Building peace in the minds of men and women

A game-based learning tool for children in conflict areas wins UNESCO Prize for innovation in education

20 March 2019

Amira, a Syrian refugee girl living in Lebanon, had to flee her country with her family because of the conflict. Now living in a tent made of plastic, she remembers the bombs and the airplanes that forced her to escape and leave her education behind: “At home we could go to school. We were free and we were happy. Now we have lost everything.” It is stories like hers that inspired War Child Holland, an international non-governmental organization from the Netherlands, to come up with the programme Can’t Wait to Learn (CWTL) “In each war-affected country I visited, the story was the same. When children are caught up in conflict, one of the first things they lose is education,” regrets Kate Radford, CWTL Programme Director.

Can’t Wait to Learn started in Sudan as a pilot called e-Learning Sudan. “The idea of using technology to help reduce the number of out-of-school children first came from Dr. Aiman Badri, from Ahfad University for Women (AUW) in Khartoum; the initial champion of the programme,” remembers Kate Radford. The organization opted for a learning programme taking the form of an educational game accessible off-line on tablet computers, based on research showing the benefits of a game-based learning experience. Indeed, research shows that games allow the brain to work more effectively and for a longer period of time. It would also give students a more positive attitude towards learning than traditional teaching methods: “as motivation is key to learning and games are designed to be highly motivating, the potential for learning is higher,” explains the programme leader. Finally, it allows children to work at their own pace and difficulty levels.

But according to Kate Radford, what really sets Can’t Wait to Learn apart is the contribution of children in designing the world of the game to make it as close as possible to their reality.  Face to face games and discussions along with children’s artwork in the form of drawings, Lego constructions and modelling-clay sculptures inform the design of the game, from the characters and their names, clothing and vocations, to the locations in each game world. “There is nothing quite as inspiring as seeing children’s designs brought to life,” claims the programme director.

Can’t Wait to Learn is now operating in four countries – Sudan, Uganda, Lebanon and Jordan – and is available in English and Arabic. A French version is also going to be developed. “Our aim is to reach 1.5 million children by 2023,” says Kate Radford. “Based on having the evidence to show that it’s a solution that works and can be easily scaled at a reasonable cost.” Besides developing the initiative in countries where it is already used, the organization is also exploring start-up in Chad and Colombia within the next year. “South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali…the approach can be adapted to the context and stakeholder landscape pretty much anywhere,” adds the programme director.

Having been selected as one of the 2018 laureates of the UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize, Kate Radford hopes that this recognition will help the programme to reach even more children in the future.