A case study
In Sudan – the third largest country in Africa – almost seven million children do not go to school. Yet, desperately, these boys and girls need to be afforded opportunities for learning. Without urgent action, the learning crisis in Sudan will become a generational catastrophe.
Formal education opportunities in Sudan are widely unavailable and where they exist, they often exclude the most vulnerable children. With the exacerbating socio-economic situation, recurring conflicts, and prolonged school closures, once children drop out of school, the chances of girls and boys returning to school are low. Girls are especially vulnerable: evidence suggests that the economic crisis is deepening gender inequalities in Sudan, especially among adolescent girls.
Teachers require further training, classrooms need to be constructed, and government spending on education needs to increase. But even in places where traditional education cannot happen, meaningful and impactful education cannot wait. Therefore, we should not wait until schools are built but bring education to those boys and girls who have never seen a classroom from the inside.
No country can afford to have one-third of its school-age children with no basic literacy, numeracy, or digital skills. Education is a win-win investment: Improving access to and quality of education is key for the development of children and countries.
Digital learning could be the great equalizer in education. A tablet can never replace a teacher, but in the absence of trained teachers, a digital solution can support the learning of children, especially when the contextualized learning content facilitates self-learning, is self-paced and does have build-in assessment against nationally set learning outcomes.
Having successfully tested the use of digital learning in the most remote schools and hardest to reach community-based e-learning centers, UNICEF is ready to radically scale-up digital learning solutions for in and out-of-school children and young people.
Sudan’s e-learning programme offers out-of-school children an innovative education programme. Not regular lesson with books and pens, but an e-learning programme on solar-powered tablets. The programme uses solar-powered tablets. Local facilitators support the children in their learning. They receive a special training that includes child-friendly teaching and the technical aspects of the game and tablets. Stories and videos are used to explain the different exercises, as many children cannot read or write. This simple, child-friendly design makes the games recognisable for boys and girls living in remote areas in Sudan.
How does it work?
- UNICEF Sudan will work with communities to set-up alternative learning spaces. To increase ownership, the community is responsible for building a safe learning space from local materials.
- Once the alternative learning space is established, UNICEF Sudan provides a solar panel as electricity is often not available in rural locations. The solar panel is needed to charge the tablets and provide light in early morning and late afternoon hours. The provided solar power could also be used for other things by community members, such as lighting of toilets to ensure safe access for girls and women, and charging mobile phones and radios, which is an added benefit.
- UNICEF Sudan will provide 30 tablets per e-learning center, benefiting a total of around 60-90 children per center, as well as accessories, such as headphones and locally made wooden standards for the tablets. One charging bus per center is provided, the digital version of UNICEF's 'school-in-a-box'.
- The digital content for the e-learning is already developed and aligned to the national curriculum (which ensures children can be reintegrated in the formal learning system once available). The learning games - reading, writing and mathematics - are of high quality, and interactive. The content has been zero-rated by major telecom companies in Sudan, meaning that no internet connection is needed to access the games.
- UNICEF Sudan's implementing partners (Plan International and Sadagat) will train facilitators from the local community on facilitation techniques, tablet technical knowledge, children safeguarding and child protection, positive teaching and parenting, and monitoring of progress. The teachers will collect the data on each child's learning, which will be collected and analysed by UNICEF Sudan's education team.
The Arabic game is designed to be a ‘Treasure Hunt’ where the learner has to go on a journey in order to find a treasure by going to different locations and overcoming various obstacles in addition to making friends, which will reinforce achieving the learning objectives along the way.
Meanwhile Culture and Science is gamified into a ‘City Building’ game where a group of experts arrives at the learner planet to assist with addressing various issues in the village through knowledge sharing and building appropriate facilities and buildings throughout the village.
The English game is around ‘building a robot’ where the learner finds a blueprint of a robot and goes on a journey to different parts of his village, meets people and collects the components needed to construct. This information will be shared with the learner through voice-over and video scenes.
ICT is an exploration of computer world, where the learner goes to the computer planet to learn about computers and how that can benefit their village along the way they will interact with the inhabitants of the planet (which represent the components of the computer) and achieve the learning outcomes.
Mathematics is a quest for fixing a spaceship, where the learner's spaceship crashes and its parts are scattered throughout labyrinths of the planet, the learner goes through each area by solving several mazes and math puzzles, the end of each area provides a spaceship part and moves them to the next area this information will be relayed to the learner through voiceover and cut scenes.
UNICEF expanded the number of e-learning centers from 35 in 2021 to 93 in 2022.
The results are promising, within a year the children participating in the programme learn more than children of the same age learn in other alternative education programmes. In total 5,500 tablets were distributed among 93 e-learning centers across five states with the highest percentages of out of school children (Central Darfur, East Darfur, Kassala, Khartoum, and South Kordofan).
A quasi-experimental mixed-methods evaluation of a digital game-based learning programme for out-of-school children in Sudan was carried out. The evidence is that digital gamification achieves 1.7 times more learning outcomes for children in comparison with children receiving traditional learning.