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ReBooting the Lives of Refugees Through Intensive Computer Training

Photo of Hugh Bosely
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Sponsor: ReBootKAMP - A Silicon Valley based, nonprofit, education delivery organization

Initiative: In densely populated, stable refugee communities, provide the following:

1. Infrastructure: Provide a special Place to grow technical skills: computer labs, equipment, furniture, site elements and support elements.

2. Computer Literacy: Provide programming and digital skills classes to all interested refugees.

3. Technical Training: Impart market ready digital skills and professional culture training to work age refugees and certify competency.

4. Mentoring: Facilitate mentorship and professional practice acclimation.

5. Employment: Employ grads in Studio RBK and/or facilitate placement of graduate including assistance with identity and travel documents, visas, emigration and asylum in foreign countries.

Beneficiaries: Refugees of conflict selected with no bias towards cultural or sexual identity, age, physical ability or religion. 60% of the 'seats' will be reserved for females. This as a response to under-representation in the high tech and technical arts industries.

Deployment Installation of pilot lab to serve refugee populations in North Jordan. Subsequent deployment of labs will serve refugee populations in Lebanon, Turkey and refugee communities further afield including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Europe, Africa and North America.


1. Introduction

The ReBootKAMP initiative in Jordan is predicated on the following assumptions:
A. Conflict in the Middle East, of which Syria is central, will continue to produce refugees and prevent repatriation for an indefinite period of time. Proliferation of extremist groups combined with coalition interventions which historically have lasted 8-13 years portend protracted engagement for at least another 3 to 8 years.

B. The choice of curriculum is driven by industry growth projections which show tech industries growing 18% by 2022 compared to all other industries at 10.8% translating into 685,000 new tech jobs in the next 8 years.

C. Given most professions are reliant upon digital technology at some level and given basic computer literacy is a necessary condition for employment in the developed world, imparting these skills is especially important for vulnerable populations.

D. Recognition that the most important skills of the 21st century hinge on the ability to manage digital data in one form or another.

E. There is a need for advanced computer programming and digital tools training in refugee communities as they are mostly is non-existent. Basic and remedial courses too, are in very short supply.

F. Due to the high demand in Jordan for programmers, web developers, data base managers and digital technicians in the industries of medicine, architecture, engineering, graphics and journalism, Syrian refugees will not be displacing Jordanian nationals in the workforce.

G. Skilling-up refugees in computer-based technologies will grow the local economy, offset inflation and bolster the health of industries they support and will raise the standard of living for Jordanian nationals. All boats rise.

H. Technical training proximate to regions of conflict advances democracy and peace by providing an alternative to fighting, forced marriage, exploitation, idleness and other negative coping strategies that destabilize populations.

I. And finally and most importantly, a visually exciting environment enhances the knowledge acquisition experience and reinforces participation and deep engagement in the learning culture.

2. ZatLAB

ReBootKAMP's learning model is ZatLAB - a self-contained, self-powered, modular, portable and scalable learning environment and ideas incubator. It was conceived of as a visually unique, secure and efficient means to impart computer based skills to refugees and distressed populations.

ZatLAB is many things: ZatLAB is a building. ZatLAB is a site. A beginning. A safe haven. Normalcy in midst of dislocation. Distraction in the midst of disorientation. Place in the midst of placelessness. A bright spot on an otherwise monochromatic palette. A machine for transforming the massive intellectual potential of the refugees into prosperity.

But more than anything, ZatLAB is an 'Exit' door into a new beginning.

ZatLAB Specifications:

Structure: 2 - 8’ (2.4m) wide, x 9’-6” (2.9m) high x 40’ (12.2m) long steel shipping containers mated in their long dimension Floor Area: 640 SF (43m2)

Primary Power: 14,000 watt photovoltaic (solar) system with battery storage Backup

Power: 10,000 watt diesel generator

Climate Control: Ultra efficient 20K BTU Cooling / 10K BTU Heating. Summer: 72 F (22 C). Winter: 68 F (20 C) Average Insulation Value: R-24 Internet

Connectivity: Broadband with satellite and mobile cell backup.

Number of Computer Workstations: 54 Accessible Workstations: 4 Network: 2 Enterprise Wifi routers Interior

Finishes: Epoxy coated wood floors, wood panels above work counter, tinted glazing at ends of modules.

Acoustics: Acoustic treatments on ceiling and below work counter. Patio Lounge: 20' (6.1m) x 20' (6.1m) covered and enclosed in winter. Semi-conditioned in the summer.

