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Promoting children's learning outcomes in conflict-affected countries: Evidence for action in Lebanon and Niger

Tue, March 27, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Fiesta Inn Centro Histórico, Floor: Lobby Floor, Room C

Proposal

Background
The world currently faces the largest refugee crisis since WWII . This increasing population of refugee children has often experienced unspeakable adversities and growing up in unpredictable and low-resource environment that can hamper their healthy social-emotional development and learning . Whereas quality education with social-emotional learning (SEL) support has been shown to have measurable effects on improving children’s social-emotional and academic outcomes , designing and implementing such programs are challenging in conflict-affected settings with low-resource highly-mobile populations, such as refugee children in Lebanon and Niger fled from violence of war and terror attacks. Embedding low-cost programs targeting specific foundational developmental SEL skills, as complements to a high-quality education program maybe a strategy to maximize efficiency in program delivery and support holistic development of refugee children in conflict-affected contexts.

Intervention
Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA) combines rigorous research with high-quality programming to generate evidence needed for program and policy decision-making. During the 2016-2017 school year, 3EA delivered a Learning in Healing Classrooms (LIHC) tutoring program to 6400 children in Lebanon and Niger, which provided basic education in safe, positive learning environments to address the unique learning needs of children who have been exposed to armed conflict and related adversities. Key components of children's development addressed by LIHC are: self-worth, self-control, sense of belonging, social relationships, and an intellectually stimulating environment. In addition, two low-cost targeted (LCT) SEL programs were implemented: Mindfulness, designed to target emotion and stress regulation, and Brain Games, targeting core executive functioning skills―working memory, attention, and inhibitory control.

Research questions
(1) Does the LIHC tutoring program improve children’s social-emotional (executive function, hostile attribution bias, emotion regulation, aggression) and academic (literacy, numeracy) outcomes, over and above the public school education alone, in Lebanon and Niger?
(2) Does the embedded LCT SEL programs (Mindfulness, Brain Games) improve children’s perceived social-emotional and academic outcomes, over and above the LIHC and public school education in Lebanon and Niger?

Data Collection and Analysis
Students were individually assessed through verbal interviews by trained local assessors three times across the academic year. Data were collected on children’s: (1) literacy and numeracy skills (2) executive function (teacher report , assessor report , tablet-based direct assessment ), (3) emotion dysregulation and aggression (scenario-based assessment), and (4) internalizing symptoms (self-report) .

Findings
The preliminary analyses of Lebanon Cycle 1 impacts suggest that access to LIHC programming, with and without LCT SEL, significantly improves Syrian refugee students’ Arabic reading (LIHC: b=.10, p<.05; LIHC+SEL: b=.16, p<.001) and math (LIHC: b=.20, p<.001; LIHC+SEL: b=.26, p<.001) skills after three months of implementation. In addition, Syrian refugee children in both LIHC programs are less likely to view interactions with peers as hostile in intent than the children who were attending public schools only (LIHC: b=-14, p<.001; LIHC+SEL: b=.16, p<.001). However, LIHC programing is not found to significantly improve children’s internalizing symptoms or executive function after the first cycle.
In Niger, the one-year LIHC and LIHC + LCT SEL program impacts on literacy, numeracy, and average school grades are available. As expected, the findings show that additional LIHC tutoring programs (both LIHC and LIHC+SEL) improved children’s French literacy and math competence about 1.5 times more than public schooling alone did. We also found that students in LIHC + SEL (mindfulness + Brain Games) program showed about 8% higher average school grades (.82, out of on a 0-to-10 scale) compared to those in LIHC only. We did not find evidence of impacts on ASER scores for targeted SEL interventions over and above LIHC.

Discussion
This trial provides the first rigorous evidence of whether and how non-formal, SEL-based education programs and complemental LCT SEL programs can bolster refugee children’s holistic learning and development. Mixed impact findings highlight the needs for an iterative evidence-based program design process that allow informed adaptation of programs and practice to best support children’s needs in conflict-affected contexts.

Authors

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