The Disruptors: Miya Miya, Teaching Refugees In A War-Torn Region

Meghan Marrin
·7 min read

The online, mobile-first business school Miya Miya was created to cater to Jordanians and Syrians out of school or displaced by conflicts in the region.

Just about everyone has a mobile phone — even those fleeing for their lives from war and oppression. This fact of modern life is the foundation for a new venture from the innovation studio Pedago, which introduced Quantic School of Business and Technology in 2019.

The new learning platform is called Miya Miya, meaning “one hundred out of one hundred” in Arabic. This STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) mobile-first online school uses the same advanced technology as Quantic but has drastically different users: out-of-school Jordanian students and Syrian refugees displaced by the war that has raged in the region since 2011.

Miya Miya is “the highest-quality learning for mathematics on the planet right now and it is available to the people who are being denied almost everything,” says co-founder Tom Adams, former CEO of Rosetta Stone and founder of Quantic.

In creating Miya Miya, Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner of Pedago were inspired by the disturbing reality that 75 million school-age children do not have access to education in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. “Education in these regions is a very underfunded area,” Adams says — so the team at Pedago decided to do what they do best and rethink how to educate these vast underserved populations in a cost-effective manner.

450 STUDENTS ENROLLED IN PILOT PHASE OF MIYA MIYA

Quantic, launched in 2019, styles itself as “The Business School of the Future,” and it has a strong case as a mobile-first school that offers a free MBA and an affordable Executive MBA. Quantic saw a 40% jump in applicants in the coronavirus-ravaged summer of 2020; through August, more than 30,000 applied to the program.

Pedago initially launched Miya Miya in Jordan, in part due to the large number of Syrians taking refuge in Jordan since the beginning of the civil war more than nine years ago. To date, about one-fifth of Jordan’s population is Syrian refugees.

Surprisingly to some — but not to Adams — most of these refugees have access to smartphones. “Ninety percent of Syrian refugee families have access, which is how we are able to reach people affordably,” he tells Poets&Quants. Accessibility is crucial for these students because traditional in-person education can be inconvenient, expensive, and limited especially during the current pandemic. The curriculum is taught in their native language of Arabic, eliminating potential language barriers that other students may face.

About 70% of Miya Miya students are Syrian refugees relocated in Jordan, and the other 30% a surprising batch: teenaged Jordanian divorcee girls around the age of 15. It is not uncommon to see these girls drop out of school and marry at 13 years of age, then get divorced in their mid to late teens. Based on traditional laws, if students are out-of-school for more than 2 years, they cannot reenter the traditional school system. If they wish to continue their education, they must do so in an out-of-school program. Miya Miya is a perfect solution for these students.

There are currently 450 students enrolled in the pilot phase of Miya Miya, which took off in late September of 2020. Next year, Adams expects attendance to increase to 6,000 students. Miya Miya’s curriculum is focused on helping students pass the Tawjihi, a crucial graduation exit exam in Jordan after students have completed 12 years of education. In Jordan, the first 10 years are compulsory education for students, and the next 2 are vocational education. Typical out-of-school programs focus solely on helping students through the compulsory 10 years.

Miya Miya is filling that gap and assisting out-of-school students through the last two years to complete the Tawjihi and earn their General Certificate of Secondary Education. Adams recognizes the importance of students passing the Tawjihi. Passing opens the door to many opportunities for higher education and better paying jobs.

‘ACTIVE LEARNING’ THAT ‘REIMAGINES EDUCATIONAL QUALITY’

Co-Founders Tom Adams and Alexie Harper in Jordan (not pictured, third co-founder Ori Ratner). Courtesy photo

Assisting in piloting Miya Miya is Questscope, a nonprofit learning center working on the ground to educate 6,000 out-of-school students in Jordan. Former Quantic student Abdullah Khalayeh cultivated the connection between Miya Miya and Questscope while working with the Queen Rania Foundation, where he assisted in research aligning with their mission of improving learning opportunities for young Jordanian students.

Khalayeh was in touch with Adams who had a similar mission to that of the Queen Rania Foundation. He began researching and designing the principles for Miya Miya based on the same technology behind Quantic backed by the social and economic support of the foundation. He was familiar with the technology because he himself had use it as a student.

“Quantic and Miya Miya have vastly different users, but the same technology,” Khalayeh says. “Much of my part was researching how to transfer these principles to a new context.”

Adams is confident students will enjoy learning with Miya Miya, as it uses the same mobile-first learning system that has been highly effective for Quantic students. He says the interface “reimagines quality” and that when asked, Quantic students say they absolutely love this type of learning.

“This active learning style is different in the sense that it isn’t peddling video professor lectures like a traditional university, but instead is making the coursework interactive and engaging, like that of a tutor,” he says. “Nobody wants to be lectured; we all want to do back-and-forth.

“Ask any child that is going through e-learning right now in the Covid environment; they will tell you they hate passive learning.”

CONFIDENCE IN STUDENTS’ SUCCESS

The team behind Miya Miya is committed to making education free to students through funding from reliable partners such as Dubai Cares and UNICEF. Adams envisions Miya Miya to be the future premier educational solution for refugees in Jordan. Miya Miya has already been approved by the country’s Ministry of Education, and it’s on track to becoming more broadly available.

Adams hopes that helping students pass the Tawjihi will not be the end of the road for students’ experience with Miya Miya. He hopes to extend the initiative to invest in career services for students after completing the Tawjihi. Adams has many entrepreneurial connections, especially through Quantic. “Why not serve Miya Miya students up to Quantic students?” he says. “A lot of them are technology managers and we could connect Miya Miya students to them. We hold the power to instill confidence in the Quantic students that Miya Miya students have been well educated, and they can help these very capable students take the next step.”

Adams has full confidence in the Jordanian and Syrian students’ abilities to succeed vocationally.

“I have been to these out-of-school centers,” he says. “I am confident many of the students will be very successful. A lot of successful entrepreneurs were refugees; many of them have won the EY ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award. These are people coming from situations where they were floating on boats in the ocean. Steve Jobs and many other Syrians have been wildly successful. It’s a shame when these kids are denied education, and Miya Miya intends to open that gate, to bridge that gap.

“We have an opportunity here to be really impactful in a very direct way.”

DON’T MISS: THE DISRUPTORS: QUANTIC, THE FREE MBA or FOR THE ‘FREE MBA’ QUANTIC, A STRATOSPHERIC SUMMER

The post The Disruptors: Miya Miya, Teaching Refugees In A War-Torn Region appeared first on Poets&Quants.