WICHITA — The Center for Educational Technologies to Assist Refugee Learners is working to improve the lives of more than 70 million forcibly displaced refugees worldwide by making education more accessible.
The project, titled Education for All, is one of four awardees of Wichita State University’s Convergence Sciences Initiative, an effort to bring together the intellectual curiosity and strengths of faculty and students from a range of disciplines and give them the support to develop research programs that drive the diversity and growth of the Kansas economy while addressing global challenges.
"There are 3.4 million refugee students across the world who are out of school districts and don't have access to schools," said principal investigator Dr. Mythili Menon, assistant professor of English and linguistics. "What we're trying to do is bridge that gap."
Menon and her interdisciplinary team — including health researchers, linguists, game designers, engineers, journalists and educators — are working to create a game-based platform for K-12 refugee students in their native language. The initial work will be in Swahili for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has been plagued by violent conflict for decades.
"We have this expectation that a lot of our students — irrespective of whether they are immigrant students, whether they’re refugee students — they speak English. If they don't speak English, they are put into language classes," Menon said, which puts them behind in other subjects.
"We're creating modules for elementary and middle school children with respect to language arts and science," Menon said. "We're supplementing what the school districts are doing, but what we're doing is creating a free accessible technology, so you don't necessarily have to be in school to have access to the software."
The idea is to offer parallel learning opportunities. A student might explore an interactive, roleplaying lesson on the solar system in both their native language and then later in English.
"What we're doing is not a translation software, but creating an educational software that can teach the students concepts in both English and in their language, say Swahili," Menon said. "The idea is that students can learn in their language, and they can learn a new language."
Kelly Johnson, assistant educator and program coordinator of game design for Shocker Studios, will be charged with facilitating the production of the end product.
The game will rely heavily on student input, survey results and research from the team’s investigators.
"I'll take that and run with it in terms of both building the infrastructure and the framework for the actual game that's being created," Johnson said.