Digital games can provide educational and psychological aid to refugee children hailing from war-torn countries, especially those who are not enrolled in schools as a result of language barriers or are suffering from depression, a new study has found.
"It is our hope that this study shows that even with limited resources, and even when there are language barriers, we can make a difference in the lives of children through leveraging technology," said Selcuk Sirin, professor at New York University in the US.
Turkey is the top refugee-hosting country in the world, with more than three million registered Syrian refugees.
A previous research had found that an overwhelming majority are not enrolled in school in Turkey, partly as a result of language barriers, and about half suffer from PTSD and/or depression.
In response to the educational and psychological crisis among refugee children, the researchers designed an online, game-based learning intervention for Syrian refugee children named Project Hope.
The objective of Project Hope is to support Syrian refugee children in Turkey by providing them with digital game-based education opportunities to improve Turkish language proficiency, executive functions, and coding skills while decreasing their sense of despair and increasing hope.
To test the effectiveness of the game, researchers conducted a pilot study in Turkey, a city on the border with Syria and home to the largest refugee settlement in Turkey.
The study participants included 147 Syrian refugee children, ages 9 to 14. The researchers randomly assigned children to the intervention, or a waitlist or control group, with roughly 75 in each group.
Children in the intervention took part in daily two-hour sessions over four weeks, totaling 40 hours.
The curriculum includes a combination of five digital games.
In an effort to improve their Turkish language proficiency, refugee children were presented with over 200 Turkish words via an adaptive learning technology platform.
The researchers assessed their language after the intervention and indicated that Turkish language skills were significantly higher for the intervention group.
They also measured children's executive functions, or the ability to plan, monitor, and alter behaviours.
These basic cognitive skills have been associated with improved health, well-being, and educational outcomes.
In Project Hope, the children played 'Alien Game', designed to improve executive functions through rewarding short-term memory retention and quick reaction as participants learn to distinguish between different factors.
Children also learned coding, using a game-based approach On average, children were able to write over 1,800 lines of code.
"Play is a universal way of learning. In taking a game- based and playful approach to learning, we created an intervention that was not only effective, but also one in which the children were engaged and wanted continue doing," said Bruce Homer, associate professor at the City University of New York.