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Sky School: open secondary education for displaced learners

Using a blended learning model, Sky School enables displaced youth to study for a high school diploma and gain access to opportunities.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

78% of refugee youth are not enrolled in secondary education. Yet a high school diploma is a passport to greater opportunities for study and work, to reduced chances of child marriage and exploitation and to a more peaceful future. Displaced youth face many barriers in accessing secondary education, including paperwork requirements, language barriers and lack of capacity in local schools. Solutions need to be accessible, scalable and of high quality to open doors for learners.

Explain your innovation.

Research, including our own survey amongst refugee youth, shows that there is a clear lack of accredited, flexible and accessible opportunities to gain a secondary education, in particular for girls, whose education may not have been prioritised by their families. Sky School offers open, accredited secondary education opportunities to displaced learners through a blended online / offline learning model. Our curriculum is co-designed with and tailored to the needs of refugee learners, and will be accredited by UWCSEA, a Singapore based international school and CIS (Council of International Schools). The curriculum takes into account psychosocial needs and focuses on developing the skills that students need to work and thrive. Delivering education via a blended model ensures greater access and flexibility and the ability to scale without compromising on quality. Teachers record lessons and offer content via an online platform (provided by our partner Aula), which students access via mobile. In local learning hubs, trained team-leaders facilitate learning and guide students through the programme. Students who complete the programme will have access to further study, training and work opportunities. Sky School will sustain itself through a combination of grant funding and income generating activities: 1) A membership model for international schools and 2) Offering services to schools on blended learning methodologies and relevant education to displaced learners.

Who benefits?

Jehan is 17 years old. She fled from Damascus, Syria, to Amman, Jordan a year ago. She was unable to enrol in education in Jordan as she did not have her passport or previous school transcripts. She works part-time to support her family, and has few prospects of returning to education while in Jordan. Our primary target group is young people like Jehan: aged 16-25, whose education has been disrupted because of conflict and who are not enrolled in secondary education. For our pilot, we will work with 500 young people in Amman, Jordan and Kakuma camp, and a number of students who will study online. We aim to serve at least 10,000 learners by 2020: at least of 50% of whom will be girls. We will measure success in terms of the number of students who both enrol in and complete the programme and who gain opportunities following their time with us. We will also measure the soft and hard skills that students develop through the programme.

How is your innovation unique?

Relatively few refugee education projects focus on secondary education: most educational innovation takes place at either primary or tertiary level. Organisations such as Kiron and Jamiya Project that aim to increase access to higher education have experienced that the education gap for refugee students is so great that they need other interventions to help fill it. The Sky School Diploma - a blended high school diploma with a focus on 21st century skills that aims to specifically serve refugee students - is our key innovation. Other initiatives also leverage technology to provide greater access, but none at secondary level also provide accreditation and guided pathways to further opportunities. Other initiatives may tackle this issue by building new secondary schools. Governments invest resources in creating double shifts in public schools. While this is important, it is not easily scalable and takes a considerable time and effort to reach the numbers of students who need education.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Ensuring that the Sky School Diploma is accredited and widely recognised is highly important, and poses a great challenge. We are working towards gaining accreditation of our curriculum with CIS (Council of International Schools) and creating partnerships with institutions such as Kiron, The Open University and University of the People to provide pathways to higher education for our first graduating class. Our research has found that many families are hesitant to send girls to school, and meeting our target of enrolling at least 50% girls will be a challenge. We are devising a strategy of partnering with community-based organisations who can host learning hubs, to gain families’ trust.

Tell us more about you.

Co-founded by Polly Akhurst and Mia Eskelund, Sky School is a not-for-profit organisation, registered in April 2017. We have extensive experience working in secondary education, and leading not-for-profit organisations. Polly and Mia are supported by a volunteer Advisory Group, several of whom are refugees or have experience with refugee education. We have also recently appointed a volunteer Director of Education, Stuart MacAlpine who is experienced in curriculum design.

