Promoting children's learning outcomes in conflict-affected countries: generating, communicating, and incorporating evidence for impact

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Nowhere is access to and quality of education more urgent than in low-resourced states afflicted by ongoing conflict. Of the over 75 million children around the world who are currently out of school, over half live in conflict-affected countries (CACs). Of children in conflict-affected areas who are in school, children are not learning.

For example, our research in three eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) indicates that 91 percent of primary school children in grades 2-4 could not correctly respond to one reading comprehension question of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), a test designed specifically for use in low- and middle-income countries. We take the position that the provision of quality education can mitigate some of the most severe consequences of conflict for children - and potentially help break the intergenerational transmission of poverty and violence - through the effective provision of safe and supportive spaces that promote children's academic and socioemotional development.

But as an international community, we are currently failing in our efforts to do so due to the "stunning lack of evidence" as to what works to promote children's learning in the context of conflict and crisis. The current project aims to generate, communicate, and incorporate into practice rigorous evidence as to how to promote effective teaching and improve children's academic and socioemotional learning in conflict-affected contexts. We will achieve these objectives using three primary strategies. First, we will generate evidence via original analyses of data from a large-scale, cluster-randomized, school-based intervention program ("Healing Classrooms") undertaken by the International Rescue Committee, New York University, and other partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 2011 and 2014.

To our knowledge, this is the only experimental evaluation of an integrated teacher training/curricular development intervention to promote academic and socioemotional learning in a CAC that has ever been undertaken. We will use the rigorous evidence generated from these analyses to: (1) communicate with policymakers, practitioners, and the academic community cutting-edge social science approaches to the design and implementation of future education strategies in CACs; and (2) work with partner organizations to incorporate the evidence into school-based interventions around the world. In generating evidence, we will move beyond assessing whether a school-based intervention works to promote effective teaching and children's learning outcomes:

We will use sophisticated statistical methods to consider both the mechanisms by and the contexts in which the intervention worked. Such evidence is essential for:

(1) strengthening and replicating the mechanisms of the intervention that do work;

(2) and tailoring the intervention to different school- and community-contexts. Given that Healing Classrooms intervention is currently being implemented by the IRC in 12 countries (including the DRC, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and Chad), the evidence generated by the proposed project - in conjunction with our communication and incorporation activities - has the potential to improve the learning outcomes of millions of children around the world.

Primary beneficiaries (those with whom we have established relationships who will be directly impacted by the proposed research project): The International Rescue Committee is a global humanitarian aid and development NGO that is committed to developing and incorporating rigorous research on program effectiveness into strategic program design, implementation, and evaluation. Building on a 4-year relationship implementing and evaluating the Healing Classrooms program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the IRC has recently established a strategic partnership with NYU's IDEAS for Kids in order to ensure maximum cohesion and effectiveness across projects. Given this partnership, results generated by the proposed analysis will be incorporated into the design and implementation of future school-based interventions in over 12 conflict-affected countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Uganda, and Haiti. In addition, the IRC is continuing to provide school-based interventions in the DRC through the UK Department for International Development. Results from the proposed secondary analysis can be immediately applied to this ongoing intervention. As detailed in the Pathways to Impact (PtI) section, this will be accomplished primarily through: (1) dissemination of findings at a global meeting of IRC staff; and (2) collaboration on future project design and evaluation. The DRC Ministry of Education recently made a formal commitment to create a comprehensive policy that defines the overarching framework for teacher training, ties teacher training to curricular improvements, and outlines the government's role in professional development for teachers. The results of the proposed project will provide evidence of effectiveness and scalability of one possible model for putting a federal policy into practice: a school-based in-service teacher training that provides culturally appropriate and sustainable coaching, learning, and opportunities for practice. As detailed in the PtI section, the evidence will be communicated through: (1) hiring of Ph.D-level DRC researcher to serve as a consultant on evidence-based approaches to education policy in the DRC; (2) the development of targeted policy briefs; and (3) an in-country stakeholder meeting. Funding (e.g., USAID) and philanthropic (e.g., the NoVo Foundation) organizations originally supported the implementation of the Healing Classrooms program in the DRC. Results from the analyses proposed herein will provide additional evidence not only of the impact of such a program, but of how and where the program worked or didn't work to improve children's learning. In turn, these and other organizations can use such information to refine areas for further inquiry in education programming in low-income and CACs. Results will be communicated via reports to donor organizations and conversations with targeted and existing contacts at the respective organizations. Secondary beneficiaries (those whom through networking activities with primary beneficiaries will be indirectly impacted by the knowledge generated through the proposed project): Organizations like the World Bank's Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF), International Network for Education in Emergencies, Save the Children, and the Learning Metrics Task Force - with whom the IRC and NYU have extensive contacts - can use the evidence generated by this project to inform strategies for: (1) promoting effective teaching and children's outcomes in CACs; and (2) promoting the 7 essential global domains of children's learning. Policy briefs developed for use with DRC government officials and blog posts will be used to disseminate findings through networks. Tens of thousands of teachers and millions of students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would benefit professionally and developmentally, respectively, from an evidence-based federal policy to promote teacher training and children's learning.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
ES/M004732/1
Project Status: 
Active
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Sch for Culture Education and Human Dev
Fund Start Date: 
Monday, April 6, 2015
Fund End Date: 
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
150919
academic-outcomes
children
Conflict
Democratic-Republic-of-the-Congo
education-interventions
Healing-Classrooms-intervention
learning
social-emotional-learning-SEL
teacher-curricular/-training-programme
teaching