Children in conflict-affected countries (CACs) experience profound constraints on their academic learning and socioemotional well-being. Children exposed to violence and poverty come to "school" (formal or non-formal education settings) with poor executive function skills (e.g. working memory, inhibition, attention), emotional/behavioral regulation skills and social-information-processing skills. And the formal and non-formal "schools" they attend rarely use effective strategies to advance their academic and socioemotional skills.
What can be done? This project aims to develop both scientific and practical knowledge about how to lift these constraints on children in CACs like Niger. First, we propose to adapt and test novel, low-cost, targeted interventions (LCTs) like Mindfulness (MI) and Brain Games (BG) designed to improve children's executive function, emotional/behavioral regulation and social information-processing skills and, subsequently, their literacy and numeracy skills and socioemotional well-being.
Second, even when interventions like MI and BG work, they often work better for some children, in some classrooms and schools, and under some conditions than for others. So this study will examine whether variability in the quality of implementation (e.g. dosage, fidelity) of MI and BG results in the variability in their impacts on children's learning and development in Niger.
Third and finally, these types of complex interactions among students, teachers, "schools" and program interventions (like remedial support programs) are embedded in larger systems and broader contexts that may constrain or enable quality implementation of program strategies (such as MI and BG). But there is very little high-quality, rigorous research, grounded in social and systems theories, available in CACs to understand how these higher-level systems influence the dynamic interactions of schools, programs, classrooms, teachers and students. So we will conduct a theory-building qualitative study embedded in the school cluster-randomized field test of MI and BG and their implementation. Through this project, we hope to (a) achieve a dynamic, multi-level understanding of efforts to improve learning processes and outcomes for refugee, IDP, and local children in Niger and other CACs; (b) contribute to the synthesis of the developmental, educational, prevention and social sciences in theory and method; and (c) have a catalytic effect on the education in emergencies sector by identifying effective, scalable strategies that improve children's learning and development.
Through the activities described in the "Pathways to Impact" attachment, we will proactively build links and relationships throughout all stages in the development and implementation of this proposal. We will continue to engage a broad range of direct and potentially indirect beneficiaries.
PRINCIPAL DIRECT BENEFICIARIES:
- The International Rescue Committee in Niger, as well as the other 12+ conflict-affected countries in which they are providing education in emergencies. IRC benefits from this research by: (1) advancing their commitment to becoming an evidence-using and evidence-generating humanitarian and development aid organization, from country-level staff deeply involved in local program delivery and national policy advocacy to regional and global technical advisory units in Education (programming) and Research, Evaluation and Learning (knowledge generation, management use); (2) facilitating their development of and rigorous evaluations of theories of change; and (3) developing a knowledge base that enables IRC to invest in education strategies that work and discard strategies that do not.
- Other international, national and local NGOs working in CACs committed to developing and using evidence-based strategies to educate children both in Niger and in other CACs. These other beneficiaries will potentially benefit from: (1) witnessing the existence proof that NGOs can generate and use research-based strategies to improve children's learning and development; and (2) drawing on the evidence generated outside their organizations to adopt strategies that work inside their organizations.
- National and local governments in Niger and other CACs, who are struggling to develop an information infrastructure in their countries and to attract and intelligently spend national and foreign resources to effectively educate their children in the midst of emergencies.
- Other policymakers and opinion leaders (e.g. the UN, World Bank) and global initiatives (e.g. Global Partnership for Education).
PRINCIPAL INDIRECT BENEFICIARIES:
- If the LCT interventions (Mindfulness, Brain Games) improve the learning and development of children in Niger, then those children, their teachers, parents, and communities will also benefit. (We do not describe children, teachers, parents, and communities as direct beneficiaries because we cannot know a priori that they will benefit from LCTs, which is precisely why we will conduct this study.)
- Similarly, if we succeed at the methodological advances and transdisciplinary theory-building to which we aspire, the larger research community, not only in CACs but in other low- and middle-income countries as well, will benefit from these methods and theories. They will also benefit from the existence proof that very high-quality research in the social, behavioral, developmental, and educational sciences can be achieved even under the most difficult socio-political circumstances.