LearnED is a place to learn about learning—because great learning can lead to great opportunities, and great opportunities can lead you and your family wherever you want to go.

Talking with a Young Daughter about Learning Work for Refugees in a Conflict Zone

Illustration of people walking in one direction carrying baggage

We’ve been reporting on a Pearson partnership with Save the Children to improve learning for the children of Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan. (“Improving Learning for the Children of Syrian Refugees” and “Why Education is as Important as Shelter, Food, and Water in Emergencies.”) Today, the story of a U.S.-based Pearson researcher who participated in the project and the many questions her seven-year-old daughter asked both before and after the trip.

An Emotional, Cultural, and Spiritual Experience

“Conflict zones are not exactly my specialty,” says Emily Lai, Ph.D.

Emily is Director of Formative Assessment and Feedback for Pearson. Her expertise was needed on a project in Jordan, improving learning opportunities for the children of Syrian refugees.

In July, she spent three days with these children and their families in schools and in homes.

“It’s hard to encapsulate the experience,” Emily says. “I had and still have many different reactions—emotional, cultural, even spiritual.”

Her daughter was familiar with the Syrian conflict. “We’d already tried to explain what was happening in a way she could understand,” Emily says. “One thing we told her was that it was a place that wasn’t safe for kids.” So Emily’s daughter asked if her mom would be safe.

“Will You Be Safe, Mom?”

Emily’s 7-year-old daughter wanted to know as much as she could about her mom’s upcoming trip.

“I missed her first day of second grade,” Emily says. “And the questions began when she asked about why was it so important for me to miss the big day.”

Emily and her husband often watch news programs with their children in the room.

Her daughter was familiar with the Syrian conflict.

“We’d already tried to explain what was happening in a way she could understand,” Emily says. “One thing we told her was that it was a place that wasn’t safe for kids.”

So Emily’s daughter asked if her mom would be safe.

“I explained how these families had left Syria for Jordan, a much safer place,” she says. “But I told her that these Syrian children still had problems.”

Emily says it’s hard for many refugee children to travel safely to school. They’re often bullied because of where they come from.

“Plus, there’s discrimination,” Emily says. “Not all students are treated the same.”

“She then started to load me up with magazine after magazine—so much more than I could fit in my suitcase.”

Learning How to Give

Mom’s conversation with her daughter then turned to these refugee families and their basic needs.

“They’re poor,” Emily told her 7-year-old. “Sometimes they don’t have enough to eat.”

Their discussion pivoted when Emily started to talk about things.

“I told her these children don’t have as many things as she does,” Emily recalls. “Not as many books or toys.”

“I had planned on asking my daughter if I could take some of her National Geographic for Kids magazines to the children,” she says. “When my daughter started to think about it, she then started to load me up with magazine after magazine—so much more than I could fit in my suitcase.”

Education as “The Great Equalizer”

“Once in Jordan, it was easy to feel like our work was just a drop in a bucket,” Emily says. “How was any digital solution going to make a difference?”

“I had to remind myself that our work was part of a much broader effort, on the part of many other organizations, to help these children,” Emily says. “Plus, I’ve always believed that education is the great equalizer.”

Emily was helping the team figure out how best to leverage technology to drive learner outcomes. Already, fellow team members had conducted large amounts of field research to better understand the context and learners’ needs on the ground.

“I had to remind myself that our work was part of a much broader effort, on the part of many other organizations, to help these children,” Emily says. “Plus, I’ve always believed that education is the great equalizer. No matter what your circumstances, education can transform you.”

Questions Back At Home

Once back at home, Emily’s daughter had some additional questions.

What did the places look like? What food did her mom eat? What did their houses look like on the inside?

“I was surprised by that last one,” Emily says.

“In the end, I now have a vivid and much better picture of our end user,” Emily says. “I sat with them, I talked with them,” she says, “I could draw a picture of them.”

Designing a Better Learning Tool

“I really haven’t been able to fully process the experience,” Emily says.

“Any of those children could have been mine,” she says. “And I really tried to not to let my emotions get in the way of doing my job.”

“In the end, I now have a vivid and much better picture of our end user,” Emily says.

“I sat with them, I talked with them,” she says, “I could draw a picture of them.”

“I have a much better understanding of where they’re coming from and what they need,” Emily says. “So much so that I’ll be able to help design a better solution.”

Pearson is also partnering with NBC on a “Goal to Be Greater” project. They’re collecting pledges to make a difference in communities at the Parent Toolkit website.