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Project Dandelion: A whole-community approach to learning & wellbeing for refugee children

A mobile-enabled product that enables teachers, parents, and older peers to better support children’s development and learning.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Children who have fled violence and war face unique developmental challenges. When exposed to repeated trauma, they can develop a toxic stress response that impedes brain development and learning. Without addressing each child’s safety, healing and socio-emotional development, the very best educational interventions will not be enough to help them overcome the adversities they have and continue to face; their brains are not open to learning.

Explain your innovation.

Project Dandelion is a product designed from the ground up to prepare primary-school aged refugee children for greater cognitive, social, emotional and academic success. A growing body of evidence shows that social-emotional learning (SEL) for education in emergencies can promote resilience, improve well-being, and lead to greater foundational learning outcomes. Dandelion extends learning beyond the classroom, harnessing the time and energy of parents and older role models in a “whole community” approach. We envision a product that delivers interactive and bite-sized content that motivates teachers, parents and youth themselves to engage, digest, use, and apply SEL content for school-aged refugee children. Through lightweight mobile and computer interactions, Dandelion marshals all stakeholders involved in a child’s development - teachers, parents, and older role models - to overcome the effects of trauma and open a child’s mind to learning. The elements of this product include: •SEL content delivered by teachers in classroom settings, reinforced by family activities led by parents and informal group sessions led by older peers; •SEL content that adapts to the needs of individual children based on continuous assessment; •Behavioral interventions to increase the likelihood that teachers and parents will continue to spend effective time on SEL with their children.

Who benefits?

More than 60% of all school-aged refugees (5-17 years) have no access to school (3.7 million out of 6 million) (UNHCR, 2016). Among the children who do have access to education, many suffer from weak, under-resourced and overburdened services, including overwhelming student-teacher ratios, untapped human capital, and a lack of strong role models in their communities. Dandelion will directly address the need for SEL to mitigate the effects of adversity by providing children with the tools to focus, regulate their emotional responses, interact positively with others and cope with the stress and challenges of displacement, violence and extreme poverty. Dandelion also benefits teachers and parents: It helps them with their own stress management by providing them with explicit social-emotional techniques while also equipping them to become even better at enabling their children’s learning and development.

How is your innovation unique?

Dandelion is distinct from existing practice in a few ways: •It focuses on achieving larger effect sizes than current practice, cost-effectively. It aims to minimize formal, labor-intensive interventions, while taking advantage of informal contributions from parents, siblings, and older role models. •Whereas most education technology innovations in this area focus on delivering content to the end-users, this innovation recognizes learning is inherently a social experience. We use technology to support better parent to child, teacher to teacher, and peer-to-peer relationships. •Finally, whereas most education interventions with teachers and parents focus on improving their knowledge and skills, few focus on mechanisms that aim to change their behavior or improve their own well-being. More than ensuring teachers have information on effective teaching practices, we aspire to teacher behavioral changes that ultimately benefit children's development and learning.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Project Dandelion leverages an extensive library of SEL materials already developed by IRC technical specialists, field staff, and researchers, and is the result of an iterative, human-centered design process. There are many outstanding questions about how best to implement these concepts, and what will work in practice: How should the design account for irregular connectivity and range of devices? How will we account for irregular schedule and constrained environment? Should we use hard incentives, like Conditional Cash Transfer, to drive participation? What data can we collect to have a detailed picture of impact on both the caregivers (primary users) and students (secondary users)?

Tell us more about you.

The IRC helps people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. The IRC assists refugees and others affected by persecution, conflict and natural disasters to survive and rebuild their lives, leading the way from harm to home. From the moment the IRC hits the ground, we work towards lasting solutions to build local capacity and self-sufficiency while promoting human rights, participation and accountability.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Since April 2015, over 400,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries, with the majority (around 246,000) seeking safety in Tanzania, following political upheaval and violence in Burundi. Refugees repeatedly confirm that they do not want to return to Burundi in the near future. Asylum seekers reported threats, assassinations, physical violence, separation of children, abductions, as well as high levels of sexual violence, both in Burundi and during their flight to Tanzania.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Nyarugusu, in Tanzania’s Kigoma region, currently hosts over 137,000 people. According to the latest demographic data from UNHCR (June 2017), 26,264 Burundian children and 25,475 Congolese children are enrolled in Nyarugusu schools. There is an interest among all stakeholders to explore innovative ways of leveraging technology for instruction, improving teaching and learning quality. Nyarugusu provides an ideal setting to develop a solution which can be adapted and scaled more widely.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

IRC is the lead implementer for both education services and child protection services in Nyarugusu Camp. It maintains good relationships with UNHCR and the Ministry of Home Affairs responsible for the management and administration of refugees in Tanzania. Within the camps, IRC works closely with other implementing partners working with children, including Save the Children, Plan International and Caritas, among others.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Dandelion is an evidence-based approach which builds on work at IRC and other humanitarian organizations to create Safe Healing and Learning Spaces for children in crisis and conflict-affected environments. IRC's work in this area began in 2004 with Healing Classrooms, a global organizational learning initiative focused on the broad theme of teacher development for student well-being and the importance of a nurturing, predictable and caring environment.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Tanzania (Dar es Salaam) and New York City



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