Lighting: LED Patio Floor Area: 400 SF (37.1m2) Physical Security: Area lighting, ballistic glazing, audible and silent alarm, 10' (3m) high perimeter fencing

Supergraphics: 2-40' (12.2m) long by 8' (2.4m) high panels by world renowned artist ChemiS

Additional Features: Full whiteboard wrap on interior. Ice machine, water cooler, tower, Zen garden. Detached toilets per WASH standards.

3. Tech Bootcamps

ReBootKAMP’s initiative is modeled on a relatively new and disruptive form of para-professional training called bootcamp learning. Like the military name implies, these intensive immersion programs compress 12-18 months of highly specialized coursework into 12-16 weeks.

Tech bootcamps are an alternative to the traditional 4 year university education and a direct pathway into computer-reliant industries. They can deliver workers faster and with a finer honed skill-set than traditional models. For this reason, they are increasingly the go-to choice of tech employers.

Although bootcamps are designed to produce the worker bees for the bottom 2/3s of the tech industry pyramid they can also function as launch pads into a traditional computer science programs, consulting, application design, management or higher entrepreneurial efforts.

Currently there are 50+ bootcamps populating larger urban areas in the US. Two of the most successful, Dev Bookcamp and Hack Reactor are offering content, support and guidance.

4. Learning Rate

ReBootKAMP will utilize a less aggressive form of the bootcamp method striking a balance between the value of “slow” learning and the highly intensive bootcamp regimen. Instead of devoting all our resources to just 50 students every 12 weeks (200 graduates per year), we will spread the curriculum over 2-4 quarters which will allow for a much greater number of students. Courses will be throttled to produce 500-600 grads per year per lab. 

5. Course Delivery & Staffing

ReBootKAMP will utilize blended learning to impart the curriculum. Online coursework will be facilitated by bilingual, subject matter experts in the classroom. In addition to helping students navigate the online lessons, they will provide constant evaluation, target individual coaching and coordinate movement of the students through the program.

Initially the facilitators will be contract employees and volunteers of ReBootKAMP. After ReBootKAMP has graduated the first wave of students, high performers interested in becoming facilitators will be trained up to augment the staff.

Administration of the labs will be off-site either in leased space or at an education partners' headquarters. This includes registration of new students, accounting, payroll, human resources and contracts, local partnership coordination, student evaluation, producing certificates, outreach & marketing and other administrative and functions. 

6. Digital Industries Served

ReBootKAMP will be training students to engage the following market sectors:

Internet / Telecom
• Web development including mobile application design
• Front end UX / UI design
• Backend programming
• Database management
• Translation of popular applications into Arabic
Computer Technology / Engineering
• Software development
• Technical support
• Systems / network administration

Technical and Creative Arts
• Architecture and engineering support - drafting, modeling, rendering and animation
• Rapid prototyping including modeling and fabrication
• Robotics
• Graphic design and image manipulation
• Game development
• Virtual reality (VR) production
• Music industry support
• Video production

Healthcare Information Technology
• Medical device software development, support and translation
• Clinical systems including electronic medical records, nursing clinical documentation, radiology, ER management, pharmacy
• Biomedical support
• Medical informatics

• Database administration
• IT Project management
• Data mining / Analytics / Business intelligence
• Information Security Compliance / Governance

7. Curriculum

Courses will be broken down as follows:
1. Fundamental computer skills for ages 5 and up including older adults. This includes introduction to the computer, word processing, spreadsheets, slide presentation, photo manipulation and for kids, one hour of code. Introduction to children’s programming language like Scratch and Gamemaker. And for older students introduction to HTML/CSS ,Javascript and C programming.

2. Foundation theory and advanced level programming classes for kids age 8 and up. Courses in C, Javascript, Perl, Python, PHP, C# and Arduino.

3. High level web development courses for ages 12 and up including advanced courses in HTML/CSS, Ruby, SQL, Javascript and toolkits like AJAX and jQuery.

4. Technical arts courses for students 14 and older. These would include applications specific to the design professions including the Autodesk Suite (Revit, Autocad, 3DS Max) and Sketchup for architects and engineers. Solidworks, Rhino, ZBrush and Maya for the fabrication and 3D printing industry. Unity 3D for game development. Adobe Creative Suite for the graphics / publishing industry. ProTools for the music industry and Premier or Final Cut Pro for the film industry.

5. Network administration courses for students 16 and older. Windows, UNIX and Linux.

6. Health information technology (HIT) for students 16 and older. This would follow the track of traditional programs in HIT but in bootcamp format and would shallow dive into the most popular EMRs, billing software, and medical equipment interfaces.

