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Remote Learning and Preschoolers

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review described the benefits that remote learning can bring to preschoolers. The article described a study by the MacArthur Foundation that has not yet been peer-reviewed. The research described the results of bringing preschool to Syrian refugees.

Syrians are the largest displaced population in the world. Seventy percent of Syrians fled the country over the last decade as violence in the country grew out of control. Most of the displaced population is living in nearby countries like Lebanon. The lives of the refugees remain unsettled because they have not been accepted in the new countries and have no path to citizenship. For example, Lebanon is itself in strife. The country currently has no president. Events like the Israel-Palestine crisis have brought new violence to the country.

The vast majority of children on the planet have had disruptions in education due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war. According to UNICEF, there have been 43.3 million children driven from their homes worldwide since 2020.

The study concerns an effort coordinated by the International Rescue Committee, the Sesame Workshop, and educators to create a preschool program that can be delivered to students in tough situations. One of the programs created in the package of materials is Ahlan Simsim (Welcome Sesame) that is created in Arabic using many of the familiar Sesame Street characters. The educational programming is being broadcast into refugee centers using cell phones and is being made available to many other children in more traditional ways to deliver video content. Over 2 million preschoolers have watched the content and participated in the program.

Lebanon is a challenging environment for anything digital because only 78% of residents have any access to broadband, and only about two-thirds of adults have a cellphone. The Syrian refugees typically have one cell phone per family.

There was already a movement underway in Lebanon before the pandemic to create this content. Sesame street had created programming using Ma’zooza the goat, Jad a yellow monster, and Basma a purple friend. But the pandemic put the project on the shelf.

The study that been conducted with the release of the content seems promising. It appears that remote learning is nearly as effective as live preschool. Children viewing the programming have seen noted improvements in literacy, number skills, motor skills, and social-emotional skills. Best of all, kids viewing the programming have incorporated what they have learned into their play.

One thing that probably enhanced the experience for kids is that Syrian mothers have embraced the programming and watch it with their children. That provides strong reinforcement for tasks like learning the alphabet or how to count.

The effort has been so successful that it’s now being copied and modified for other refugee populations around the world. Educators understand the risk to children who grow up in stressful environments without learning the basic skills that lead to life-long learning. Children who don’t get this kind of mental stimulation in the early years lose the ability to ever catch up with their peers.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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