Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA) aimed to have a catalytic effect on the education in emergencies sector, enabling global education actors to ensure that children in crisis-affected settings attend safe and predictable schools and gain the reading, math, and social-emotional skills they need to thrive and succeed in school and life. The initiative brought the ‘Learning in a Healing Classroom’ approach as a base package to more than 8,000 children in Lebanon and Niger. It also included a three-part research agenda including measurement research, implementation research, and evaluation research to 1) quantify the improved performance, 2) assess implementation fidelity, and 3) determine which interventions were most effective to achieve children’s literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional learning outcomes.
Two low-intensity targeted interventions were rigorously tested: 1) Mindfulness to reduce toxic stress: strategies to focus on breathing and attentive listening to a single resonant sound were carried out daily, three to five minutes, three times a day; and 2) ‘Brain Games,’ also known as social-emotional and cognitive regulation activities: thirty minute weekly lessons were followed by five to ten minute ‘Brain Game’ activities that teach mental flexibility, working memory, focusing attention, emotion regulation, impulse control, and how to develop positive social relationships. This set of programmatic and research activities was designed to provide evidence of the mechanisms and conditions critical to the effectiveness, replicability, and scalability of these strategies, while additionally testing scientifically sound and field-feasible tools to assess impact and implementation.
Evidence from one of the randomized control studies that 3EA conducted in Niger showed that providing Healing Classroom Tutoring (HCT) and Healing Classroom Tutoring + Targeted Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities led to improvement in children’s math and reading skills, but not on their SEL skills. Adding targeted SEL programing to HCT led to an improvement on children’s average public school grades. But targeted SEL activities did not make a statistically significant difference in improving children’s measured reading and math skills over the effect obtained by HCT. The findings to date do not support the hypothesis that targeted SEL programs have beneficial impacts on social-emotional outcomes over and above the impacts of HCT. It is important to highlight that this is the first attempt at implementing and rigorously evaluating targeted SEL programs. Little evidence of SEL intervention impacts may suggest Mindfulness and Brain Games may not be appropriate for the context, culture and population. Alternatively, findings may reflect the challenges of implementing quality programs in crisis contexts, where front-line service providers, teachers and children face numerous barriers which may compromise how these programs are delivered and taken up.
The Airbel Impact Lab at IRC is a team of researchers, strategists and innovators committed to the accelerated design, rigorous evaluation and cost-effective scaling of the most impactful solutions supporting people affected by crisis.