Student-led learning pushes boundaries at digital skills summer school


By Ayla Estreich

It’s important for children to meet peers from around the world who share their passion.

You only have to glance at the global news to see that societies are polarising, and xenophobia is growing. Now more than ever it’s important for young people to meet each other and to see that there’s more that brings us together than breaks us apart.

At the World ORT Digital Skills Academy (DSA) in Sofia, Bulgaria, our students learned that while they live apart in different countries, they can make significant connections with one another.

They listen to the same music, enjoy the same internet memes and have the same interests.

The opportunity to come together through shared interests is particularly relevant at this summer school, where students with a focused interest in digital media, photography, video and audio production, learned how to enhance their knowledge and skills to progress in these industries.

For a lot of them it was only their first or second time out of their country, which means they are slightly more vulnerable and out of their comfort zone. This works to encourage the students to learn and challenge themselves more than in the usual security of the school.

DSA brings students together and provides invaluable skills in communication, collaboration and resilience

Coming from different backgrounds and experiences makes the whole atmosphere all the more interesting.

In school, kids have likely been in the same class for years and know what to expect both socially and educationally from their day to day life.

But at the summer school, their boundaries are pushed, and they have to work out how to adapt.

Learning at the summer school is student-led and project based. Each participant is given a role to complete in order to contribute to the course’s final media production.

They may find that some of their peers are more skilled than them and they will need to ask for help. Sometimes they have to share their skill base and help others to learn.

A student from Israel was very shy and lacking confidence in the beginning, but during the summer school made social connections which actually drove her to achieve more in her classes.

There are skills to be gained through teamwork with international peers.

The students regularly spoke about the value of working with international peers to make their final project. By the end they were most proud that they had achieved their goals – as a team.

The progress over time is amazing for a teacher to observe. The students give and receive ongoing feedback, seek each other out to collaborate and support each other, learn from each other and teach each other.

A student from Russia who was tasked with editing the live broadcast each day initially struggled with this role. Through the support of her peers she gradually improved and by the end of the summer school, lots of the students sought her out to compliment her on the advancement of her skills and she was particularly proud of this.

The Digital Skills Academy teaches about the power of praise and the value of peer-to-peer learning.

As a school teacher, it’s a privilege to see how a summer school like this one can bring students together and provide such invaluable skills in communication, collaboration and resilience. I look forward to replicating this learning in my own teaching and look forward to the next Digital Skills Academy.


Ayla Estreich is a maths teacher from the UK and was a staff member at the 2019 World ORT Digital Skills Academy. Ayla also works as a program coordinator for Action for Education, an NGO providing education for young people and women who are refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.