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The Syrian refugee crisis remains one of the largest humanitarian crises since the end of World War II, with more than 5 million Syrians forced to leave their homes due to the continued civil war. Of that number, almost half are children, with millions more displaced internally.
With their families under severe stress, and without clear safety nets or social service systems, displaced children lack the stable, nurturing and predictable learning experiences that form the foundation for school readiness and healthy, successful futures. Exposure to severe and prolonged stress due to violence, displacement and neglect—or toxic stress—during this critical stage of development is known to have detrimental effects on the developing brain and stress response system, with lifelong repercussions for health, economic, and psychosocial well-being.
Interventions to strengthen nurturing relationships with caregivers and to provide children with early learning opportunities can serve to protect children, mitigate the impact of negative consequences of war and displacement, and help to address gaps in early learning outcomes. Similarly, young children affected by conflict and crisis have few opportunities to learn and prepare for their future education, whether due to poverty, limited available resources, issues with registration, or national policies that make enrollment difficult.
To help address these gaps, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee have launched a partnership to provide educational support to hundreds of thousands of displaced children and their caregivers in the Syrian response region. A goal of this partnership is to establish a programming model for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria that can be adapted to respond to other crisis contexts throughout the world going forward
One proposed strategy of this partnership includes the development and provision of mass media content through both a television show and digital platforms. To ensure that the content produced is relevant and contextually appropriate, Sesame Workshop carried out a formative research study in Jordan during the initial 15-month inception phase, generously supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation and Open Society Foundations. The objective of the study was two-fold:
• Assess the appeal of existing Sesame content with target populations and to identify target community’s linguistic preference for Sesame content.
• Understand what media is available to families, how that media is used in the home, and thoughts on how Sesame could produce content that would appeal to their children within existing media habits.
To achieve these objectives, content testing assessed comprehension and appeal of existing Sesame content with young children (ages 3-6) and their caregivers in the displaced populations of Jordan, curated from the following co-productions:
• Iftah Ya Simsim (UAE)
• Hikayat Simsim (Jordan)
• I Heart Elmo (dubbed in Levantine Arabic)
Through viewing sessions and interviews with 107 children and 104 caregivers in May 2017, the findings of this study show that kindness is the prevailing theme. Content that included lessons on kindness, honesty, and healthy relationships with friends and family resonated most strongly with children and caregivers alike. Similarly, children and caregivers responded most favorably to characters who are kind and help their friends. Moreover, caregivers are seeking educational content that will help their children with cognitive skills, like literacy and numeracy, but also content to help children express their feelings and deal with fear and trauma, as well as to help them support their children’s psychosocial needs.
On issues of family media use and access, our research found that smartphone and TV ownership and use is high, though use of both is higher in refugee camps, with children watching 2-7 hours of TV per day, often alongside their caregiver(s).
While this study is specific to Jordan and thus not generalizable to the broader Syrian response region, these findings will be used to inform both future formative research and content production as this initiative, and partnership, grow to ensure that children and caregivers have access to media content that is relevant to their needs and interests, while also working to provide children with early learning opportunities to alleviate the adverse effects of displacement and support their early learning outcomes.