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Pop-Up Learning brings education to the hardest-to-reach children 

By bringing together refugee communities, innovative technology developers, and local partners we create more opportunities for children to excel.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works across 20 countries to provide children, youth and adults with safe, quality educational opportunities that help them learn the skills they need to survive and thrive. In 2018, the IRC committed to finding new ways to improve education access for the hardest-to-reach children in times of crisis and displacement. Out of this effort, Pop-Up Learning was born. 


Pop-Up pairs personalized game-based learning software with thoughtful facilitation and low-cost mobile technology so that learning can happen anywhere, at any time.


We call this Autonomous Learning - when students engage independently in learning activities where a skilled teacher is not available.


During Pop-Up, caregivers and community members provide basic facilitation support, maintain technology and keep children accountable and engaged.


Homes, community centers and schools provide a safe and quiet place for children to gather and learn. Solar charging allows learning to continue even when basic infrastructure is not available.


Intermittent connectivity using basic SIM cards or Wi-Fi, while not required for learning, allows remote tracking of children's progress.



"We tell our friends, 'Yes, our children are learning games, but they are learning through games. Our children don’t ever want to leave.'"

— Caregiver


Building flexible solutions

 We identify and test program components that support personalized game-based learning in a variety of contexts and build easily adaptable solutions that can reach children at scale.


Pop-Up Learning Bangladesh

Home-based learning for out-of-school children fleeing violence

Building on a feasibility and desirability pilot completed in April 2020 and ongoing work to hone the implementation model, we are launching a randomized controlled trial in February 2022 to test the impact and cost-effectiveness of a supplemental education program for children transitioning to formal school. The study will reach 800 children in Bangladesh with education in one year and lay the groundwork to reach 189,000 refugee children in Bangladesh over the next 5 years. 


Pop-Up Learning Tanzania

Home-based learning for last-mile learners affected by COVID-19

In January 2021, we launched the Pop-up Learning Tanzania pilot with  children in Tanzania host communities. We learned how to support children and caregivers learning at home during COVID-19 school closures when face-to-face contact was not possible. Findings from this project helped us to identify best practices for implementing future projects conducted during an emergency situation. We will also learn about the cost-efficiency of this model.


Pop-Up Class Tanzania

Supplemental after-school learning for

underperforming children 

In September 2020, we launched the Pop-Up Class Tanzania pilot with Congolese refugees and children in Tanzania host communities. We will learn if the impacts achieved by similar programs in stable contexts can be achieved in crisis contexts when program components such as language of instruction, facilitation, and learning time and location are changed. We will also learn about the cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of this model.

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Displaced children have disproportionately low access to education opportunities


33 million children are displaced from their homes because of humanitarian crises


Almost 40% of those children do not have access to formal education. Even when formal schooling is available, many leave school without the skills needed to calculate the correct change from a transaction or read a doctor’s instructions—let alone build a fulfilling career or educate future generations.

What happens at the onset of a crisis can affect children’s learning outcomes for years to come

Time Out of School

Emergencies leave displaced children out of school for months or even years, severely impacting their ability to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills and succeed later in life.

Teacher Availability

There is a lack of professional teachers in crisis contexts that greatly affects education quality and training takes time and resources. 


Classroom Availability

Space and funds for permanent classrooms are limited, especially at the onset of a crisis when other needs are being provided for. Even when formal schools are established, quality remains a challenge. 


Testing Pop-Up


In April 2019, the Airbel Impact Lab, IRC's Research and Innovation Unit, launched the Pop-Up Learning pilot program with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to understand  if Pop-Up could help address access and quality issues in contexts where large numbers of children have been displaced and traditional schooling options are not available.  


Findings from the Pop-Up pilot study provided evidence that localized, tablet-based, learning software is a feasible and potentially cost-effective solution to help displaced out-of-school Rohingya children acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills.


The findings from the pilot were encouraging, and further research needs to be done to assess long-term impact, as well as find more cost-efficient models for scaling.

Ruma's Story


Pop-Up helps meet Ruma’s needs at the onset of a crisis and throughout her learning journey. 


Growing evidence in crisis contexts

The Pop-Up portfolio  builds on the great work done by our peers in stable contexts. 


A strong body of evidence now exists to support the effectiveness of personalized game-based learning applications in improving mathematics outcomes for in-school children in high income settings such as the US and the UK, while evidence is growing in middle and low income countries such as Tanzania, Sudan and Malawi. Research conducted by Imagine Worldwide demonstrates statistically significant gains in literacy in Malawi and a study in Brazil shows positive literacy impacts at bi-lingual immersion schools. 

The Global Learning XPrize in Tanzania was the first program to demonstrate positive literacy and numeracy impacts of personalized game-based learning for out-of-school children.


We aim to add to this body of work by providing rigorous evidence for personalized game-based learning programs in crisis contexts targeting out-of-school and underperforming children. We will fill key evidence gaps to understand if the learning impacts of personalized game-based learning programs found in more stable contexts persist when key program components are altered. Specifically, we want to know if learning outcomes persist in crisis contexts when the language of instruction is not the child’s first language, caregivers and other adults facilitate learning sessions instead of trained teachers, and learning sessions take place outside of the regular school schedule and in homes or in centers rather than the classroom. 


We will also provide the much needed cost-effectiveness research that determines whether  the Pop-Up model is worth the cost. 



1 See Outhwaite et. al., Outhwaite et. al., Education Endowment Foundation



Looking forward

In the next two years, we will continue to build out Pop-Up Learning for children who are out-of-school or seeking stop-gap or supplemental learning support at home. We will also invest in Pop-Up Class, a new program delivering supplemental after-school learning. Across every program, the Pop-Up model will be further optimized and we will provide the needed learning outcomes and cost-effectiveness data to reach scale through other humanitarian actors and local partners. 


In parallel, we will continue to identify emerging technology, content, learning methods, and distribution models for scale and run local design sprints in 2-3 contexts to design and test emerging models that support personalized game-based software for last-mile learning.

Next steps

Research the cost-effectiveness of

Pop-Up Learning and Pop-Up Class

Improve cost-efficiency and demonstrate the impact and cost-effectiveness of the Pop-Up model in Bangladesh and Tanzania

Work with other humanitarian actors and local governments and technology teams to bring the Pop-Up model to scale in Bangladesh, Tanzania and other IRC country education programs. 

Work with local innovators and humanitarian actors to identify and test emerging program  models to reach an even greater scale

Run local design sprints and innovation challenges to identify emerging implementation and operational models, as well as locally developed hardware, software and content.

Test the feasibility, impact and cost-effectiveness of new and improved models as they are developed.

Our partners build innovative learning technologies and help us drive towards scale

We are proud to work closely with our partners including: 

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Imagine Worldwide serves as a key partner providing design, research, technical support, and ongoing thought partnership.

Enuma, creators of Kitkit School

War Child Holland, creators of Can’t Wait to Learn

Onebillion, creators of onecourse

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