Additionally all students will receive training in ‘emotional engineering’ which includes empathy design, workplace communication and etiquette, community engagement and cultural/gender identity sensitivity. Course content and delivery is being provided by Udacity, Hack Reactor, Codecademy and Udemy.

8. Mentorship

Once operational ReBootKAMP will initiate a program to connect Silicon Valley professionals and other tech centers with our students. Here the students will learn the secret handshakes and be introduced to professional culture and norms of professional practice.

This will be done through social media and a web based application students will create under Studio RBK. Mentorships will offer an opportunity for the mentee to ask questions, gain a sense of tech culture and begin to build a network which could ultimately spawn an internship or future employment.

For the mentor, this will be raise awareness as well provide some satisfaction in knowing they are making a tiny but important difference in helping this battered population.

9. Certification And Something More

ReBootKAMP will be setting the performance bar high for several reasons. It is easy to produce code monkeys, especially given the demand for this kind of worker. But this is neither consistent with our vision of imparting something more nor is it fair to a population already battered by barrel bombs.

The success of our production is measured by the ability of our graduates to make the world a better place. And the index of our worth as an institution is directly proportional to the happiness, success and the ability of those who come through our labs to effect positive change, to grow democracy in the places where they sleep. So unlike some bootcamps, we are not training students to pass Google’s programming test or Oracle's 115 question interview. We are training them to be citizens of the world first and programmers, modelers, web developers and journalists second.

To this end, competency in the development of not only digital skills but also emotional engineering will be gauged frequently throughout the program. There will be many low bars to hurdle but progressively higher bars as students advance from beginner to intermediate to advanced and ultimately are able to demonstrate the ability to conduct themselves professionally and engage their communities as ambassadors of humanity.

10. Orientation, Exposure, Outreach and Recruitment

Early exposure to a subject correlates with future interest and pursuit. To this end and given the proliferation of digital technology and its ubiquity in modern life, ReBootKAMP will sponsor a 1 hour Introduction to the Computer seminars 6x per week. During these sessions 50 school-aged children and young adults from the refugee community will be have the opportunity to write their first piece of 'Hello World' code, create their first game or model their first object or building.

Students demonstrating interest and aptitude will be invited to a deeper dive and presented with the opportunity to enroll in future classes. This program will expose 300 kids per week and over 15,000 kids per year per lab to the fundamentals of computing. As more labs are deployed including a mobile lab, the outreach will extend further afield to the broader refugee community at large eventually touching a majority of the student refugees in Jordan.

High performers trained up to become facilitators will also function as tech ambassadors within refugee communities. They will identify early adaptors and bright stars from formal and informal refugee schools, internet cafes, math clubs, science fairs and social networks. These ambassadors will plant seeds by organizing hackathons, implementing outreach program to the broader community and build bonds within the local tech community.

11. Academic Calendar

The ReBootKAMP academic calendar will follow the local school calendar for primary and secondary school students. Technical training programs will follow the traditional 4 quarter per year model (12 weeks per quarter). 

12. Sustainability and Employment

ReBootKAMP is bullish on the talents and motivation of the Syrian refugee. Where most see only tragedy, disorientation and suffering, we see opportunity and the potential to become a major force in technology. If there is any doubt as to the ability of these people to triumph in the face of adversity one needs only to stroll down the Champs Elysees in Za'atari Camp at midday.

Given the Syrian reputation for resilience and enterprise, a Phoenix rising from the ashes is inevitable. This rebirth could take many forms but the one we will be nurturing is the emergence of a new center of the digital excellence - one formed from the diaspora rising in the Levant.

Working with a variety of partners across a range of industries, ReBootKAMP will be gradually scaling up the creation of incubators, accelerators, drafting farms, modeling mills, freelance graphic design firms, and video and music production studios. This will form the basis of Studio RBK. Graduates will be assembled into teams of like specialty where they will perform contract work to the end of gaining valuable workplace experience while being compensated within the legal framework of Jordanian law.

The low cost of living in refugee environments can be leveraged to offer competitive outsourcing rates below fair market value. ReBootKAMP has no profit motive only sustainability: so labor can be sourced for just what is required to pay for lab operation and modest expansion in the region. 

13. Studio RBK

Studio RBK will compliment and reinforce the learning labs. In this professional environment, graduates will have the opportunity to gain valuable experience and begin to build a knowledge base for their respective industries. Whether designing apps, modeling buildings or developing games, graduates will be able to ply their newly formed skills towards real applications empowering their ability to rejoin society.

Coding Farm

One branch of Studio RBK will focus on supplying code to niche segments in the tech markets. These include mobile development, data mining, server side applications and algorithm production. As ReBootKAMP is based in Silicon Valley and given the great demand for contract work in the tech industry, it is anticipated this component alone could support future labs.

