An Interdisciplinary Design Process for Educational Technology Systems for Displaced War-Affected Children

Alain, George (2022). An Interdisciplinary Design Process for Educational Technology Systems for Displaced War-Affected Children. PhD thesis The Open University.



According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are at least 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Around 25 million of these people are refugees fleeing their homeland, mostly because of war and persecution. Around 51% of refugees are children, and even in the most optimistic estimates, only 50% of these children are attending any form of schooling. Education is one of the most critical needs of displaced populations just after food and shelter. Education in emergencies faces numerous challenges, particularly when the displacement is a result of a war as it involves political and psychosocial complexities that affect the children’s wellbeing and motivation.

There has been an increasing interest from the international NGOs and academia towards harnessing technology to support the refugees, especially emergency education, after the refugee crisis in 2015. However, there is little understanding of the different challenges and possibilities for designing technology systems in the complex displacement context. Many of the projects in this do not succeed due to the complexity of the context. Moreover, no design processes exist to guide the design of educational technology systems in displacement. This research aims to develop a design process based on an understanding of the disciplines of refugee studies, emergency education, motivation and engagement, system design, and participatory design. In addition to the literature review, the process was based on discussions with several actors from the field.

The design process was then implemented and evaluated in two case studies with Syrian refugees in Greece. One case study was at Ritsona refugee camp and involved creating a digital self-learning space for displaced children. The second case study was conducted in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Education in four formal Greek schools hosting refugee children from Ritsona refugee camp with their Greek students and led to solutions that supported the teachers and children’s learning difficulties. The data from both case studies was thematically analysed and resulted in the CRIT design method (Contextual complexity, Relevance, Involvement, and Trust). The data was later discussed and highlighted the importance of supporting motivation in the design process activities and in the resulting systems through supporting the innate needs of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Moreover, the discussion highlights the importance of adopting the Scandinavian aspects of participatory design when designing in displacement and links it to motivation, ethics, and real democracy. Furthermore, the discussion provided an overview of the design challenges from the context of displacement, the practices that allow a better problem definition, and suggestions regarding the opportunities and challenges for the use of technology for education in displacement.

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