Refugee Children Empowered by Technology to Learn

Special Focus : Accelerating Innovation in Refugee Education
Access and Inclusion June 20, 2017

June 20 marks World Refugee Day, a day when we recognize the tragic impact that war, persecution, conflicts, and natural disasters have had on millions – causing them to flee their homes. Today, nearly half of the world’s refugees are children and some of the most vulnerable are the more than three million Syrian children who have grown up only knowing war.

The war has created millions of refugee families and some 2.5 million Syrian children have had their education disrupted. Studies into the mental health of Syrian refugee children also show staggering levels of trauma and distress. Schools often provide children with a vital source of safety, stability and routine but, unable to attend school and socialize as children should, the feelings of stress and isolation felt by Syrian refugee children is compounded.

To reach these children, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD), in collaboration with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the mobile operator Orange and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, launched the EduApp4Syria competition, funded by the Norwegian government.

With high availability of smartphones among Syrian families, this technology was identified as the best channel for reaching children with fun supplements to facilitate their continued learning and future reintegration into school. As such, the competition sought the development of a smartphone app that could build foundational literacy skills in Arabic and improve psychosocial well-being among Syrian refugee children.

Children playing


Antura and the Letters (download free from Google Play & App Store), developed by a consortium led by Cologne Game Lab, and Feed the Monster (download free from Google Play & App Store), developed by a consortium led by Apps Factory, were recently announced as the competition winners.

As you’ll see by watching these refugee moms and kids, EduApp4Syria has given out-of-school Syrian children not only the ability to learn to read in Arabic through engaging games, but improved their psychosocial well-being, too.

ACR GCD and Digital Learning for Development (DL4D) are conducting an impact evaluation on both games to assess the effects on literacy learning, the transferability of knowledge, and the improvements in psychosocial well-being. The evaluation will also assess the technical, gaming, literacy instruction and the psycho-social aspects of the apps and compare these against commonly accepted measures of quality and evidence-based practice. Results are anticipated in late 2017.

We’re hopeful that strong impact evaluation results, together with the open source game codes to ease adaption of the EduApp4Syria games into other languages, there will be strong uptake of these games to reach many children in crisis settings around the world.

Another example of the application of technology to help children living in emergency contexts learn comes from the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where Xavier Project, winner of All Children Reading’s Technology to Support Basic Education in Crisis and Conflict Settings ideation prize has partnered with Eneza Education to launch the ENEZA SMS study tool, giving students access to educational material on nearly every subject on their phone.

Launched last year with the participation of 1,000 students, the project received significant community support and a high level of engagement among students who completed 83,525 quizzes across all subjects as they prepared for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. Interestingly, the data revealed that beneficiary students shared their phones with their brothers and sisters in secondary school, broadening the impact of the project significantly. The two primary schools where the project was piloted emerged as the best and second best in the camp in the KCPE exams, demonstrating the effectiveness of the program. Among all students who completed more than 500 quizzes, results showed a 36% improvement between their end of term and end of the year results, including KCPE exams.

Finally, to contribute to the global work in education in emergencies, we also contributed to two Landscape Reviews:

1. Leveraging Technology for Education of Refugees & IDPs (3 modules)

2. Education in Conflict & Crisis | How Can Technology Make a Difference?

This research can help policy makers, practitioners and donors better understand the evidence related to using EdTech solutions to meet the complex demands of refugees.