New research from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), conducted in partnership with New York University's Global TIES for Children (NYU-TIES), finds that an educational approach that combines remedial tutoring with social-emotional learning support has a positive impact on learning outcomes for refugee children. The project, titled “Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA)” and with start-up funding by Dubai Cares, a global philanthropic organization based in the United Arab Emirates, looked at the impact of providing complementary education programs to refugee children enrolled in public schools in Lebanon, Niger, and Sierra Leone.

While both tutoring and social-emotional learning are common educational approaches with a strong evidence base for improving learning outcomes in stable contexts, their effects are currently under-researched in conflict and crisis-affected countries. With 7.1 million refugee school-aged children across the globe, 3EA’s innovative programming and research aimed to fill critical gaps in building the evidence about the necessary interventions for a population that continues to grow and needs added support to catch up, learn, and thrive in school.

In Lebanon and Niger, researchers conducted a series of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) over the course of two years. In Lebanon, where there are nearly 500,000 school-aged Syrian children, those who received half an academic year of tutoring showed improvements in their ability to regulate their behavior and had more positive perceptions of their school, when compared to students with only access to public school. In Niger, where more than half of school-aged children are out of school and 50% of boys and 70% of girls are illiterate, children with access to a full academic year of tutoring showed improved literacy and numeracy skills, when compared to students without access to remedial tutoring. When Mindfulness activities were added, children in both countries saw positive impacts across reading, math, and some social-emotional outcomes.

In Sierra Leone, the IRC reached more than 5,700 students and sought to strengthen teacher practices around literacy and social-emotional learning. Researchers specifically studied the implementation itself and found that there is a need to further invest in the professional development of teachers to increase attendance as well as program achievements.

“We must invest in what we know works to help refugee children learn and succeed in schools,” said Jennifer Sklar, head of education for the IRC. “We now have evidence that social-emotional learning programs can provide that necessary support. We are encouraged by the results of our Healing Classrooms tutoring and Mindfulness programming and look forward to sharing and acting upon these learnings to further improve outcomes for children in conflict and crisis settings.”

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer at Dubai Cares and Member of its Board of Directors said: “Regardless of external circumstances or living conditions, no child on this planet should be prevented from receiving all the support they need to build a strong educational foundation. In fact, particularly for children living in emergencies, having access to quality education can serve as a life-altering opportunity that empowers them to build a better life for themselves in the future. We are pleased with the positive research outcomes that have emerged as part of our “Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA)” research program. These results also encourage us to continually invest in education research to help broaden our understanding of the most effective approaches that we can deploy to maximize learning outcomes in crisis-affected regions of the world.”

These promising findings speak to the need for governments and donors to prioritize and invest in evidence-based and evidence-generating programs designed to achieve holistic child outcomes-- both social-emotional and academic skills. Donors should continue to fund rigorous research studies alongside education programs over multiple years in crisis and conflict settings, so that programming can continue to improve and generate actionable evidence to inform further investments, design, and implementation.

For more information, the global research brief can be found here, while the in-depth country studies for Lebanon, Niger, and Sierra Leone can be found at their respective hyperlinks.