Para-Professional Studio

Another branch of the studio will target the technical arts industries of architecture, engineering, graphics, gaming, sound engineering and video production. Currently, design professionals in the US and Europe outsource much of this work to overseas markets. Southeast Asia dominates outsourcing contracts in building / object modeling, rendering, animation and video production. ReBootKAMP visualizes capturing a share of this market by setting the quality control bar high and marketing to European firms.

Health Care Incubator

Of all the advancing branches of the technology industry, one in particular is outpacing the others by a wide margin. Healthcare IT will be valued at almost $57 billion dollars in 3 years requiring a massive infusion of technology support. Responding to current demand and forecast growth of this sector, an important part of Studio RBK is an incubator / accelerator lab specifically for healthcare IT. This would involve a partnership with a Healthcare IT entity and local medical professionals in North Jordan. Examples of projects include:

  • A mobile application that connects all healthcare providers in North Jordan. This may include integration of an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), natural language processing, scheduling, billing or equivalency.

  • An application that monitors the status and progress of newborns, pediatric patients and / or refugees with injuries and chronic disease.

  • An emergency alert system that connects to external ambulance or crisis services.

  • Translation and cultural tailoring of popular nutritional, health monitoring and fitness tracking apps.

  • Healthcare Information Exchange (HIE) network to connect to external facilities like Marfaq hospital.

    The Health Care incubator would support the larger community and contribute to the quality of life of both refugees and the host population. Further, it would provide a revenue stream to support lab growth.

14. ReBootKAMP Partners

The ReBootKAMP initiative is being driven by private sector interests in Silicon Valley. The concept of rebooting the lives of refugees through intensive computer training has resonated deeply here and the concept of empowering refugees with tech skills is selling itself. Learning partners Autodesk, Adobe, Udacity, Hack Reactor, Dev Bootcamp and Udemy have pledged course content, professional licenses, certifications and support.

Negotiations are underway with a several other stalwarts in the tech industry ReBootKAMP is an opportunity to grow or augment existing computer training programs already extant in refugee communities and our labs will be open to those NGOs and entities who share our mission.

15. Career Placement

ReBootKAMP graduates with valid travel documents and identification will qualify for placement abroad either in the Middle East, Europe, North America or other countries with favorable work or immigration policies. Placement will be through a 3rd party employment agency or negotiated contracts with tech industry sponsors.

16. Forecast and Salaries

Starting salaries are generous compared to other industries and the amount of time and money invested. A recent survey of intern salaries at 2 dozen tech companies in the US revealed monthly salary and perks upwards of $10,000 a month. Compared to the traditional 4 year computer science degree, the return on the investment is an order of magnitude greater.

17. Host Population Benefit

North Jordan ReBootKAMP is sensitive to the stresses being placed on the host population and is proposing the following benefits:

1. For a given program, a percentage of lab seats will be open to Jordanian nationals.

2. ReBootKAMP is receptive to partnering with Universities in North Jordan, augmenting their programs and serving as a leaning incubators for future admissions.

3. ReBootKAMP will be hiring Jordanian nationals on a consulting basis to assist in the operation and maintenance of the labs.

4. Subsequent to the deployment of the first labs, labs will fabricated and materials sourced in the regions they are deployed.

5. Healthcare IT Incubator projects will directly benefit the host population.

6. Useful life of the learning labs is 50 years and its power system, 25 years. After a negotiated period of time, the labs will be deeded to entities within Jordan.

7. As deployment scales and economy of scale discounts will be credited towards a fund for Jordanian entities to purchase labs at a discount.

8. Tech start-ups hatched from within Studio ЯBK and permitted to operate in Jordan will contribute to a fund for the technical training of Jordanian nationals.

18. Summary

What ReBootKAMP is NOT :

1. A proving ground for developing curriculums or programs for refugees. A pedagogical experiment.

2. A computer science program.

3. A program independent of our unique physical structure - ZatLAB. 4. A traditional education NGO.

What ReBootKAMP is:

1. A unique physical environment - a Place for imparting real-life, highly marketable, computer skills to refugees.

2. An opportunity for kids as young as 5 to become literate in the most important language of the 21st century.

3. A conduit to Silicon Valley.

4. An alternative to the 4 year university education.

5. A means to empower graduates with something more than just the skills to be successful - the means to effect positive change

6. Secular. Egalitarian. Pro-gender equality. Culturally sensitive.

7. A democracy movement.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Hugh, our Ideas phase will begin in a few short days – and we'd love for your team to contribute. Hope to see you soon!

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