war in Middle East and Europe. Greece and Jordan host more than 740 000 refugees of which approximately 30 % are adolescents between 15 to 24 years. They reside in urban host communities and refugee camps. As Koulu requires very little infrastructure, after concept development, it can be utilized as a rapid response tool right after e.g. natural disasters to provide uninterrupted learning while formal schooling is being set up.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

In the first phase, the locations for implementation of the model are host communities and refugee camps in Jordan and Greece. In order to effectively implement the model in these contexts, we need to test and develop a model of sustainable dissemination and scaling. Further potential areas for scaling are East Africa and South East Asia.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

From the team, FCA has country and field offices in Jordan (since 2011) and Greece (since 2016). It has relations to local government officials in education. In both countries it has a partner network of local NGOs and CBOs, about 20 altogether. FCA is also part of the Global Education Cluster and Inter-Agency Network of Education in Emergencies.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Demos Helsinki has developed many participatory education concepts including the original Koulu School in 2012 and applied it in various contexts. It has run the Koulu's EiE pilots with FCA. FCA operates in fragile contexts in 15 countries. Its priorities include Right to Quality Education and it develops local capabilities and community-based responses in education. Aalto University has research and practical experience in education export to radically different contexts,such as North Korea

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

The organisations of the team are registered in Finland, FCA having country and field offices in the project area: Middle East (Jordan) and Greece.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Based on expert and user feedback and our prototyping experiences we will -weave into the model the continuum from peer teacher training to use in classrooms by formal teachers and to organising of learning activities by youth themselves -highlight it as a tool of community-based psychosocial support as well as including training on the issue in the Training of the Koulu School Trainers -alter time structure of the Peer Teacher training -put strong effort on developing impact measurement

Who will implement this Idea?

The different roles in the partnership: Demos Helsinki: Service design, methodology, implementation (e.g. Training the Trainers), open source dispo, fundraising, impact measurement FCA: Context and psycho-social expertise, implementation in the operations, scaling channels, EiE partnerships, fundraising Aalto University: Research,impact measurement We will first concentrate on Middle East. The staff supporting would be in Finland and Jordan, where the country office for the Mid East is located. There would be approx. 8 of staff supporting the idea in the first year of which one full time

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) Lack of opportunity to education, employment, meaningful activity, self-development and agency, inadequate safety, health care, recreation and housing 2) War, refugee and integration policies, restrictions by local governments and international community, stripping of agency of refugees themselves, complexity and discontinuity of aid funding and thus educational and other activities, unstabilizing the opportunity for sense of stability and normalcy in the lives of refugee children and youth > Thus building solutions based on the capacity and capabilities of the refugee community itself is utterly important.

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

FCA operates in 15 fragile countries with country offices in 10 countries with local staff, including educational experts, supported by the Finland HQ. It funds its operations through 4 major sources: int’l aid funding, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Finnish Lutheran Church and individuals. Demos Helsinki is project funded, receiving funds from Finnish and international research and innovation funders and project partners. Encouraged by interest, we are also interested in experimenting with innovative approaches, e.g. offering the service for companies, directing profits for Koulu.

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?

1 By 2022, Koulu School reaches 10 000 young people directly improving their learning outcomes and empowering them to take agency, and touches 50 000 as Koulu School has become a reference point and resource of peer-to-peer learning used in EiE programs by various actors. 2 What should the support service be like, which enables scaled innovation used by various different actors but ensures the original quality of empowering and playful experience for tens of thousands of young people?

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

OUTPUTS:trainings for teachers,Koulus for youth,p2p teaching in schools,activities by youth OUTCOMES:improved learning & learning opportunities;psychosocial wellbeing;individual empowerment ASSESSING Learning:plan to work with education experts in target countries to find feasible ways of measuring that integrate to existing learning assessment to ensure continuity. Psychosocial:Most Significant Change method for participatory evaluation, Wellbeing Flower for indicators & analysis.See comments.

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

1: service co-design with users & stakeholders, designing sustainability model and impact measurement, pilots of the service (not method only) in the Mid East and measuring impact, 1st open access toolkit & support, fundraising 2: measuring impact, expanding through FCA’s operations & channels, community engagement, introducing the model to FCA’s partners, fundraising 3: used in all 15 FCA countries, integrated to traditional EiE programs by 3 partners, more online open access support, fundrai

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $1,000,000 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?

  • Between 10-20 paid, full-time staff

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

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

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 Model Support
  • Program/Service Design
  • Organizational Design


Join the conversation:

Photo of Roxanne Rivas

What an inspiring idea!

Regarding program/service design, I would be interested in helping develop age-appropriate curriculum around mentorship, crisis coping life skills, and emotional intelligence cultivation for optimal peer-to-peer teaching experiences inside and outside the classroom environment. I think a universal life skill, for example, is systems thinking. As children learn art, math, science, and social studies essentials within a more traditional classroom context, outside of it, grouped peers can apply educational core concepts/themes to their life experience at individual, community, and institutional levels. For example, if the lesson is on water conservation, answering potent questions at 4 levels teaches critical and systems thinking, while also developing emotional intelligence characteristics among peers:

How is water important to you on a (1) physical level, (2) emotional, (3) mental, and (4) spiritual level? (Physical level being your body and your physical environment/Emotional level being how it makes you and others feel/Mental level being the thoughts you have around the issue and others' thoughts/Spiritual level being how you derive meaning from the experience or knowledge around the issue and how meaning has been derived by elders.) Peers can take turns answering potent questions around an issue or core educational concept. Essentially, in answering potent questions around an issue/concept, students are learning how to tell a story--their story, their community story, and share their vision, as well as, distill the knowledge around it. In learning to apply systems thinking to subject matter, students have a framework for understanding and teaching/facilitating complex issues such as water conservation. It in turn develops emotional intelligence as answering potent questions at 4 levels cultivates self-awareness, inspires self-regulation, uncovers motivation, encourages empathy and cultivates social skill! <3

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