How Cognitive and Psychosocial Difficulties Affect Learning Outcomes: A Study of Primary School Children in Syria
Meeting the education needs of children is increasingly recognized as a necessary part of humanitarian response in emergencies. Experiences of war, dislocation, and trauma are known to affect children’s psychosocial wellbeing. Less is known about how mental health and psychosocial wellbeing affect children’s learning in emergencies. In this article, we examine this effect among children experiencing the crisis in Syria. The data we use are from children (N=7,191) who received educational support in northwest Syria from November 2018 to May 2019. We used the literacy levels reported by teachers to measure student learning, and the Washington Group Questions to measure cognitive or psychosocial difficulties. The average length of time between moving up a literacy level was 64 days. We fit mixed ordinal models to assess the associations between having one, every, or multiple cognitive and psychosocial difficulties. Having a single cognitive or psychosocial difficulty was associated with poorer learning progress. Children with two or more cognitive or psychosocial difficulties were less likely to progress as far as those without any such difficulties. The findings suggest that psychosocial and cognitive support for children in emergencies is needed, not just for their wellbeing but to enable them to learn effectively.