Bringing the Power of Play to Refugee Children

Special Focus : Displaced Populations: Innovating for Quality and Inclusive Education
Access and Inclusion October 30, 2017

As part of the WISE Learners’ Voice Program, our team volunteered with Metadrasi and Organization Earth, both of which are organizations in Athens. They are working tirelessly to meet the needs of refugees living in camps and housing accommodation. As volunteers, we were often tasked with engaging the children who constitute approximately half the refugee population in the world. The children we encountered were either waiting to continue their education upon relocation from Greece or were attending schools run by nonprofit organizations. These schools allowed them to learn simple school subjects in Greek for a few hours a day. While this schooling option is better than nothing, it is difficult for most of the children, who speak Arabic or Farsi. Furthermore, since most of these children have been on the move and out of school for an average of two years, teachers – and subsequently organizations – struggle with reintroducing them to classroom behaviors and values.

While the organizations in the refugee camps are implementing educational programs to engage these children, they routinely face obstacles that hinder their programs’ consistency and sustainability. Some of the common difficulties include limited resources, language barriers and high volunteer turnover rates. To assist organizations aiming to provide positive learning spaces, we created Peak-A-Box. Peak-A-Box empowers volunteers to customize, plan and facilitate learning through play sessions in an effort to teach them classroom values such as teamwork, leadership, self-awareness, sharing, and respect. 
Peak-A-Box is a low-cost solution that comes in the form of a smartphone application providing customizable curriculums that contain educational games for children. It also contains a toolbox containing all the equipment needed to run the games, complementing the smartphone application. Using Peak-A-Box addresses the challenges of restraints on the organizations’ time, language barriers and limited resources needed to create educational sessions. It also provides consistency by providing a lifelong supply of updated educational games on the application that anyone can use to facilitate play-based learning and eliminate frictions caused by language.
To ensure that Peak-A-Box is a suitable solution, group members engaged with organizations and the refugee community in July 2017. This was after developing a prototype comprising a list of 50 educational games, a box of the equipment needed to run the games, and wireframes outlining the functionality of the smartphone application. The feedback received from six volunteers who ran 10 sessions with on average 40 children reiterated that there is a need for an intervention such as Peak-A-Box since no such concrete alternatives currently exist. 
As with most projects in the refugee context, the ever-changing conditions in and out of camps complicates the relationships created with partners on the ground. For example, since March, some NGO partner employees were either transferred to another camp or were replaced by another employee. Additionally, evaluating the program in a refugee camp context is difficult because, unlike in formal schools, there is no indicator of attendance which makes it difficult to solely assess Peak-A-Box’s impact on each child. 
Instead, indicators that measure the cumulative growth of a group of children are used. To reduce setbacks, group members are routinely doing field research to remain updated about the political changes on the ground. This includes maintaining ties with the local community and organizations so as to consistently get their feedback on the project’s developments. Lastly, we are improving our monitoring and evaluation framework to account for nuances.
Moving forward, we plan to continue conducting pilots with organizations in Greece and other countries, such as Jordan and Turkey, to further improve the Peak-A-Box design and test 100 games. The Beta version of the smartphone application will also be launched. From 2018 – 2019, the curriculum will be expanded to include 500 games, and an advanced application will be developed with functions such as the availability of an interactive online community forum. Moreover, an algorithm will be built to generate curriculum based on user behavior. Scaling up will start in 2020, and by 2022, we aim to work with organizations across Europe and countries around Syria to directly impact 65000 children.
Peak-A-Box strongly believes that all children have the right to a healthy development. By providing young children with the support they need at the most vulnerable ages, we can ensure the wellbeing of children around the world affected by the crisis and ensure that they reach their peak potential.