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Thomas Dreesen

Education Research Manager

Thomas Dreesen is an Education Manager at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, where he leads research on innovations in education, with a focus on embedding action research into large scale digital learning programmes. Prior to his current role, he worked on the education team at UNICEF Headquarters where he supported multiple country offices and implementing partners to improve M&E systems and develop evidence to inform education programmes. Before UNICEF, Thomas worked in India as a Research Manager for Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at the Harvard Kennedy School and as Senior Research Associate for the Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) South Asia. Thomas was also previously a visiting researcher at the Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Thomas holds an M.S. in International and Development Economics from the University of San Francisco, and a B.A. in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University.

Publications

On Call: Using Mobile Technologies to Measure Learning in Emergencies
Publication

On Call: Using Mobile Technologies to Measure Learning in Emergencies

How can we harness the power of mobile technologies to track learning in emergencies? Identifying ways to improve assessments in emergencies is incredibly important as there remains large gaps in understanding how children are learning in crisis settings. This report aims to provide practitioners with practical guidance and resources on using mobile technology to conduct learning assessments in emergency settings. It is the second of a two-part series on uses of mobile phones for education in emergency programmes and draws from a review of the existing literature as well as feedback from education in emergencies practitioners.
On Call: Using Mobile Phones to Provide Learning in Emergencies
Publication

On Call: Using Mobile Phones to Provide Learning in Emergencies

In 2021, an estimated 37 million children were forcibly displaced across the globe. Ensuring these children continue their education in times of crisis is a significant challenge. One tool that can help children stay in education is basic mobile phones. Basic mobile phones can provide learning through multiple channels, such as text messages, voice calls, nudges and lessons through radio broadcasts. This report outlines, in detail, how mobile phones can be applied as a learning tool in emergency settings. It also provides practical case studies and references for how mobile phones have been used to teach students, support parents and train teachers. This report is also part of the On Call two-part series on the uses of mobile technologies for education in emergency settings, with the second report focusing on mobile technologies for learning assessments.
Libros de texto digitales accesibles: Creación de herramientas digitales que permitan el diseño universal para el aprendizaje y la educación inclusiva
Publication

Libros de texto digitales accesibles: Creación de herramientas digitales que permitan el diseño universal para el aprendizaje y la educación inclusiva

En América Latina y el Caribe, más de 19 millones de niñas, niños y adolescentes tienen una discapacidad. Aunque las tasas de asistencia y finalización de los estudios han aumentado de forma constante en los últimos 20 años, las barreras de acceso a una educación de calidad para las niñas, niños y adolescentes con discapacidad siguen siendo demasiado altas en la región. En el Paraguay, la discapacidad es un factor importante asociado a la participación escolar y a los resultados de aprendizaje. La iniciativa Libros de Texto Digitales Accesibles para Todos y Todas implementa herramientas y contenidos digitales para que el aprendizaje sea accesible para todos los estudiantes —con y sin discapacidad— en la misma aula. Este informe presenta los resultados del piloto realizado empleando un libro de texto digital accesible para niños, niñas y adolescentes con y sin discapacidad en el Paraguay. El informe ofrece resultados en tres áreas. En primer lugar, analiza la familiaridad y la capacidad de los docentes y los estudiantes de interactuar con la tecnología. En segundo lugar, investiga las prácticas pedagógicas utilizadas para la educación inclusiva y para integrar el libro de texto digital accesible como una herramienta en el aula para apoyar la inclusión. En tercer lugar, presenta recomendaciones para mejorar el contenido y la interfaz del libro de texto digital accesible. Este estudio forma parte de una investigación multinacional a largo plazo que examina el desarrollo y uso de libros de texto digitales accesibles. Futuras investigaciones explorarán el impacto del uso, a mayor escala, de los libros de texto digitales accesibles sobre los logros de aprendizaje de los estudiantes.
Réouvrir les écoles avec résilience: Leçons tirées de l’enseignement à distance pendant la COVID-19 en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre
Publication

