224 million school-aged children are affected by crisis globally, forcing 72 million out of school altogether due to new and existing conflicts and increasing climate events
The IRC is designing and scaling innovative solutions - including via artificial intelligence- to bring high-quality learning to children wherever they are, and to help recover from the mental health impacts of conflict and displacement
New York, USA, 7 September 2023 — As millions of children go back to school in Europe, the UK, and the US, the IRC today calls urgent attention to the millions of children who remain out of school due to protracted crises in places from Syria to Northeast Nigeria and Colombia, new conflicts like Sudan, and the growing number of climate-related disasters across the globe.
Against this background, the IRC and partners are delivering essential education and early childhood development programming to children, youth, teachers, and caregivers around the world. The IRC is testing new, innovative approaches to reach children wherever they are with high-quality services tailored to each context. Across these crisis contexts, the IRC accounts for the particular needs of these children, such as addressing the mental health and social-emotional impacts of trauma, in search of approaches to make up for years of missed education once school resumes.
IRC’s suite of solutions for education and early childhood development programming range from low-tech to high-tech, including use of Artificial Intelligence (AI):
With support from the MacArthur Foundation and LEGO Foundation, in partnership with Sesame Workshop, Ahlan Simsim - “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic - is the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response. The initiative has now reached over 1.7 million children and caregivers across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria through direct services for families delivered by IRC as well as civil society partners and government ministries of education, health and social development, and through a combination of in-person and remote phone and digital delivery. 25 million children have been reached with a locally produced Arabic-language version of Sesame Street.
With support from the LEGO Foundation, the IRC and partners are delivering play-based learning opportunities to enhance children’s cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and creative skills as well as their wellbeing, through the PlayMatters programme. This initiative will benefit 800,000 young refugees and host community children in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.
The IRC has implemented an AI-driven chatbot platform that delivers personalised learning experiences using messaging platforms that crisis-affected children have access to, like WhatsApp, SMS texting, or social media, and aprendIA is deployable across different settings, aiming to reach over 1 million learners, through instances that include:
- AudioClass System (ACS): ACS utilises a chatbot to deliver supplementary education for migrant children from Venezuela, as well as children who are part of the host communities of Colombia. ACS was specifically designed for learners who are at-risk of dropping out or currently out of school.
- InforMH: IRC is piloting InforMH, a mental health service for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan by creating an AI-driven chatbot to provide relevant recommendations based on a client’s profile assessment.
- Training assistant for teachers in NE Nigeria - IRC is currently piloting aprendIA to support as a job aid in classrooms and upskill teachers in Hausa and English.
The IRC recently conducted three randomised-control trials in Tanzania to measure the efficacy of “Pop-Up” style learning: delivering personalised and gamified content on software via tablets for children in both refugee camp settings and host-communities. Through the programme, children in all three trials saw increased outcomes in literacy and numeracy, equivalent to receiving months of added learning over a shorter amount of time.
In Afghanistan the IRC supports Community Based Education approaches in 6 provinces, with the goal of integrating students into the national education system. Programmes have reached 85,000 students, 50,000 of which are girls, and 2,000 teachers across 6 provinces in Afghanistan. IRC is working to adapt learnings from other contexts to deploy Interactive Voice Response, SMS, and AI-based chatbots to teachers along with retaining the use of simple phones, aligned with client feedback on realistic scalable solutions.
Emma Gremley, IRC’s Senior Director for Education, said:
“There are already hundreds of millions of children around the globe affected by crisis. Increasing climate events and conflict mean education is repeatedly disrupted, with long-term effects on children’s learning, development and future prospects. Current solutions are simply not adequate to meet this unprecedented need. And despite the vast and growing education needs of children and youth in crisis contexts, education remains a severely underfunded aspect of humanitarian responses globally, receiving less than 3% of aid annually. The international community must honour the right of every child to a quality education through sustained funding and a commitment to delivering impactful, innovative and contextualised support for programming.
"At the IRC we are implementing solutions that are scalable, at a low-cost per learner, can be implemented with speed and maintain a high-quality of learning that is personalised to the unique needs of children. Through these solutions, driven by both emerging technologies like AI and low-tech platforms, we are restoring learning and hope for children even in the toughest, most remote settings."