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Keeping Children Safe and Learning in a Pandemic: Education, Conflict, and COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of more than one billion children and youth worldwide.1 Children in humanitarian settings are experiencing the compound crises of a public health emergency and additional barriers to their opportunities to learn, develop and thrive. School systems have responded in varying ways but children in crisis settings face unique challenges.

In response, the IRC has responded in nimble and innovative ways to continue reaching the families we serve in the face of school closures and other disruptions. These adaptations account for conditions within each context but all share the same goal: ensuring the right of every child to a quality education, even in a pandemic. By reaching some of the most marginalized and vulnerable students in the world, these innovations have the potential to help these children through this immediate crisis and guide us toward a more inclusive, effective and prepared global education field once the pandemic is over.

Using Media to Support Caregivers: Ahlan Simsim

Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic) provides learning and early childhood development (ECD) support to young children and their caregivers in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Launched in early 2020 and developed in partnership between the IRC and Sesame Workshop, Ahlan Simsim is comprised of both mass media and direct service content for engaging children and caregivers. While the mass media content was always intended to reach children from a physical distance, this program’s direct service component had to be changed in response to the pandemic. Outreach to provide parents with ideas for playful, stimulating interactions with their children originally intended to be relayed at in-person gatherings such as home visits are now shared with caregivers via platforms like WhatsApp or by phone. Lessons on foundational literacy, numeracy and social-emotional learning originally designed for children in classrooms have been changed into 5 –10-minute videos, with each lesson’s complementary activities distributed to caregivers for incorporation in the home.