3 New Reports on Edtech for Refugees, Displaced Populations and Deprived Settings – Your Weekend Long Reads

There are over half a billion children living in countries affected by conflict and disasters, making them three times more likely to be out of school than children living in stable, but low-income countries. 51% of all refugees in the world are children, and refugee girls at secondary level are only half as likely to enrol in school as their male peers. How do we provide quality and inclusive education in these contexts?

To help answer this question three reports on edtech for refugees, displaced populations and those living in deprived contexts have recently been published. Two of them certainly add to the body of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when providing education in emergencies. They offer a clear-eyed view of edtech possibilities, based on evidence and removed from hype. The third offers predictions on the future of learning and technology in low-resource contexts.

Each report is rich in content and worth reading. Below is a brief description of each and a sample of highlights that caught my eye.

What Works and What’s Missing in Edtech in Emergencies and Displaced Settings

EdTech for Learning in Emergencies and Displaced Settings: A rigorous review and narrative synthesis, by Save the Children, set out to answer the question: How can the utilisation of edtech (at home or at school) for teaching and learning best facilitate the learning process of children in crisis-affected settings?

The report found that while there is little applicable evidence that is relevant for those engaging in education in emergencies, there is nearly three decades worth of research into ‘what works’ in edtech in general. Save the Children felt that if it “cautiously cast the net a little wider, there were areas where research from more stable contexts could be used to inform practice in emergency settings as well.” The authors reviewed over 130 academic papers on edtech’s impact on learning outcomes.

Some of the main findings include:

  • The mere access of ICT in schools or at home is not sufficient to improve learning outcomes. A number of factors must be in place for learning outcomes to improve. This confirms what most have seem in edtech implementations. And yet the report does not include the recent evaluations of the two EduApp4Syria games, which found a small, but positive, impact on literacy levels and psychosocial wellbeing for children playing the games unassisted by parents or teachers. (Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall project also springs to mind.)
  • Edtech must be implemented in line with the local curriculum. This has serious implications for initiatives relying heavily on open content such as Khan Academy, Wikipedia, etc. Not to say those resources are not valuable, but sooner or later there needs to be alignment with the local curriculum.
  • Scaffolded, appropriate, and adaptive software can be extremely useful in classroom settings. Edtech can indeed support teachers and free them up to engage in greater student-teacher interaction. Yay!
  • Adult/teacher led scaffolding is key to productive learner engagement with technology. In short, the report says that in-app scaffolding is not enough without an adult or teacher there to help. Controversial.
  • Poor teacher training leads to poor results. Continued teacher development positively correlates with successful edtech take up. Hear hear!

Education Possibilities for Refugees

The second report A lifeline to learning: Leveraging technology to support education for refugees is from UNESCO. Drawing on a review of over 117 relevant papers and reports and analysis of 52 distinct projects, the report seeks to better understand how mobiles can open educational opportunities for refugees.

Key findings include:

  • The use of mobile technology can be a strong complement to intensive face-to-face engagement when refugees are experiencing severe trauma and mental health difficulties.
  • Although low language and literacy skills can be the most pervasive and potentially damaging barrier to educational participation for a refugee learner, to date there is little evidence that documents the efficacy of specific learning and literacy apps in refugee settings. (Again, the EduApp4Syria is relevant here.) Mobile-enhanced conversational and situated learning scenarios deserve further analysis, as some examples in the report indicate.
  • To date, there are few projects and formal studies on mobile teacher training in refugee contexts. The Teachers for Teachers project in Kakuma camp, Kenya, by Columbia University is a great example of how teacher training and virtual mentoring is possible.
  • Although some digital content for refugees is available in the form of open educational resources (OER), it is often scattered and unaligned with the education systems in which it is used.
  • Digital technologies that capture and analyse education data can play an essential role in improving basic operational, planning and controlling functions in education systems in refugee and crisis settings. However, current technological (and political) structures infrequently document, certify or acknowledge refugees’ prior educational achievements or current progress. This is a process, not a technology, problem.
  • Despite the relevance of cultivating refugees’ job-related and vocational skills, few of the identified projects use mobile media to support vocational training.
  • A pattern to emerge is the integration of mobile social media and mobile instant messaging spaces in educational designs, although how to obtain big data from instant messaging apps remains a problem.

Both reports highlight the need for more evaluations and exploration of edtech learning possibilities for refugees and displaced populations.

Looking Ahead

The final report, again published by Save the Children, is The Future of Learning and Technology in Deprived Contexts. Looking forward to 2020 and 2025, the report is based on a literature review, interviews with experts, a workshop and consultations with Save the Children staff.

Tim Unwin, one of the authors, offers a useful summary of the key points. Concerning changes in basic education which are likely to be apparent by 2025, some observations include the following:

  • The pace of change in education is likely to remain slow in most countries. Further, there will be increased diversity and inequality in learning practices and opportunities. Not a rosy outlook.
  • On the upside: The diversity of content provision will increase and there will be greater emphasis on non-formal and lifelong learning.
  • The use of technology will be all-pervasive. I hope this will be true, but I’m not that optimistic. Also, the report says “it may well be that by 2025 many traditional literacy skills will also have become replaced by technology, so that children do not have to learn to read and write and will simply speak and listen mediated by ICTs.” Very controversial!

Concerning ICTs for education in crisis-affected areas in 2025, a few predictions include:

  • Mobile technologies will increasingly enable children fleeing crises to continue to participate in both formal and informal learning.
  • Much more extensive use will be made of online resources to provide counseling for those traumatised by disasters and war (tying up with the UNESCO report finding).
  • Online resources will be available specifically to provide children in acute crises with additional information to enable them to be better able to survive.
  • It is likely that by 2025 numerous different ICT-enhanced school-in-a-box solutions, combining connectivity, electricity, devices and content, will be available that can be set up quickly and effectively wherever in the world there is a need.
  • There will be much greater use of mobile phones by refugees to find out information about entering other countries, and what they need to know about the different cultures and ways of life there in order to survive.

The focus is clearly on continued learning, psycho-social support and integration into the host setting. These predictions provide great suggestions for where to focus attention in new apps and services.

Photo: (c) S. Sheridan / Mercy Corps

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