Urfa: Where aspirations and education meet

Since the year 2011 ]the world has been witnessing the biggest displacement crisis since World War II. The latest statistics given by UNHCR showed that in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, there are almost 5,136,969 registered Syrian refugees including respectively around 24.6 percent and 22.9 percent males and females under 18 years old.This indicates that millions of Syrian child refugees are currentlyat risk and vulnerable to adverse situations every day. Most of them are not enrolled in schools and have lost the chance to learn. With them the world is facing a lost generation.

In this respect, researchers from several elite universities who are working with Syrian refugees have been trying to find solutions that will lessen the effect of the crisis on children. From their work and their studies, they recommended educative digital games as one of the solutions since games will help in diminishing the educational and psychological gaps in this lost generation.

But can games act as a school to children? And can games really help kids in developing the needed skills nowadays?

Playing can help children develop several skills including social, emotional and intellectual. Moreover, to further enhance the role of games in a child’s development, games should be simultaneouslyeducative and fun. Thus, such game-based learning is usually developed on theories such as “activity theory,” “situated learning” and “experiential learning,” each of which summarizes the learning techniques used in schools.

The “activity theory” is a platform where the child’s participation is a must, a game based on the “situated learning” is a game that provides information, while “experiential learning” is learning by doing.

From here, the group of researchers took the initiative to develop an online-games-based application for refugees entitled “Project Hope.” The application combines four games: Minecraft, which measures the mental health of the children; Alien Game, which is a training game for executive functions; a game that teaches coding; and another that teaches the Turkish language.

In order to study the usefulness of these games, the researchers took Urfa, Turkey – one the largest refugee settlements – as a pilot for the project. The pilot study was for four weeks where 147 children aged between 9 and 14 participated. At the end of the four weeks, the participants’ Turkish language, planning and monitoring skills, cognitive skills and coding skills improved, showing the success and the effectiveness of the project.

Accordingly, Sinem Vatanartiran, president of BAU International University and a Project Hope investigator, said, “Our pilot study shows that using game-based learning is an effective, cost-efficient way to teach refugee children important skills – and importantly, this structured environment provided distressed refugee children with an outlet to imagine a better future for themselves.”

But is this the ultimate solution that we can reach to help these refugees? Is it the only way to reduce the effect of the crisis on the children? “Project Hope” may be one of the many initiatives that can put a child refugees back on the track of learning. It can improve their psychological and mental situation. It can help in reducing the effect of this lost generation on our future but it will not enable these children to live a normal life in the future. It will not provide them with the required qualifications to enrolin a university. It will not allow them to reach executive positions in their work. “Project Hope” is just a small step in a whole milestone that should be implemented for today’s children to have a better future.

Nahla El-Zibawi is project coordinator of the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at nahla.z@hariri-foundation.org.