The world is witnessing a global education crisis – more than 10 million children fear they may never return to school. Can education technology pave the way forward? “If we can bridge the lost middle, it’s possible,” says Judith Flick, director of the award-winning e-learning program War Child.

Initial assumptions

As the Covid-19 pandemic forced hundreds of schools to close their doors – some permanently – the race is on to find alternative educational solutions. From bright young start-ups to forward-thinking non-profits, a variety of edtech programs have emerged. Yet, many have faced similar difficulties when trying to bring their innovation to scale.

“When War Child started developing Can’t Wait to Learn, we led with a few assumptions”, says Judith Flick, director of tablet-based e-learning innovation, Can’t Wait to Learn. “These assumptions affected the initial iteration of the program.”

One hypothesis was that external agencies would adopt Kant’s wait-to-learn approach after creating a ripple effect within the organization and the country and gaining proof of concept to reduce costs on a large scale. War Child also assumed that Ministries of Education would be keen to adopt the program and that it would be closely aligned with their curriculum.

Bringing the edtech program to life

War Child, along with its network of partners, began to launch programs in conflict-affected countries including Uganda, Jordan, Lebanon and South Sudan.

Can’t wait to turn heads quickly, based on a ‘game world’ created together with kids. And not just for kids who avidly follow creative reading and math games, but for teachers who—understaffed and overburdened—can suddenly broadcast their words of wisdom through a screen on a tablet device.

Overcoming several challenges ranging from deteriorating infrastructure to nationwide lockdowns and connectivity issues, around 24,591 out-of-school children were able to access quality education by the end of 2021.

to buy

As War Child began testing the program, the organization also made sure to track their progress – building a strong evidence base to demonstrate its positive impact on children as well as clear value for money.

The response from key NGOs, UN agencies and national ministries of education was unanimous – to help develop new games in new languages ​​and to learn more deeply into communities War Child cannot embed.

Among many highlights, War Child was recognized by the UNHCR-led Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA) which selected Cannot Wait to Learn from a group of five suitable for scaling up.

It was with their support and investment that War Child was able to recognize its place in the ‘missing middle’ and begin to make its way through…

The first road was paved

Despite the positive impact of the programs and the strong support in the field, the number of children is not what War Child had hoped for – especially in relation to the nearly 260 million children worldwide who currently do not have access to education.

Funding needed to continue implementation stagnated and partners were unable to secure substantial funding for scaling up despite their willingness. This stalled the development of the new game. Meanwhile, the pandemic revealed the need for radical adjustments to the program.

“While we quickly responded to meet the demand for digital learning, we were hampered by software limitations and a slow supply chain”, says Merel Sass, Design Lead for Can’t Wait to Learn. “Hard truth – we weren’t fully prepared for scale-up in the end.”

Forward and upward

Through discussions with the sector, War Child quickly learns that this blind spot is extremely common. Yes, War Child needed to pause and evaluate, and yes, the organization needed to fundamentally reassess their strategy – which involved many difficult ‘trade-offs’ – but ultimately it was just another stage in their journey.

“Phase two (scaling up) is focused on perfecting the intervention and proving it works”, says Judith. “From the third stage (scaling out) success is measured against what the end user wants – that requires a marketing approach.”

And who is the end user? Community, implementing partners or children? Judith: “Obviously the kids are the most important, but all three must be taken into account when doing market research. Constant communication and feedback is the only way to ensure quality, build relationships and create the right product.”

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