Conflict-affected zones are typically marred by violence, damaged digital infrastructure, instability, and resource scarcity. While implementing EdTech solutions in such challenging environments can be daunting, as the EdTech leaders I spoke with pointed out, the challenges can be mitigated by innovation, strong partnerships with affected communities, and a thorough understanding of local dynamics and cultural sensitivities. These factors can help in the initial rollout and ongoing development of EdTech solutions, making it possible to continue to respond to the needs of children in conflict situations.

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Adapting and innovating EdTech for conflict zones

When it was first developed as a resource for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Storyvoice was regularly updated in response to changing circumstances in Lebanon. Eventually, their platform hosting live read-aloud sessions with children’s book authors was modified in a way that allowed it to adapt to the strength of the user’s local internet connection. “We had to build an app that supported old smartphones and required minimal data to download,” explains Mike Clarke, Senior Director of New Media at Scholastic and co-founder of the Scholastic-owned app. “It is also designed with different tiers to support users in different environments. Depending on the quality of the internet connection, certain elements of the storytelling experience are disabled to allow the core functions to work. It was crucial to us that no matter what, children could listen to the story.”   

“We had to build an app that supported old smartphones and required minimal data to download.”

Mike Clarke, Scholastic

The EdTech app Antura and the Letters, on the other hand, was built to run offline. “For refugees, data is expensive and very valuable”, explains co-creator Francesco Cavallari. Refugees were involved in the design process, and crucial adjustments were made to the app based on their feedback. “They told us they use data on their phones to connect to their families and keep updated with what’s happening in their home countries. If the game required constant data, parents wouldn’t want to give their phones to their kids, because it would be costly and battery-draining.”       

The International Rescue Committee supports local EdTech companies in their efforts to innovate by connecting them with expert mentors in user experience design, research, and behavioral science. Atish Gonsalves from the International Rescue Committee tells me that they use a well-designed research and evaluation framework to evaluate and increase the impact of EdTech solutions. “We apply the appropriate level of research to each solution,” Gonsalves says. “There are two goals in this process: First is to ensure that companies are improving access to education. The second is to make it possible to measure the growth of the EdTech ecosystem in that location.”

Strong partnerships between EdTech companies and the community

The people behind the EdTech startup Off2Class developed a strong partnership with the Ismaili Muslim community. This allowed them to connect with the community’s existing partnerships and gave them access to facilities in several conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan. As a result, Off2Class was able to operate programs in which local teachers of English as a Second Language could physically come together each week to access virtual classes on the Off2Class platform held by a volunteer based overseas.

Kris Jagasia from Off2Class tells me that through working with peers and a teacher trainer, student-teachers gained motivation for learning, which he believes is essential to learning a language successfully. “In a community where teachers are well-regarded, like in Syria, it works better when students can gather in a secure location to attend the virtual class together,” Jagasia explains. “They prefer learning from a respected teacher directly, before asynchronously completing after-classroom activities independently on their mobile phones.”

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When EdTech companies in conflict-affected areas work closely with the community, they are also better able to understand local educational needs and challenges, and therefore implement EdTech solutions more effectively, adds Gonsalves. “These solutions must be aligned to cultural, curricular, and linguistic needs,” he says. “Input from the local community on pedagogy and content is essential. Ideally, you should also be able to collaborate with local players who understand how to roll out and support a solution. This is why EdTech built by local companies has an advantage.”

“This is why EdTech built by local companies has an advantage.”

Atish Gonsalves, International Rescue Committee

Navigating local dynamics and cultural sensitivities

When political instability worsened, the Off2Class program in Afghanistan was profoundly disrupted because most of the teachers taking part were female, and women were suddenly barred from accessing educational opportunities. As the economic and political situation in Lebanon worsened the last three years, the Storyvoice team found it more challenging to maintain partnerships with local advocates against the backdrop of a mass exodus of people from the country.

While these challenges are inevitable, knowledge of local political dynamics and cultural sensitivities can help EdTech companies better understand the impact of such volatility on the community, and address issues such as the scarcity of resources and a lack of motivation. “Companies need a basic knowledge of local issues,” Gonsalves says. “This can help them understand, for example, what would convince children in a specific conflict zone to engage with an EdTech solution. Or whether expensive smart devices in classrooms would make teachers worry about children’s safety.”

