Raspberry Pi for Learning

Working with UNICEF Lebanon to create innovations in response to the crisis in Syria

James Cranwell-Ward, UNICEF Lebanon Innovation Lead
Saadnayel Camp, an informal tented settlement where Syrian refugees are taking shelter, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
07 August 2014

When the Raspberry Pi was first announced in 2011, I was captured by its mission from the start to introduce children in schools to the world of technology, programming, and creation. In a world where schools were filled with Windows based PCs, this was a bold move to disrupt the status quo and empower children to leverage the technology that was rapidly evolving around them. Interestingly, the device to trigger this movement did not come in the form of a state of the art computer, but instead, was a low cost, credit card sized single board computer that you connected to your TV or computer monitor.

When it was launched in February 2012, it exploded in the maker community and was used in everything from programming to sending cuddly toys to the edge of our atmosphere. I was very lucky to get my hands on one of the first batches of the Raspberry Pi and started to explore its potential with the rest of the community that was growing at light speed. In 2013, schools and youth clubs were starting to hold events where children and teachers would gather around Raspberry Pis and learn to create games in Scratch, electronic circuits and all kinds of things in Mindcraft. They where know as “Raspberry Jams” and I volunteered to help move the motion forward as much as I could.

Later that year, I had the opportunity to work with UNICEF Lebanon and create innovations in response to the crisis the was happening in Syria. Amongst my usual belongings, I packed two Raspberry Pi model B’s and left for Lebanon, I had a feeling that they would serve a purpose in some way during the coming months.

The second week in my new role, I attended our annual innovation huddle where I learnt from other colleagues around the world how we were using technology to create learning opportunities and, immediately, I saw the potential for how the Raspberry Pi could play a major role.

I went back to Lebanon and started creating a prototype that would eventually lead the Pi for Learning initiative (Pi4L) with our partners International Education Association (IEA) who had already stated a pilot to bring Raspberry Pis into classrooms in Lebanon. The next step was to bring this to all vulnerable children in Lebanon.


I am very proud to have been featured in The Guardian recently for the initiative and would like to invite you all to read it and help us create a new generation of producers and not consumers.