December 16, 2021
Forced migration has resulted in nearly 82.4 million people feeling wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations. According to UNHCR, 11.2 million people – from Central America to Africa and the Middle East – were forced to flee their homes in 2020. By the end of the year, there were 20.7 million refugees and another 48 million internally displaced within their own countries. That means 1 in 95 people is now forcibly displaced. In addition, UNHCR estimates that among refugees displaced abroad, almost one million children were born in displacement between 2018 and 2020.
That means 1 in 95 people is now forcibly displaced.
Like many who find themselves living on the margins of society, those impacted by forced migration are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Millions of migrants are stranded, often without income or shelter, unable to return home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Children are at particular high risk. According to the UN, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling is a “generational catastrophe,” especially for the more than 4 million children were out of school due to migrant and refugee crises across the world. The negative outcomes of prolonged closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately impacts displaced children, and children with disabilities remain among the most marginalized in access to education, a challenge further compounded conflict and the pandemic.
In addition to the challenges faced by marginalized children in low-resource contexts, displaced and refugee children face additional challenges, including a larger number of out-of-school children and stress related and conflict induced trauma. UNESCO estimates that refugee learners lost an average of 142 of school days up to March 2021 because of closures due to the pandemic.
Reading plays a crucial role in a child’s opportunity to attend and complete their education, which is a proven driver in reducing poverty. Due to the combined impact of forced migration crises and the pandemic, the UN estimates the number of children who lack basic reading skills has increased from 387 million prior to the pandemic to 584 million.
Due to the combined impact of forced migration crises and the pandemic, the UN estimates the number of children who lack basic reading skills has increased from 387 million prior to the pandemic to 584 million.
EdTech innovation and approaches are proven to help address gaps and barriers to child literacy in and outside of school and in crisis and emergency situations. While not a replacement for traditional education, EdTech can serve as an effective supplement to traditional learning and positively influence the learning of learners at home or at school, including those with disabilities.
ACR GCD, a leader in EdTech for literacy for 10 years, has accelerated, tested and catalyzed co-investment for game-changing solutions and tools to increase literacy for marginalized children in low-resource contexts, including specifically addressing educational and psychosocial needs of children affected by conflict, natural disaster, or health crises by sourcing solutions for use in out-of-school contexts and contributing to research to improve the use of technology to provide education in emergencies.
Below, we’ve highlighted some of those solutions and tools – all of which are open source and free to use – as well as guidelines for policy-makers, designers, implementers and donors considering the use of EdTech and Information Communication Technology (ICT) to increase reading outcomes for children in crisis or emergency situations.
Smartphone apps addressing literacy and psychosocial well-being
In response to the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, ACR GCD, in collaboration with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), mobile operator Orange; and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) awarded the $1.7 million EduApp4Syria prize to three innovator teams to develop smartphone apps that could build foundational literacy in Arabic and improve the psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children who are out of or struggling in school. The prize resulted in several apps that helped fill educational gaps for millions of out-of-school children and are now available in dozens of languages: Feed the Monster, Antura and the Letters and Sema–all available on Google Play.
When evaluating the impact of two of the apps, Feed the Monster and Antura and the Letters, ACR GCD found that children using the apps scored higher on oral reading fluency, which is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. Data on both apps show girls making gains, indicating that the apps could provide girls who are denied other opportunities a chance to acquire and improve literacy skills. In addition, parents reported that their children were not only improving their reading skills but were also happy after using the apps. Read the full report in English and Arabic.
STEM-focused accessible stories available for free on digital libraries
Through the $100,000 No Lost Generation Summit Tech Prize in 2017, ACR GCD supported Asafeer Education Technologies development of 100 audible, leveled, accessible storybook templates that present engaging STEM topics. The books – which spurred a pipeline of quality children’s books in Arabic – are available in multiple languages on various online platforms for reading, downloading or adaptation like the Global Digital Library, Bloom and Asafeer’s digital library.
Resources and tools for children with disabilities
More than 93 million children globally have a disability, and of those who reside in countries with high poverty levels, at least 90 percent do not attend school. Factors like a lack of suitable transportation and infrastructure, inadequate teacher training, or a dearth of quality learning resources prevent children with disabilities from attending or fully participating in school, leaving them among the most marginalized in access to education. This challenge has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and forced migration.