EdTech solutions that keep students learning into the future

As increasing numbers of people gain access to digital technology, the global EdTech landscape expands, and technology continues to advance, there are more and more opportunities to develop innovative solutions for children learning in difficult circumstances. EdTech has the potential to transform education for children living in the midst of conflict. Because most conflicts are protracted, achieving sustainable impact requires taking the long view. “We need groundbreaking solutions that can help students and teachers, and impact educational outcomes,” Gonsalves says. “But in the long term, we also need stable partners to develop and implement these global solutions. I believe in building locally, then scaling globally.”

“In times of conflict and war, EdTech enables us to reach these children who are living in tremendously challenging environments.”

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Stories with Clever Hedgehog

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff leads the EdTech project Stories with Clever Hedgehog, which offers free e-learning resources to families from Ukraine. “In times of conflict and war, EdTech enables us to reach these children who are living in tremendously challenging environments. They can continue learning despite their difficult circumstances, and caregivers are afforded their own space to think of their next move.”


Atish Gonsalves, Global Education Research & Innovation Lead, International Rescue Committee
Atish Gonsalves is a social technologist, entrepreneur and the Global EdTech Innovation Director at IRC’s Airbel Impact Lab. Atish is also the Founder of Gamoteca, a collaborative digital platform that enables organizations to create their own mixed-reality learning gamesWith a background in software engineering, AI and human-computer interaction, Atish’s experience includes leadership roles at technology and international non-profit organizations including the United Nations. Atish has implemented a number of successful EdTech solutions that have helped democratize learning for millions of learners in difficult contexts.
Twitter: @atishgonsalves
IRC Lab:
Gamoteca Website:

Kris Jagasia, CEO & Co-Founder, Off2Class
Kris Jagasia is the co-founder and CEO of Off2Class, responsible for directing company strategy and vision. He has built the commercial teams at the company including, sales, marketing and customer success.
Launching in 2015, Off2Class focused on creating high-quality content and resources to save teachers time and power language learning for the digital-first student. Rather than simply converting course books into basic web products, as was the case with many traditional publishers, Off2Class focused on re-imagining content and tools for the needs of online teachers.
Kris developed the product’s unique go-to-market strategy, building a strong customer base with institutions (schools, universities) while also still selling directly to teacher entrepreneurs.
Twitter: @Off2Class

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Project Director, Stories with Clever Hedgehog
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff is known for her research on language development, the benefits of playful learning, the effects of media on children, and early spatial development. She is currently the director of the Child’s Play, Learning, and Development laboratory at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE, USA. She lectures all over the world and is passionate about the dissemination of educational and developmental science for the betterment of children and families’ lives. A member of the National Academy of Education, and having won numerous awards for her work, Roberta is committed to making a difference in the lives of Ukrainian children disconcerted and displaced in this time of war.
Twitter: @KathyandRo1

Francesco Cavallari, Founder & President, Video Games Without Borders
Francesco Cavallari has 20 years of experience in the games industry having held both technical and leadership positions at Ubisoft. In 2015 he founded Video Games Without Borders, a nonprofit organization and a global community of people who believe in digital games to change the world for the better. Francesco supervised the development of “Antura and the Letters”, a smartphone game to improve literacy among Syrian children that are out-of-school because of the conflict. winner of several international awards. The game is completely free and open source and it has been adapted to learn a foreign language with the goal to also help Afghan and Ukrainian children.
Video Games Without Borders:
Antura and the Letters:
Twitter: @FrancyCavallari

Mike Clarke, Co-Founder, Storyvoice and Senior Director of New Media at Scholastic 
Mike Clarke is the co-founder and host of Storyvoice, Scholastic’s online platform connecting authors and kids through weekly live read-aloud shows. Launched as a tool to help Syrian refugee children in Lebanon practice reading, Storyvoice has grown to help over 800,000 kids across forty-plus countries experience the joy and benefits of reading with others. Prior to Storyvoice, Mike led a UN-backed innovation lab in Lebanon focused on refugee communication technology and helped launch multiple impact-driven hackathon programs with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before his work in Lebanon, Mike spent four years leading product teams at two venture-backed startups in New York City, USA, and Chennai, India. Mike has a BA in political science and religious studies from Union College in Schenectady, New York, and is a former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar, completing graduate coursework in international relations at the University of Cape Town and Arabic language training at the American University of Beirut.
Twitter: @storyvoicelive

Improving access to education for conflict-affected children around the world is an urgent and continuing topic of concern for us at BOLD. This series is a part of a larger conversation that we will continue to explore and share important insights into.

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