Partnerships for progress: Education technology in countries affected by conflict

Education technology, or ‘EdTech’, has been widely thrown to the forefront as a potential means to stem the recent decline in progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4. Through ‘Can’t Wait to Learn’, a tablet-based gamified learning programme, War Child Holland is blending experimental, implementation, participatory and policy research to generate knowledge and evidence on how to adapt and scale up EdTech programs in countries affected by conflict.

March 18, 2021 by Jasmine Turner, War Child Holland
5 minutes read
UNICEF Sudan/Sudan/Bos/2019
Credit: UNICEF Sudan/Sudan/Bos/2019

This blog was blog was previously published on the KIX website.

The blog is part of a two-part series that focuses on emerging findings from KIX global grant projects and how they are engaging education systems and actors.

The past year has marked a period of disruption to education never seen before on a global scale, rising from 258 million children out of school to a staggering 1.6 billion. Education technology, or ‘EdTech’, has been widely thrown to the forefront as a potential means to stem the recent decline in progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Within War Child Holland, attention turned to Can’t Wait to Learn, a tablet-based gamified learning program and the innovation at the heart of our partnership with the Global Partnership for Education Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX).

Through the KIX-funded project, Bridges to impact through innovative EdTech: Forging links between policy, research and practice, War Child Holland is blending experimental, implementation, participatory and policy research to generate knowledge and evidence on how to adapt and scale up EdTech programs in countries affected by conflict.

What is Can’t Wait to Learn?

Can’t Wait to Learn is built upon almost a decade of research and was first conceptualised in 2012 by Ahfad University for Women, War Child Holland and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO).

The Can’t Wait to Learn game – currently available for reading and numeracy – combines a game world, mini-games and instructional videos. The videos support children to progress through the mini-games, which consist of varied tasks and challenges, and thereby unlock the game world, rewards and stories.

Can’t Wait to Learn was originally designed to reach the vast number of out-of-school children in Sudan, currently estimated at over 3 million children. Since then, War Child Holland has worked with governments, national and international NGOs, community-based organizations and UN agencies to balance localized design, content and implementation model with scalability.

Can’t Wait to Learn’s self-paced and curriculum-aligned design lends itself well to many national education strategies; it is currently implemented in Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Sudan and Uganda, in formal and non-formal education.

Can’t Wait to Learn research in Sudan

Collaboration with governments has always been the bedrock of the Can’t Wait to Learn program design, from the game curricula development and approval to research partnerships and implementation. Through KIX, however, we are looking to forge broader and deeper roots, to promote the use of evidence and data in the development and implementation of education policy and practice.

In Sudan, our work with KIX is championed by Dr. Hesham Elsunni, assistant professor at the University of Khartoum and an active member of the ICT in Education Committee, led by the Ministry of Education.

In only six months, Dr. Elsunni’s passionate advocacy for evidence-based policy and practice has already made significant impact, including securing seats on the University of Khartoum’s Faculty of Education’s board for two members of the National Council for Literacy and Adult Education. This will facilitate the sharing of priorities, challenges and opportunities between the government and the University of Khartoum.

In broader terms, we are learning how a public, academic institution can best support government to identify the most worthwhile investments to achieve quality education for all.

Can’t Wait to Learn research in Uganda

In Uganda, we are taking a different approach. We are using KIX funding to develop and evaluate an intervention to strengthen caregiver and community engagement in children’s education, specifically aimed at increasing equitable enrolment, attendance and retention.

We identified this as a priority based on past research on Can’t Wait to Learn, which highlighted low attendance and high dropout rates as an issue faced in multiple countries. These factors limit the full potential of the program to boost learning outcomes and are a significant impediment of value for money.

In addition, our research has demonstrated that there is a significant need and demand for increased caregiver involvement in children’s education, particularly during the current pandemic.

Although parental involvement has long been recognized as a necessary contributor to children’s learning, many governments are now relying on parents to take over the role of teachers while schools remain closed due to COVID-19. To support with this, Can’t Wait to Learn formed part of War Child’s COVID-19 education response, delivered in children’s homes alongside resources for family members to help children’s learning.

In a time when Uganda’s schools have been closed for 12 months and counting, support for caregivers’ pivotal role in education is needed more than ever.

Can’t Wait to Learn research in Chad

Last but far from least, our KIX-funded work in Chad is focusing on establishing minimum quality standards and quality assurance mechanisms to support Can’t Wait to Learn’s sustained impact at scale. This is in line with War Child’s scaling strategy – our Roadmap to Impact.

Conducted in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service, a recent evaluation of a Can’t Wait to Learn teacher training in Goz Beida, eastern Chad, is driving the development of tools that measure the attitudes, knowledge and competencies of participating teachers.

In applying lessons learnt from another War Child research project, which demonstrates the superiority of competency-driven training over standardized training design, we’re exploring how to use these tools to not only ensure that the training and teachers’ resultant proficiencies meet minimum quality standards, but also how the tools can be used to tailor the teacher training to fill participants’ gaps in knowledge or competencies.

Our efforts to increase the quality and efficiency of teacher trainings very much align with the priorities of the national government and other education actors in Chad, where most recent data (from 2013) indicate that one-third of primary school teachers are untrained.

Our KIX-supported research aims to explore, extend and integrate the roles of multiple stakeholders - including caregivers, the community, teachers and educators, academic institutions, implementing organisations and policy makers – to deliver sustainable education and the provision of EdTech programming informed by evidence.

Overall, we are working to generate a holistic understanding of what works and what is still needed from policy to practice, to meet both the immediate and long-term need for safe, quality education for all.

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