EdTech tools and solutions can help bridge these gaps when they are included in reading programs–such as open source resources like book creation software, reading assessments and digital libraries with accessible books, such as those listed above as well as the World Around You, Kitkit School, and Bookshare. Also, smartphone apps like Senas y Sonrisas (Signs and Smiles) offer resources for hearing families with deaf children and a dictionary of Nicaraguan Sign Language. For content creation, consider several tools publishers and others can use to produce accessible books for children, including World Around You’s open source platform that enables you to create literacy content in local and national sign languages and Bloom’s open source software that makes it easy to create simple books and translate them into multiple languages or create talking books, books in sign language or books for the visually impaired. Learn more about how to be part of the solution to increase literacy for children with disabilities in low resource contexts.
Research and evidence-based guidance for leveraging EdTech in emergency and crisis contexts
In the course of funding products and tools and investing in catalyzing innovative ideas for mitigating education lapses or disruptions due to conflict and emergencies, ACR GCD worked with researchers, organizations and innovators to develop a number of reports analyzing solutions and developing guidance around leveraging EdTech or ICT solutions in low-resource emergency or crisis contexts.
For example, ACR GCD worked with Creative, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and mEducation Alliance to produce the Leveraging Technology for Education of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons series, which provides three modules providing guidelines and findings related to the innovative use of technology to expand education opportunities in various locations including Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Sudan.
The Context for Leveraging ICT4E module outlines some guiding principles for policymakers, program and technology designers, field partners and donors, including:
- The refugee experience is not monolithic. Policymakers should consider the diversity of experiences between and within camps when setting conditions that will affect the whole group. Program and technology designers can practice patience, commitment and cultural sensitivity toward different contexts, styles of communicating, and ways of working. Field partners can provide knowledge about local refugee/IDP context and a nuanced understanding about the history of relationships among various ethnic and religious groups. Donors can ensure the goals at the top are aligned with actual needs on the ground.
- Success looks differently in each camp and context. Policy makers should assess whether ICT4E initiatives can be scaled, replicated, and/or transferred before expanding or adopting them to new contexts. Program and technology designers should determine which components can apply to other contexts and which components will need to remain flexible to adapt to each new context. Field partners can advise about what they think will and will not work within their specific context and help inform the human-centered design process. Donors can be flexible to emerging demands that may arise within each new environment and set of users.
- Institutional and NGO agendas should be reconciled with the real demands of refugees and displaced persons. Policymakers can be sure to uncover internal discrimination patterns that may exacerbate inequalities or thwart program goals. Program and technology designers should conduct a thorough conflict analysis and deep understanding of the history between groups so that they may plan in such a way as to mitigate and overcome tensions. Field partners can use institutional knowledge and experience to validate demand assessments. Donors can fund and disseminate high-quality demand assessment activities that gather information and data in a way that will thoughtfully uncover actual refugee/IDP needs and thus produce the best possible results.
- ICT4E should be centered around people – those at the heart of the work, such as teachers, students, families, schools, communities, administrative staff and education stakeholders.
The Challenges and Opportunities module addresses the range of contexts for displacement, the complex matrix of factors and decisions that motivate learners to attend school, how ICT and blended learning can mitigate many problems of education in refugee camps, the growth of access to smart technologies and mobile broadband, pressing needs and challenges, the importance of blended programs and more. The module also includes guiding principles related to these findings, including:
- Optimize programs for smart mobile devices (phones and tablets)
- Ensure programs work without internet…but are internet ready when the time comes
- Learners need content that meets their academic, linguistic, and skill needs. Use a human-centered design process with users
- Take advantage of the growth of open/free content movement by finding ways to support its use by teachers in the field
- Build mentorship structures when and wherever possible for both teachers and students
The Designing Effective ICT Initiatives module outlines framework, guidelines and examples, including key questions around program goals, addressing the root cause of the problem, the importance of planning and collaborating with refugees and the local community, planning for continuity and contextualizing technology. The module also includes recommended action areas for leveraging ICT for refugee and IDP learning, including:
- Contextualize the learning environment for teachers and students
- Design accelerated learning programs to adapt reading curriculum to digital devices
- Support language learning initiatives by training teachers to use mobile apps and adapting early grade learning through apps
- Promote youth workforce skills through ICT to extend skills and ways to earn income
- Support the blend of online/mobile learning with in-person facilitators and teachers.
- Address the exacerbated needs of the refugee classroom through more individualized adaptive learning for learners who are overage or may need additional psychosocial support
Today, more than ever, approaches and tools aimed at increasing literacy in crisis and emergency contexts are needed. Without new and innovative solutions, we risk leaving the most marginalized children even further behind their peers.
Take this opportunity to explore more resources and tools related to using edTech in crisis contexts or explore other tools and solutions – and share them with your networks. Get involved by signing up for our newsletter to get the latest news about opportunities, ideas and EdTech innovations to increase reading outcomes – or explore how you might partner with us.
Take action today. Be part of the solution–together, we can ensure a future where all children can read.
All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.