Can’t Wait to Learn: A quasi-experimental mixed-methods evaluation of a digital game-based learning programme for out-of-school children in Sudan

Felicity L Brown, Alawia I Farag , Faiza Hussein Abd Alla , Kate Radford , Laura Miller , Koen Neijenhuijs , Hester Stubbé , Thomas de Hoop , Ahmed Abdullatif Abbadi , Jasmine S. Turner , Andrea Jetten, and Mark J.D. Jordans

American Journal of Development Effectiveness (2020)


The Can’t Wait to Learn (CWTL) program uses digital gaming technology to deliver educational content. In Sudan, CWTL delivers educational content aligned with the national curriculum in a non-formal classroom setting to out-of-school children, with local facilitators known as Learning Directors. This paper examines whether CWTL led to improvements in children’s learning outcomes in Sudan, compared to a state-provided education program for out-of-school children. The authors also explore whether the CWTL program led to improvements in children’s psychosocial wellbeing, and examine the factors leading to successful outcomes as well as implementation challenges.

Between December 2017 and December 2018, the authors conducted a quasi-experimental, mixed-methods evaluation of the CWTL program for Sudanese children who have never attended school. The 221 participants (of which 183 completed the program) were out-of-school children in eight villages in Sudan (four in West Kassala, and four in Sinnar). In each state, two villages (without any educational facilities) received CWTL, and two comparison villages (with educational facilities) received state provided out-of-school education. In all other respects, CWTL and comparison villages were similar in terms of distance from the capital city, distance to a main road, main income source and average income levels. Quantitative findings were corroborated and extended with qualitative data gathered from focus group discussions and key informant interviews with children, learning directors, caregivers, community leaders, and supervisory staff.

Main findings:

  • CWTL led to significantly greater improvements in mathematics competency and Arabic literacy competency, compared to state provided education for out-of-school children, six months after the start of the
  • The psychosocial wellbeing of children in the CWTL villages improved after completing the program, while children in the comparison villages did not improve over time.
  • The self-esteem of children in the CWTL villages did not improve, whereas children in the comparison villages did significantly improve over time. However, the authors argue that the psychometric properties of measurement instruments were not adequate and this result should be interpreted with caution.
  • There were no differences in measurements of child-reported hope between the two groups.
  • Qualitative data confirmed that, beyond academic learning, respondents reported many positive improvements in children’s psychosocial wellbeing. This was attributed to the program and the influence of learning directors.
  • Overall, children, parents, sheikhs, learning directors, and state and locality level supervisory staff reported positive experiences with the digital game and tablets.
  • The main implementation challenges were technical problems that led to delays in playing, and loss of children’s previous progress in the game, which caused frustration, disappointment and demotivation among children. There were also significant challenges with living conditions in the villages.
  • Participants and stakeholders reported several perceived benefits of the CWTL program compared to out-of-school education, including reduced travel time and easier scheduling, lower cost, more engagement from children and parents, and greater efficiency.
  • Some parents, Learning Directors and sheikhs requested that the existing lessons be complemented with more traditional learning materials such as blackboards, pencils and books. Perceived benefits included: enhanced effectiveness; opportunities to teach skills such as handwriting; and increased awareness and engagement of parents who would be able to follow their children’s learning. Additionally, some Learning Directors expressed a preference to take a more active teaching role.

Overall, the authors conclude that there is promise in digital game-based learning programs delivered in remote villages in Sudan that lack the basic infrastructure for standard education.