The Impact of Psychosocial Support on Children’s Well-being and Academic Performance in South Sudan

Abstract

 Presenter (s) Arlene Benitez, Indiana University; Jennifer DeBoer, Purdue University; Mamour Choul, Gender Equity and Women's Leadership Program; Wendy Wheaton, USAID; Natasha Kassami, Resilient Africa Network; Priyanka Brunese Shah, Purdue University

This paper presents findings from an 18-month long study conducted in 60 schools across 5 South Sudanese states on the impact of psychosocial support as part of UNICEF’s Integrated Essential Emergency Education Services (IEEES) Activity. The evaluation sought to answer the question “what are the impacts of psycho-social support interventions on students’ well-being and academic performance?” through a mixed-methods approach that included student and teacher surveys focused on well-being and resilience, academic assessments using a modified EGRA and EGMA, and qualitative case studies in 5 schools receiving psychosocial support interventions.

The student surveys covered key demographic factors, attitudes towards learning and classroom climate, and psychosocial attitudes and behaviors (emotional well-being, social well-being, and ability to cope), drawing largely from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and the Child and Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM). Teacher surveys covered demographic background, training and implementation of psychosocial support activities, and attitudes towards teaching and classroom management. Additional contextual information was provided through 5 in-depth case study sites (one intervention school from each of the 5 participating states) through student focus groups and key informant interviews with headteachers, county education directors, implementing partners, and UNICEF field level child protection and/or education officers.

The evaluation was developed through the LASER consortium, which brought together a research team composed of academics and practitioners from Indiana University, Purdue University, University of Notre Dame, Catholic Relief Services, the Resilient Africa Network at Makerere University, and South Sudanese Researchers along with stakeholders from USAID and UNICEF. The resulting work exemplifies the strengths of this model, which allows for a participatory and collaborative design, supports more nuanced and informed data collection and analysis, and builds the capacity of local researchers to conduct future evaluations. Despite the significant challenges of operating in a conflict-affected environment with an ambitious timeline and research plan, researchers were able to survey over 3000 primary school students and 600 teachers in 5 states of South Sudan and conduct academic assessments of approximately 600 students. Early findings suggest small, significant positive differences in academic outcomes among students receiving psychosocial support and complex differences in socio-emotional learning outcomes across different contexts.

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