Equipping parents and teachers with tools to provide displaced children with psychosocial support

Norwegian Refugee CouncilBetter Learning Program App

Today, there are over 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world. It’s estimated that over 40% of these are children. Many of these children may have experienced extreme stress or trauma. Uncovering what support they need and how to provide it in their new, unfamiliar environment is a difficult but critical challenge.

Norwegian Refugee Council ’s incredible Better Learning Programme (BLP) tackles this problem by helping parents and teachers to better support children and adolescents affected by displacement. The programme focuses on providing a clearer understanding of how trauma and stress can affect children on a day-to-day basis, with a particular focus on how this impacts their learning in and out of school.

The COVID pandemic accelerated the value of creating remote, digital access to the BLP programme, and in doing so, expand the reach and scale of BLP by making it available to parents and teachers no matter their location, at a time and pace that suits them. The digital BLP initiative needed to both complement the existing programme, and work as a stand alone initiative, reaching and supporting those unable to attend a programme in person.

Our goal was to build an inclusive app that puts digital learning in the hands of users wherever they are.

Understanding our users' unique needs

Before designing the application, we knew that the primary users are parents and teachers of displaced children, in rural, urban and camp settings. Both parents and teachers are likely to have a low cost phone, with an older OS, and lower levels of digital literacy. They may not have money for data credit, access to free WiFi or a place to charge their phone. Crucially, parents are also likely to be suffering from stress and trauma, which can affect their ability to focus and retain information.

Building an inclusive experience

We created a light-weight Android application and a Progressive Web Application to ensure the programme could be accessed no matter the device used, and without draining the valuable commodities of battery life, data, or storage. We made videos available in different resolutions to support all levels of WiFI connectivity. We built different learning journeys for parents and teachers. Both are simple, comprising a step-by-step process of short videos followed by check-ins to track progress.

Re-designing the log-in process

A typical log-in approach requires an email address, which we knew many of our users wouldn't have. We also knew that a complicated 12-digit password may be hard to remember for our users and were mindful that this may be the first log-in some of our users have ever created. At the same time, we wanted to avoid encouraging them to choose a simple but low security password, as this could negatively influence their choice of future passwords, such as banking.

With this in mind, we opted for a simple username (i.e. their first name) and phone number. A unique identifier was then automatically generated and stored in the secure database. This approach is a low barrier method for sign up that keeps our user's accounts personalised but crucially, safe.

Preparing to scale

The Better Learning Programme app, currently available in English and Arabic has piloted in Kenya, Myanmar and Cameroon. So far, the feedback from users has been positive.

I learnt more through the video than I did face to face. I think it’s because its short and precise.

BLP App user

It’s like the app summarises face-to-face training.

BLP App user

The MVP we built has proved that the future of the BLP app is luminous. However, we want to make sure we get it right. NRC is investing in understanding the business environment of BLP in a digital world so that we can sufficiently elevate our internal capabilities and external offerings for the people we serve. NRC is working towards institutionalising the Better Learning Programme in 30 countries and counting. The BLP App is crucial to improving awareness, access and quality of psychosocial support services in these contexts.

Lynda Kigera, Norwegian Refugee Council

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