Essence of Learning
An Approach to Foster and Sustain Children's Ability to Learn in Times of Crisis
Essence of Learning (EoL) is a child-centred and holistic approach to Education in Emergencies that addresses the specific needs of children who are growing up in crisis contexts. It links pedagogical and psycho-social components to foster children's resilience and their ability to learn. EoL has been implemented in post war and crisis contexts such as in Kosovo, Chechnya and in Roma communities in Eastern Europe. The present case study focuses on EoL as it is conducted with children, educators and parents in six communities in Gaza. The intervention provides learning/psycho-social support for children out of school. In Gaza, the EoL was reduced for the first time from a full year cycle to a structured 10 week-programme, with one entry and one exit week, thus totaling to a 12 week-course. It was designed with the aim to reach a lot of children and to guide them back to their former learning ability after acute crisis in a short time.
To measure the achievements, the process of learning is monitored. For each cycle of an EoL course a pre- and post-assessment of children's psycho-social symptoms and behaviors, as well as their drawings, is conducted. By using the analysis of children's drawings, to verify and underline the results of common evaluation methods, EoL has started to map out a niche research tool that provides valuable indications on a child's resilience and well-being. The evaluation also includes feedback from educators and the participating families on the children's behavior and participation in the center, family and community. Furthermore, in the last quarter of 2016, an external evaluation was carried out.
Children living in a hostile environment, who have undergone toxic stress, need support in overcoming their learning barriers. Accelerated learning programmes, which allow children to re-enter education systems, often do not sufficiently address the effects of toxic stress. These children often battle with learning difficulties such as memorization and accessing knowledge they have previously had. This is where EoL differs as an innovative approach by combining psycho-social support with accelerated learning, allowing children to catch up and re-enter the national education systems.
Traditional teaching methods, when dealing with children who have been through war and trauma, often fall short of assisting children to acquire their own learning strategies. These children have missed significant amounts of time at regular schools, and are at high risk of falling behind or even dropping out when they enter a formal classroom setting. EoL programmes have shown that once children have the ability to create their own learning strategies, using the teaching aids facilitated by the teacher, they are much more capable of closing the learning gaps lost while out of school.
Safe spaces are equally as important as children's personal home environment. Through their direct inclusion in the EoL programme, parents and caregivers gain a better understanding of the psycho-social effects the environment has on their children's well-being and learning abilities, and are empowered to provide useful assistance. EoL is particularly successful when children practice EoL activities at home, together with siblings, parents or independently to do their homework. When their innate motivational urge to learn is reinvigorated, learning becomes part of their daily life.