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

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Sky School is designed to be flexible and adaptable, and we will be able to implement programmes in contexts of recent and prolonged displacement. Sky School could also be implemented in other emergency situations such as natural disasters, armed conflict or even in areas of extreme drought. Through deploying community based learning hubs, we can deliver education in most locations and contexts.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our pilot project will take place in two locations: Amman, Jordan (focusing on urban refugees) and in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. The pilot courses will be delivered in English and Arabic. In our scaling phase, we would like to extend our impact to other key refugee hosting countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Uganda and Tanzania. The curriculum will be changed according to each location and demographic, both in terms of language as well as well as the material that students study.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for less than one year.

In-country Networks

In Jordan, we are building a partnership with Action Aid, and they will lend us a space and facilitators during the pilot. In Kakuma, we are working with the UNHCR and a young community leader to implement the pilot course. For local support, we are also developing collaborations with schools including as the Amman Baccalaureate School and International Amman Academy. We are also developing partnerships with Kiron, University of the People and Open University to offer pathways to graduates.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Co-founders Polly and Mia have worked at UWC, which provides secondary education to young people, including refugee youth. Through his role as Director of Teaching and Learning (UWCSEA) Stuart MacAlpine, our Director of Education has experience in curriculum development and teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In Jordan we will use ActionAid’s facilitator who has experience in training underprivileged youth. Our facilitator in Kakuma is an experienced trainer and community leader.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

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

Organization Location

The organisation is registered in the UK where the co-founders currently live, and the wider team is based in Jordan, Kenya and Singapore.


Our website is, and we are also on Twitter as: @skyschool_world. Mia Eskelund's LinkedIn profile: Polly Akhurst's LinkedIn profile: Stuart MacAlpine LinkedIn profile:

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Feedback has led us to develop a stronger strategy for accreditation, encompassing short, mid and long term opportunities. We are working with Kiron, Jusoor and the University of the People to provide pathways for our first graduating students. A school with an ambition to reach tens of thousands of students cannot act alone: we are working on a strategy for delivery based on partnerships. We also are working on integrating psychosocial support into our learning model.

Who will implement this Idea?

The two co-founders, Polly and Mia are now working on Sky School full-time and will be moving to Jordan in September. We also have a local coordinator in Jordan, who is supporting the preparation on a volunteer basis. Another volunteer is helping us with communications from London. For the pilot, we will also employ one facilitator in Amman, Jordan and two additional facilitators will join us on a volunteer basis in Kenya. Our Director of Education is also a volunteer, but through our partnership with UWCSEA, he is able to dedicate significant time to supporting the pilot.

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?

The biggest challenge facing our users is exclusion, leading to uncertainty about their futures. In many instances, their situations are seen as temporary, but become permanent. They often unable to study in local schools, unable to work legally in certain or all sectors, resulting in a situation of limbo, which can cause loss of hope, agency and a sense of frustration. The biggest systems level challenge is a lack of access to education, either because there are not enough schools (e.g. in Kakuma only 2% of the need for secondary schooling is met) or because national systems can take years to integrate students. If a student has missed out on education for several years, and is for example, 20 years old, it would be very difficult for them to gain access to the national system.

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

Sky School is a new organisation, and we are still developing our financial model. An important funding stream for our pilot and beyond will be grants and donations from individuals. Longer term, we will develop two additional funding streams: 1) A membership scheme for partner schools (and individuals such as parents) which could bring in sustained and unrestricted funds. 2) An arm which will advise schools on implementing online/blended learning programmes to increase access and engagement, as well as serving disadvantaged learners.

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 bring our 21st century curriculum to Jordan and Kenya at scale, with 20,000 learners undertaking the Sky School diploma programme, and 100,000 students having enrolled in individual Sky School courses. QUESTION: How do we ensure that our curriculum is accredited and recognised by higher education institutions, workplaces and vocational training schemes so we open up opportunities for all Sky School graduates, empowering them to positively change their societies?

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

-Increasing access to secondary education for refugee learners aged 16-25. 10,000 students to have enrolled by 2020. We will track student progress via the Aula Education app. -Increasing quality of refugee education, ensuring that students are equipped with critical thinking and digital skills, as well as are proficient in collaboration, problem solving and entrepreneurship. We will also measure learning outcomes and look at the the correlation between our curriculum and pathways of our alumn

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

Prototyping: Between October and December 2017, a short course on social entrepreneurship (a MVP) will run with 150 enrolled students across two Learning Hubs. Beta Courses: We will develop two additional eight week courses that will run from January to April 2018, and taken by 350 students. Full launch: The full curriculum will launch in autumn 2018 with 1000 enrolled students. They will graduate by 2020, and having prepared to scale, Sky School will be serving 10,000 students at this time.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

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

  • Under 5 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 6 months and 1 year

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

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support
  • Program/Service Design
  • Communications / Marketing / Graphic Design


Join the conversation:

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Expert Feedback Question 4: In your expert opinion, does this Idea pass the ‘do no harm’ principles? Do you believe that there may be any unseen or undocumented risks?