Réouvrir les écoles avec résilience: Leçons tirées de l’enseignement à distance pendant la COVID-19 en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre

Les pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest et du Centre ont mis en œuvre des mesures nationales pour poursuivre les activités d’apprentissage pendant la fermeture des écoles. Ces mesures reposaient sur une combinaison de modalités de diffusion : des plateformes en ligne, des médias audiovisuels, des téléphones portables et des supports imprimés. Cependant, plusieurs obstacles ont empêché de nombreux enfants et adolescents de la région de profiter de ces opportunités d’apprentissage, dans un contexte où, même avant la pandémie, près de 50 % d’entre eux n'atteignaient pas les compétences minimales en lecture à la fin du cycle primaire. En s’appuyant sur les données régionales disponibles, ce rapport met en évidence les principales leçons à tirer en matière d’apprentissage à distance et fournit des recommandations concrètes pour renforcer la résilience des systèmes éducatifs nationaux face aux fermetures des écoles.

Blogs

How are sport for development organizations keeping children healthy during COVID-19?
Blog

How are sport for development organizations keeping children healthy during COVID-19?

This blog explores how Sport for Development (S4D) organisations have responded and adapted their programming to support children during the COVID-19 crisis. S4D organisations use sport as a tool to catalyse positive change in the lives of children, youth and the communities they live in. Interviews with S4D organizations, conducted as part of the ongoing research commissioned by the Barça Foundation and UNICEF partnership, revealed that organizations are innovating to adapt to the current crisis through three key interconnected practices: Continuing to support children through remote sessions, with coaches providing guidance for physical activity along with content to accomplish a variety of social goals.Providing critical and accurate health and COVID-19 information through coaches, who are in many cases trusted individuals in communities.Supporting their staff in helping other programmes, such as feeding programmes, while sports activities are closed.What is Sport for Development?Sport and physical activity are fun, effective and engaging means to improve many areas of children’s wellbeing including physical and mental health, empowerment, learning and life skills that are essential for success in school, life and work. For instance, one review found positive associations between physical activity and academic performance in 79% of the studies it assessed. The Kazan Action plan highlights the role sport can play in improving children’s lives, and outlines the commitment of multiple governments to make sport part of the solution to achieving the SDGs. S4D organisations come in various forms – from those that build social programmes around sport, to those that include sport as one of many approaches to achieving their goals. Approximately 1 in every 500 children worldwide takes part in a S4D initiative and almost every country hosts some S4D programmes (see map). How are organisations responding?S4D organizations create safe spaces where children can feel protected from violent and difficult contexts and where they are free to express themselves, away from social norms and expectations that communities can have for boys and girls. These activities take place in schools, community centres, and outdoor spaces. Social distancing measures have meant that organizations have had to stop their regular programming taking away these safe physical spaces and adapt both delivery modalities and content to respond to the crisis. Continuing to support children through remote sessionsMany S4D organizations are going remote through online, but also through broadcast media. The Barça Foundation, in Spain, has