Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers

The other day some preschoolers were pretending to be one of their favorite Sesame Street characters, a baby goat named Ma’zooza who likes round things. They played with tomatoes—counting up to five, hiding one, and putting it back.

A totally ordinary moment exploring shapes, numbers, and imagination. Except this version of Sesame Street—called Ahlan SimsimWelcome Sesame)—was custom made for children like these: Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon who otherwise don’t have access to preschool or, often, enough to eat.

Educational interruptions due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war have affected nearly every child on Earth since 2020. A record 43.3 million children have been driven from their homes by conflict and disasters, according to UNICEF—a number that doubled over the past decade.

And yet, points out Sherrie Westin, the head of the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street, “less than 2% of humanitarian aid worldwide goes to the early years”—that is, specifically supporting care and education, not just food and medicine.

two children sitting close together holding a tablet
Sesame Workshop created the TV show Ahlan Simsim (seen on screen) for children who have been displaced from their homes or experienced conflict.RYAN HEFFERNAN/SESAME WORKSHOP

That may be about to change. The Ahlan Simsim program is the largest-ever humanitarian intervention specifically intended for small children’s development. The Sesame Workshop partnered with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian-aid nonprofit, to win a $100 million grant competition administered by the MacArthur Foundation. The results, released in May 2023 but not yet peer reviewed, have been startling: they have provided the first evidence that 100% remote learning can help young children in crisis situations. And the format has already been successfully copied and used in other crises.

The program combines video content produced by Sesame with services from the IRC, which employs a combination of volunteers from the affected community and professional teachers and parent educators to work locally with families. Over the past few years, 2 million children and their caregivers watched Ahlan Simsim and received coordinated services, some of which were provided entirely over mobile phones. Another 25 million simply watched the show.

In 2023, Hiro Yoshikawa and his team of researchers at New York University showed in a randomized controlled trial that Syrian refugee children taking part in an 11-week, fully remote learning program, combining Ahlan Simsim videos with live support from local preschool teachers over cell phones, showed progress in learning that was comparable to the results from a year of standard in-person preschool.

And the learning they measured wasn’t just academic. Children made progress in overall development, emerging literacy, emerging numeracy, motor skills, social-emotional skills, and even the quality of play—like pretending to be Ma’zooza the goat.

“I’m pretty impressed,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an expert in early child development at Temple University, who was not involved with the research. Compared with in-person preschool, “this is probably not the full nutritional value,” she cautions. “But nicely done—to even bring them anything in this setting is kind of amazing.”

Sesame and IRC hope that holistic intervention can help the world’s most vulnerable kids cope with toxic stress—the kind that can, if unchecked, change the architecture of a developing brain. “We see so many children that just because of the circumstances of their birth—born into crisis, into conflict—the odds of them achieving their full potential are reduced,” says Katie Murphy, the director of early-­childhood development and strategic initiatives at the IRC, who was closely involved with the project. “Our work tries to reduce that gap.”

With the right support from caregivers and communities, Murphy and her colleagues believe, more children around the world can grow up resilient amid crisis, displacement, and war.

Coping with discrimination, conflict, and hunger

At a refugee camp in the agricultural Beqaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Amal, Hana, and Mariam, three Syrian refugee mothers who participated in the

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By: Anya Kamenetz
Title: Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1088127/remote-learning-preschoolers-early-childhood-education-teaching/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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