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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

What Works to Promote Children’s Educational Access, Quality of Learning, and Wellbeing in Crisis

Education Rigorous Literature Review

This rigorous literature review surveys research on education in emergencies, including academic and some grey literature, to assess “what works” to promote access, quality, and wellbeing for improving learning outcomes in acute and protracted crises, as well as in post-crisis contexts. The review team conducted a systematic search of existing library databases, solicited grey literature from international organisations directly and through the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), and reviewed open source databases to gather articles published since 2000. We reviewed this literature for rigorous and robust empirical research to present evidence of effective practices and programme interventions. 


This study is a rigorous review of evidence found in the literature that shows which interventions promote educational access, quality of learning, and wellbeing among children who live in crisis-affected areas, and those in settings where a crisis has just ended. We define crisis as an emergency caused by violent conflict, natural disaster, or both; educational access as “the opportunity to enrol, attend, and complete formal or nonformal education programmes” (INEE, 2010, p. 115); quality of learning as relates to both academic achievement and attitudes (e.g., tolerance); and wellbeing as holistic health, including physical, emotional, social, and cognitive characteristics.

Our primary goals are threefold: (1) to assess the strength and quantity of the existing evidence of effective practices and programme interventions in countries and regions affected by crises; (2) to identify relevant and robust evidence of effective interventions in high-, middle-, and low-income countries to serve as a point of departure for future research; and (3) to develop conceptual models that suggest pathways and mechanisms to test in future research. We highlight programmes that appeared innovative when we encountered them, but note that, given the scarcity of literature that assesses the effectiveness of interventions in these contexts, there likely are many innovations that the empirical literature does not capture.


We identified thousands of academic articles through multiple database searches using relevant key terms. We narrowed our search using a purposive sampling approach and a manual review of references of relevant articles, which yielded a total of 251 articles. We selected grey literature through a search of well-known websites, such as the Abdul Latif Jameel-Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the World Bank, both of which are a source for many experimental studies. We also reviewed articles collected by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for its database of experimental research (149) and systematic reviews of literature (16) relevant to education in emergencies. Finally, all members of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Steering Group and listserv were invited to send research to be included in the review. The total number of studies included in this review is 184. (See chapter 2 for a detailed description of methods and a list of key search terms.)

All literature included here meets a minimum standard of rigour based on DFID’s 2014 guidelines. Accordingly, we prioritised research that employed experimental or quasiexperimental designs. We also gave greater weight to evidence published in top-tier peerreviewed academic journals than to those published elsewhere, and to papers that offered a detailed and thorough discussion of their research methods (quantitative or qualitative) rather than to those published elsewhere, rather than to those that did not explain their methods clearly.

Main findings and implications

1. Absence of robust evidence: Few rigorous experimental studies (5) or quasi-experimental studies (8) conducted in countries affected by crisis assess the effects of interventions on children’s educational access (3), quality of learning (4), or wellbeing (6). Among these rigorous studies just a few (6) take context (disaster or conflict) into account in the research design.

2. A large number of strong observational designs: Given the absence of experimental designs, we rely on both observational studies in countries affected by crisis and robust literature from contexts not affected by crisis to suggest hypotheses and promising directions for future research.

3. Access: Many interventions are intended to mitigate the effects conflict has on education by improving access. 

4. Quality: This portion of our review includes studies that were designed to understand quality as it affects both academic achievement and attitudes (e.g., tolerance). 

5. Wellbeing: Many interventions in countries and regions affected by crises attempt to support children, youth, and their families by helping to mitigate risk, and promote psychosocial wellbeing and resilience. 

6. Girls: Although many studies disaggregate findings between boys and girls, none of the studies that were returned in our search were designed to focus explicitly on girls. Still, one strong intervention emerges from the literature: community-based education improves girls’ access. 

7. Youth: Very few studies conducted in crisis settings focused explicitly on youth (3 wellbeing, 10 quality, 1 access). Those that did mainly concentrated on quality and mainly relate to the violence and peace education findings noted above. 

8. Children with disabilities: Our searches returned no studies on children with disabilities conducted in crisis settings or with children affected by crises that met our methodological standards for inclusion. This is striking given the rates of exposure among children in crisis contexts to physical and emotional risk.

9. Refugees: Although there is strong emerging evidence on how to provide psychosocial support to refugee children and youth (described above), there is very limited evidence on the best ways to improve access.

Priority recommendations

  1. Invest in rigorous research to learn more about the best interventions for supporting educational access, quality of learning, and wellbeing for refugee children and youth, for girls, and for children with disabilities.
  2. Invest in programming and rigorous research on reducing disaster risk in middle- and lowincome and conflict-affected countries.
  3. Invest in conducting a systematic review of existing education in emergencies programme interventions in countries and regions affected by crises in order to identify the most common programmes in a given context, map where there is a dearth or preponderance of programme data, and (continue to) fund practitioners and academics to work together to conduct rigorous research in these locations.
  4. Invest in research on mobile phone teaching and learning platforms and other distance learning innovations that show promise and are likely to be particularly important to highly mobile, hard-to-reach populations affected by conflict and crisis.
  5. Continue to invest in early childhood development and community-based education (CBE) programmes that are well-structured and well-managed; continue to conduct research on these programmes to understand variations among early childhood development (ECD) programmes and the long-term effects of CBE.


Click to download the full review.