- Experts shared, “Some of the risks that this venture poses includes: - The provision of psychosocial support to help students assimilate. Many students have some from traumatic experiences, and support is required to ensure that they are ready to learn. - creating culturally appropriate learning resources that can be provided to students from different backgrounds. ”

Expert Feedback Question 5: Based on your experience and expertise, is this an Idea that you’d like to see brought to life? Why or why not?

- One expert shared, “Yes, I would like to see this venture come to life. However, I think that this venture cannot sustainability do this alone and may need: - Partnerships with government and business - Partner with existing NGOs to have the resources to action this venture”

- Another shared, “I think there is a strong need for this project, intervention area and focus in the international education community. I think this project is very worthy of support.”

Looking ahead in the development of your Idea, the following are some questions that may be helpful to consider and integrate into your contribution!

- A greater strategic consideration of how to gain broader acceptance/accreditation of the program and its curriculum will really be necessary - Have you considered how you would establish curriculum outcomes that might be palatable across very varied contexts?
- Who would you get to verify the value of the curriculum? Or of the trainers? Of the student level learning outcomes?

Join us for Storytelling Office Hours Tuesday, July 25, 2017 from 8:30AM - 9:30AM PST! RSVP at by Monday, July 24, 2017 Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an Idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - August 6 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your Idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

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OpenIDEO  (Response continued)
Expert Feedback Question 4: In your expert opinion, does this Idea pass the ‘do no harm’ principles? Do you believe that there may be any unseen or undocumented risks?

-- Indeed, this is a key concern. While we want to ensure that our main focus is on providing education, psychosocial support cannot be forgotten. We are currently engaging with potential partners who can support us in providing such support, either via referrals or training our facilitators to provide this support directly to the students through the in-person sessions.

Expert Feedback Question 5: Based on your experience and expertise, is this an Idea that you’d like to see brought to life? Why or why not?

Thank you for the positive comments - we are excited to see that the experts would like to see the project brought to life. Indeed, we are aware that establishing effective partnerships will be key to the success of the project. We are currently partnering with Action Aid in Jordan and have the support of UNHCR in Kakuma Camp in Kenya to implement the pilot project. In September, our new Head of Strategic Partnerships will also join us on a voluntary basis from September, and we will devote more resources into developing partnerships with governments, businesses and other NGOs -- as well as with higher education institutions, training programmes and workplaces for the pilot and beyond.

- A greater strategic consideration of how to gain broader acceptance/accreditation of the program and its curriculum will really be necessary

- Have you considered how you would establish curriculum outcomes that might be palatable across very varied contexts?

- Who would you get to verify the value of the curriculum? Or of the trainers? Of the student level learning outcomes?

Gaining broader acceptance/accreditation/value of curriculum - indeed this poses one of the greatest challenges both in the short and the long term. Our courses are initially accredited by UWCSEA, one of the largest international schools in the world and a renowned educational institution. We are actively working with universities (locally and abroad), work places and training schemes to create pathways for students after they graduate from high school and this will be an essential area of work as we progress the project.

Curriculum outcomes - we will work to ensure that the the learning outcomes and skills acquired will also be aligned and at least on par with those of national education systems and the requirements of the labour market. This gives both quality assurance to potential workplaces and training schemes as well as international recognition of skills, making Sky School alumni more attractive employees.

Verifying the value of the curriculum - we are developing a relationship with CIS (Council of International Schools) who accredit international schools (including teachers, learning outcomes and curriculums) to ensure quality recognition and hope to start working towards becoming CIS accredited as soon as we start the pilot. We are exploring other channels, for example assessment by national bodies where we operate.

Thank you again for all of your comments and feedback!

All the best,
Polly & Mia

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