photo:Syrian boys walk to their tent at a refugee camp in Atmeh, Syria.Freedom House
A new study, from New York University, has looked at Syrian refugees children in Turkey. The children, sometimes with their families, have experienced the plight of fleeing a war-torn area and many experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Add to this, few of the children in refugee camps are receiving education, partly because of the language barrier. How can these problems be addressed?
One answer, according to the researchers, is with the use of digital technology. The researchers have devised a platform to both help children to learn and also to help to alleviate the stresses associated with the experiences of conflict and unsteady travel. Some of the ‘games’ within the platform were specially designed to address these concerns; others are modifications of standard applications such as Minecraft.
For the study, the New York University researchers worked with the City University of New York, and Turkey's Bahcesehir University. The findings were presented to a special meeting at BAU International University in Washington, D.C. in June 2017. The study was called ‘Project Hope’.
The aim of the digital platform as a whole was to improve Turkish language proficiency, expand executive functions, and introduce coding skills. At the same time the package aimed to decrease the sense of despair faced by the children and to increase hope.
The initial study group was composed of 147 Syrian refugee children, aged between 9 to 14 years. The researchers randomly assigned children to the digital platform or to a non-digital platform group. The test group engaged with the digital platform for two hours per day over a four week period.
The software included an adaptive learning technology platform Cerego, to help them to learn Turkish and a game called Alien Game, which was designed to improve executive functions through rewarding short-term memory retention and also to test the quick reactions of the participants. The children also learned what the researchers felt to be a key skill: coding. This was through a game developed by Code.org to teach the fundamentals of coding like conditionals, algorithms, and digital citizenship.
According to the lead researcher, Professor Jan Plass: “We were excited about this opportunity to apply our research findings to help address the urgent needs of refugee children, needs that could not be met with traditional, on-the-ground service delivery. Instead, we took advantage of the power of digital media.”
The project was deemed to be a success and it could be rolled out elsewhere. The research fund that using game-based learning is an effective way to teach refugee children key skills and to help manage stress.