Author: Zeena Zakharia & Lesley Bartlett
Year: 2014
Agency: USAID
Full Citation: Zakharia, Z. & Bartlett, L. (2014). Literacy education in conflict and crisis affected contexts. Washington, DC: USAID.
Overview: This study seeks a better understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities involved in designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating literacy programs for children and youth in conflict and crisisaffected environments. This study builds on the current evidence base for literacy education in contexts of conflict or crisis by addressing the following research questions:
  1. What is unique about literacy programs in conflict and crisis-affected contexts?
  2. How do practitioners describe the ways that literacy programs might be modified to incorporate a conflict-sensitive perspective?
  3. What empirical evidence or best practices exist on a pilot or national scale that could improve literacy program design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation in contexts of conflict or crisis?
This report provides evidence-based lessons and supporting policy and research for conflict-sensitive program design. Together, these recommendations are the first steps in developing a framework for literacy education in conflict and crisis-affected contexts.
Methodology: The research study reviewed the relevant literature and strategic frameworks—over 100 program documents from 15 country cases drawn from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America— to guide case selection and the development of an appropriate tool for systematic analysis. This review included programs in which literacy education was a primary dimension or program goal and programs with broader goals in which literacy education was an embedded component. Since other forms of data may be difficult to collect or access in these environments, semi-structured interviews were conducted between November 2012 and March 2013 with 30 professionals who work on literacy education in contexts of conflict or crisis. Interviewees were selected from a range of national and international actors working in international organizations and government entities. The interviews also included other experts and leaders from civil society, national NGOs, and non-profit and for-profit institutions. Finally, the research design and findings were discussed at two roundtables with key USAID staff working on literacy, youth, or conflict issues; feedback was incorporated into both the study design and final report.
Findings: There is a pressing need to expand access to and learning within quality literacy programs in conflict and crisis affected environments. However, designing, implementing, and evaluating programs under such circumstances require special consideration. In particular, attention must be paid to
  • language learning as a component of literacy acquisition and medium of instruction policy issues;
  • teacher preparation, psychosocial needs, support, allocation, remuneration, and absenteeism;
  • the development and distribution of curricular and learning materials;
  • the significant role to be played by communities and families;
  • the specific distinct needs of youth and adults;
  • the challenges and limitations of assessment associated with definitions of literacy; and
  • the difficulties of monitoring and evaluating programs in insecure environments. Attention to these dimensions of literacy programming will strengthen efforts to improve teaching and learning for vulnerable populations around the world.

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