adapted its sessions for marginalised youth to take place online: coaches lead children through physical exercises remotely replacing their usual football match (See Figure 2), and moderate group discussions, before and after the exercise on life skills and values. This provides socio-emotional support through play and continues healthy routines which can be critical for mental health during uncertain times. The Barça Foundation is working on alternative ways to deliver these sessions so they are available to participants without access to internet, acknowledging that access to technology is not a given for many children around the world as explored in a recent research brief on remote learning. [caption id="attachment_2569" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Figure 2[/caption] COVID Focus: Providing critical and accurate health and COVID-19 informationAs part of their response, many S4D organisations, are adapting their content and developing innovative ways to help spread the word about good practices during COVID-19. Grassroot Soccer (GRS), who uses football as part of a curriculum on sexual and reproductive health, has developed an open-source COVID-19 curriculum that debunks myths around COVID-19 and promotes healthy behaviors. Sessions of this curriculum can be adapted to be implemented in person, respecting social distancing, or remotely and include physical activity (e.g. stretch, dance, game) components in place of the usual football (See Figure 3). This curriculum has been released withtips for coaches facilitators and caregivers, translated into 4 languages and is being used by several organisations in Africa. Various other open-source activities and curricula can be found here. [caption id="attachment_2570" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Figure 3[/caption] Organizations are also turning themselves into reference points for health information by sharing correct and updated health advice with communities. For example, TackleAfrica has been sending health content to its coaches in 12 countries via text message. CoolPlay and YouthWave are using WhatsApp and radio to stay in touch with programme participants, provide psychosocial support and healthy behavior tips. As trusted members of many marginalized communities, coaches and S4D organizations can have a critical role in providing health updates and fighting misinformation. Supporting their staff in helping other programmesOrganisations have been helping in other ways, CoolPlay gave their staff’s time to support feeding programmes and the Barça Foundation provided in kind support to the families of the beneficiaries. Laureus Sport’s Informal Sharing Community meetings. This fits with the actions that sport organisations more broadly have taken. Football clubs in Europe have launched support drives to help others in need in the community, offered places for medical staff to stay, donated money to health services, and started helplines. In Spain, FC Barcelona has ceded the title rights to Camp Nou for the 2020-2021 season to the Barça Foundation to raise money for research in the fight against  COVID-19. As shown in the Getting into the Game report, sports can have an outsized impact on a child’s wellbeing, from children’s health, to life skills like leadership and teamwork, to learning outcomes. S4D organizations are working hard to adapt to the current reality, and are making important contributions to the communities they operate in. Post COVID-19, the global community should make sure that the commitment made to using sport to improve the lives of children, remains integrated into plans to build healthier, safer, and more inclusive societies.   Are you part of an S4D organization? How has COVID-19 affected you and how have you responded? Please email us at cpasquini@unicef.org and tell us more about it.
Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 
Blog

Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 

This blogpost summarizes recommendations for policy makers and explores 3 good practices for equitable remote learning, based on recent research conducted using data on education responses to COVID-19 from UNICEF staff in 127 countries.To help contain the spread COVID-19, schools have closed around the world, at its peak putting  approximately 1.6 billion or 91% of the world’s enrolled students out of school (UNESCO). Governments and education stakeholders have responded swiftly implementing remote learning, using various delivery channels, including digital tools, TV/radio-based teaching, and take-home packages. The massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of technology to facilitate remote learning and the lack of preparedness of systems to support teachers, and caregivers in the successful and safe use of technology for learning. Key recommendations to education policy makers for COVID-19 and beyond:Education systems need a ‘Plan B’ for safe and effective learning delivery when schools are closed. Producing accessible digital and media resources based on the curriculum will not only allow a quicker response, but their use in ordinary times can enrich learning opportunities for children in and out of school.Infrastructure investment in remote and rural areas to reach marginalized children should be a priority. Initiatives like Generation Unlimited and GIGA, can democratize access to technology and connectivity, increasing options for remote learning delivery and speeding up response during school closures.Teacher training should change to include management of remote ‘virtual’ classrooms, improving presentation techniques, tailoring follow-up sessions with caregivers and effective blending of technology into lessons.Further applied research for learning and sharing what works is more important than ever. Increased focus on implementation research is needed to develop practical ways to improve teacher training, content production, parental engagement, and to leverage the use of technologies at scale.Practices for more equitable remote learningGiven the digital divide use multiple delivery channelsLarge inequities exist in access to internet around the world as illustrated by figure 1 below.  Governments are increasing access to digital content for children where possible, by negotiating to not charge data costs for education content (Rwanda, South Africa, Jordan). Even with initiatives to increase access in the short-term, digital channels are not enough to reach all children, especially the most disadvantaged as explored in Remote Learning Amid a Pandemic: Insights from MICS6.   To expand their reach, 68% countries are utilizing some combination of digital and non-digital (TV, Radio, and take-home packages) in their education responses. TV is being used by 75% of countries, including making TV lessons accessible for children with hearing impairments with sign language (Morocco, Uzbekistan).  Radio is also a widely used tool, 58% of countries report using it to deliver audio content. However, digital, tv and radio delivery channels all require electricity.  Simple (unweighted) average of the 28 countries with data by income level, shows that only 65% of households from the poorest quintile have electricity, compared to 98% of households from the wealthiest quintile. In seven countries (Côte d'Ivoire, Lesotho, Kiribati, Sudan, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania) less than 10% of the poorest households have electricity. To address this challenge, 49% of countries are also using “take home” packages for learners. In Jordan, refugee children are receiving learning packages and in Jamaica learn and play kits are delivered to children in quarantined zones.  Parental engagement is critically important for learning and should not be overlooked as explored in the recent research brief on parental Engagement in Children’s Learning – Insights for remote learning response during COVID-19 Figure 3. Below shows the wide disparity in Radio ownership across 88 countries, while figure 4 illustrates the urban rural gap in TV ownership within countries. Strengthen support to the teachers, facilitators and parents delivering remote learningAccess to content is only the first step in remote learning. Countries are supporting caregivers who have been thrust into teaching at home, with tutoring materials, webinars/helplines to answer their questions (North Macedonia, Uruguay). Countries are engaging with caregivers, to not only support learning but to, provide psychosocial support to children (Bhutan, Cameroon, Ecuador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Oman, India), provide tips for children’s online safety (North Macedonia, Serbia) and engage with families to allow girls to continue learning remotely rather than increasing their household duties (Ghana). Gather feedback and strengthen monitoring of reach and qualityCountries have engaged in a variety of measures to collect feedback, and to understand the usage and effectiveness of different delivery channels. Monitoring of reach and quality for remote learning remains a challenge for many countries.  While there is great need to understand how COVID-19 has impacted children, education actors must take care to ensure that any data collection exercise from children follows ethical considerations and, first and foremost does no harm (Berman, 2020). Several countries are using simple tools (SMS in Tanzania, Chatbots in Mongolia) to gather feedback from parents to improve remote learning.  Serbia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have incorporated assessment tools within digital platforms. Thomas Dreesen  is an Education Manager at UNICEF’s Office of Research (OoR), Mathieu Brossard is the Chief of Education at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti. Spogmai Akseer, Akito Kamei and Javier Santiago Ortiz are education research consultants at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti, Pragya Dewan is a consultant in the education section of UNICEF’s programme division, Juan-Pablo Giraldo is an education specialist in UNICEF’s Programme division, and Suguru Mizunoya is a Senior Advisor in statistics and monitoring with UNICEF’s Data and Analytics team.
Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Blog

Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

This post is the second in a series of articles focused on helping children continue to learn at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic, emphasizing the need for multiple remote learning platforms to meet the needs of all students.   As discussed in the first post in this series on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures around the globe mean that remote learning is now the only option for more than 1.3 billion children across 177 countries. MICS6 data reveal that many of the world’s children do not have internet access at home, particularly among poorer households. In response, UNICEF, governments and partners are actively considering an array of solutions to support the continuity of learning for children and adolescents, and the data indicate that television and radio broadcasts offer an effective way for education systems to reach children with the greatest needs.     Access via the airwaves: Reaching the most children with television and radio [caption id="attachment_2516" align="alignright" width="303"] Figure 1[/caption] As illustrated in Figure 1, broadcast media can be a core component of a data-driven, multi-pronged approach to the alternative delivery of education content and has several advantages in delivering educational content during the COVID-19 crisis. New analysis of MICS6 data shows that television and radio broadcasts have the potential to reach a majority of the world’s children, especially the most vulnerable. [1] According to UNICEF’s COVID-19 education rapid response tracker, 77 per cent of countries include television in their national response to COVID-19 school closures and radio is part of the national response in more than half of the countries tracked. TV and radio lack interactivity, but parents and caregivers can address this shortcoming by engaging with their children to discuss broadcasted educational content, supplemented by printed materials. The importance of effective engagement and support from parents and caregivers was discussed in detail in this recent UNICEF blog post.     Television Our analysis shows that in the countries studied in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, television would reach 80 per cent or more of the school-aged population. In countries like Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, and Tunisia, even children in poor households have high rates of access to television making it an equitable way to deliver educational content (Figure 2). However, in the countries analyzed in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, household access to television is neither common nor equitably distributed – television reaches half or fewer school-age children, and gaps in television access are very stark for the poorest children, where 10 per cent or fewer have a television at home.       Radio While its reach is not universally high, radio has an important role to play in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where it can potentially reach more than 50 per cent of school-age children in countries such as The Gambia, Suriname, Sierra Leone and Ghana (Figure 3).     Boosting the benefits of broadcast media through blended delivery The broad reach of television and radio broadcasts makes them a good choice to serve as the backbone of many remote learning programmes, but countries are encouraged to explore how they can enhance their educational offerings with high- and low-tech complements like internet-based instruction and the use of printed learning materials. For example, in April, Peru launched “Aprendo en casa” (I learn at home), which uses radio, TV and web-based platforms to provide instruction in math, Spanish, social sciences, art and physical education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary education levels. UNICEF is coordinating with UNESCO, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and Peru’s Ministry of Education to ensure the programme is equitable and inclusive in reaching indigenous, migrant and disabled children. At the other end of the spectrum, for many of the most marginalized school-age children – i.e., those in very rural settings and/or from very poor households – even radio and TV may be inaccessible, making delivery of printed education materials the only alternative. In March, UNICEF and other partners supported Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education in their launch of educational radio programmes covering the national curriculum. About half of the households in the country have a radio, andhomes in rural areas are more likely to have a radio than a television.[2] The radio broadcasts are complemented by home delivery of printed materials, which are crucial to reaching children without radio access.     MICS6 data drive informed decision-making The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in terms of delivering education services to children. Speed is of the essence – the education sector must move quickly to find solutions, especially for the poorest children. COVID-19 school closures threaten to rob vulnerable children of the opportunity to catch up with their more advantaged peers, further deepening inequalities. Remote learning means the home environment is even more important to a child’s ability to continue learning. Marginalized children are more likely to be in homes with fewer learning resources, have lower access to devices, and their caregivers may lack the time or knowledge needed to support learning and development. In some countries, television and/or radio have the potential to reach almost all children, including the poorest. In others, their reach is limited and uneven. While MICS6 data show there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reach all children, using data to drive decisions regarding the most effective channels will help ensure education is both widely accessible and equitably provided.     [1] The analysis included 19 countries/regions (a total of 20 surveys) conducted between 2017-2019: East Asia and Pacific: Kiribati, Lao PDR, Mongolia; Europe and Central Asia: Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, Montenegro (Roma settlements). Eastern and Southern Africa: Lesotho, Madagascar, Zimbabwe. Latin America and the Caribbean: Suriname. Middle East and North Africa: Iraq, Tunisia. South Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan (Punjab). West and Central Africa: DR Congo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Togo. [2] Source: DHS 2015.

Journal articles

Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Journal Article

Potential effects of COVID-19 school closures on foundational skills and Country responses for mitigating learning loss

Events

How to apply Smart Buy's evidence in country education investment decisions
Event

How to apply Smart Buy's evidence in country education investment decisions

Lessons on the implementation and contextualization of Smart Buys evidence at country level by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP).

Podcasts

How to apply Smart Buy's evidence in country education investment decisions
Podcast

COVID-19 and Education for Children: Lessons Learned