Challenge Update From Our Partner International Rescue Committee
Victoria O. Nguyen, Writer, Research & Innovation
For the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a school does not have to be a traditional brick-and-mortar institution. In countries torn apart by conflict and crisis — where formal school systems are disrupted or inaccessible, the IRC helps families and communities establish formal or informal spaces where children can learn in a safe environment. The IRC works in places with the greatest need, including Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have fled to escape violence and decades of military rule and conflict. The education crisis faced by Rohingya refugee children is especially acute because, while living in Myanmar, many children were already deprived of access to school. Now, compounded with the effects of COVID-19, the future of an entire generation is at stake.
When COVID-19 first hit Bangladesh, children like 11-year-old Umaima quickly fell behind in learning as schools closed. After an 18-month closure, when schools partially reopened, Umaima had only a few short months of intermittent learning to catch up. Without the help of a program that bridges her current skills to the formal education system with the Myanmar Curriculum, Umaima is more likely to drop out and lose the chance to receive an education altogether.
With the generous support of partners, including the Bezos Family Foundation, the IRC aims to increase access to quality, student-centered learning through Pop-Up Learning, an education program reaching displaced children. Pop-Up combines mobile devices that deploy child-friendly education software with an adaptive curriculum that children can navigate autonomously and at their own pace with the support of an informal facilitator — as opposed to a skilled teacher. Pop-Up is uniquely designed to improve literacy, numeracy, and social emotional skills in crisis-affected contexts, laying the foundation needed for every child to unlock their full potential.
“My schooling started in Myanmar when I was four years old. It continued for three years. After arriving in Bangladesh, I really missed my school and friends. I went to other schools but I was struggling with my studies. I realized that I need something much more flexible and with love. Two years back, Pop-Up opened near my house. After hearing about it from my friends, I went there and loved the way our facilitator treats us with love. So, I shared it with my parents and they let me join. I really love to go learn, play, recite poems, sing and dance.” — Umaima, age 11.
This past year, the IRC conducted an implementation research study to evaluate the degree to which Pop-Up was implemented as intended. Next, we will deepen the research by conducting a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) with children in Bangladesh to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and impact of Pop-Up on children’s literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills.
This next phase of our work will reach 800 children in Bangladesh and will lay the groundwork to reach 180,000 refugee children in Bangladesh over the next 5 years, putting us on track to further scale and serve millions of children in the long term. And, as a replicable program, Pop-Up has the potential to transform the humanitarian sector’s approach to education as a crucial aspect of supporting children affected by conflict and crisis.
As we continue to navigate COVID-19 and other critical global challenges, some 30,000 Rohingya children, like Umaima, could lose their access to education in Bangladesh unless sustained and collective action is taken to invest in learning opportunities that are vital to children’s wellbeing now and long into the future. We are deeply grateful for our partnership with the Bezos Family Foundation to help us build the evidence base and demonstrate the impact of solutions like Pop-Up Learning that bridge educational gaps, ensuring learning never stops for those caught in crisis.