Putting learning in the hands of children

Imagine Worldwide and the IRC will bring child-centered, tech-enabled programs to children in crisis contexts

Susan Colby
4 min readNov 14, 2019


The Airbel Impact Lab at the International Rescue Committee and Imagine Worldwide are excited to announce a groundbreaking new partnership to fill a huge gap in learning for children globally. More than 600 million children in developing countries fall short of proficiency in literacy or numeracy. Sixty-one million primary-aged children are out of school globally, one-third of whom are children in crisis contexts around the world. For these children, access to learning that can help them become literate and numerate is often difficult to imagine.

Until now. Starting with a pilot in Bangladesh, the IRC and Imagine will team up with Can’t Wait to Learn (War Child) and Kitkit School (Enuma) and other partners to explore, research, and refine models for delivering learning into children’s hands — with a plan to scale to over 50,000 children in West and East Africa over the next five years. Our ultimate goal is to bring child-centered, tech-enabled learning to every one of the hundreds of millions of children around the world who do not have access to quality education.

The power of learning anywhere

Child-centered, tech-enabled approaches to education empower children to take charge of their own learning. Children gather in a site (e.g., a community center, classroom, or at home). They learn using best-in-class software on tablets for 60–90 minutes. Adults (volunteers, caregivers, or teachers) play a facilitative role. In crisis contexts, there is an opportunity to engage caring adults, while also providing them with employment.

This solution is especially vital to children in crisis areas, whose lives are disrupted and who don’t have access to basic educational structures. In order to learn, children do not need to rely on (or wait for) the physical infrastructure of schools and classrooms, or even an internet connection — allowing them to learn anytime, anywhere.

The evidence is already growing

Imagine Worldwide is forging partnerships with organizations globally and has launched pilots to build an evidence base for child-centered, tech-enabled learning. The new partnership combines Imagine’s research and design experience with tech-based education models and the IRC’s large infrastructure for deployment at scale. We are excited to expand on the work Imagine has already started in Africa in partnership with the Unlocking Talent (UT) initiative. UT uses onebillion’s onecourse to bring literacy and numeracy learning to children in over 100 schools. Imagine, specifically, is building evidence through randomized control trials with over 2,000 children in both host and refugee contexts in Malawi that will be critical to inform scale as we look to increase our impact together.

Breakthrough strategies to meet learning needs in crisis

With the support of donors and the help of our partners, we will be testing, adapting, and implementing different learning delivery models in Bangladesh, Tanzania, and other countries in West Africa. Each location will provide fresh insights about learning for children caught in crisis.

This fall, we are launching our first learning program together in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where over 500,000 Rohingya children don’t have access to quality education. We are starting with a pilot for 600 Rohingya children, with the goal of creating a replicable delivery model for child-centered, tech-enabled learning that can be deployed within eight weeks of crisis. We believe that this model has the potential to be adopted by emergency practitioners and donors as the leading tool to provide basic quality education for out-of-school primary school children.

In Tanzania, our pilot will target refugees in camps where 50,000 primary school aged children are currently enrolled in school but could benefit from additional support. We will design an afterschool program accessible to children who are falling behind, enabling students to catch up by learning fundamental concepts on the tablet, at their own pace, with interactive, playful and adaptive content. In order to support critical government relationships, we will also prioritize serving host community children as well whose learning opportunities are also under-resourced.

And we plan to conduct an impact evaluation in either Niger or Nigeria to compare the cost effectiveness and outcomes of this solution against existing supplementary tutoring programs in order to assess the relative performance of each model.

We are thrilled to launch this groundbreaking community of collaboration with the IRC, Imagine Worldwide, Can’t Wait to Learn, and Kitkit School. We know other partners will join along the way to transform how learning is delivered in crisis contexts. Through careful piloting and testing of child-centered, tech-enabled learning models, we will lay the foundation to scale this critical programming to all displaced children and communities around the world.