Father Education Program in Turkey: Transforming norms through early childhood education programme
“I don’t want to sleep. I want to run around like the fox in the story.”
UNICEF recently developed the innovative Father Education Program as an additional element to the ongoing UNICEF home-based early childhood education program, which primarily targets refugee and Turkish mothers of young children (3-5 years old) living in socio-economically marginalized communities. Prepared with expert support and in tandem with the needs of the mothers benefiting from the home-based education program, the father education program was developed to ensure a gender-sensitive approach and promote the inclusion of fathers to support their young children’s development in the program.
With the home-based early childhood education program mothers receive 11-weeks worth of materials on different topics related to the development of young children including: social-emotional and cognitive development, communication with children, and preparation for school. For 11 weeks mothers are provided with weekly content on the above-mentioned topics and children are provided with weekly activity booklets and stationery supplies to support their early learning at home. With the addition of the father education program, the ongoing home-based education program became more holistic serving both parents, mothers and fathers, and their children.
The father education program is conducted simultaneously with the home-based education program for mothers. Fathers are provided with weekly content including one audio book for children and a quick guide on parenting. While the quick guide gives information and tips for fathers about raising children and supporting their development, the storybooks are used as a tool to engage children in reading activities in an interactive way, by asking questions about the story and the illustrations in the book. The foundation of good literacy skills rests in comprehension and language abilities, which are fostered by listening to stories and retelling them in a fun way. Many parents benefiting from the program have recommended it to their relatives and friends.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020 the program has shifted to a distance learning modality where face-to-face home visits from ECE educators were replaced with regular communication with mothers through phone calls and WhatsApp messages. When mothers receive content from the father education program on their phones they share it with the fathers and encourage them to take part in this fun learning activity with their children.
The father education program is implemented by GAP Regional Development Administration in cooperation with UNICEF and the Development Foundation of Turkey with generous support from the Government of Japan. To date, the project has reached 2,872 fathers and 4,867 children.
"I don't want to sleep" Efe said, complaining to her mother. "I want to run around like a fox." Ahmed, Emine’s father, stops the story here and asks Emine, who is listening to her father: "What do you think the fox looks like?" Emine, age 5, will start school in one year. She has never seen a fox before but tries to remember what she has heard in other stories and asks if a fox looks like a dog. Ahmed and his daughter talk about what a fox looks like for a while, and when Emine finishes asking all of her questions, father and daughter continue reading the story together.
Home-based ECE educators send one audio book every week to fathers participating in the father education program. A father plays the story to the child, asks checking questions to keep child engaged and makes sure she/he is following the narrative. Thanks to this new program fathers are finding fun ways to bond with their young children and become more involved in their care and development.
Ahmed shares his experience with the program. “In fact, when my wife told me it's not a very difficult thing, you are going to read stories to our children using a phone application, and I asked how that would work. What if I don’t understand everything being said? But when I read the step-by-step instructions and listened to the story, I saw that the language used was very understandable. It was not what I feared, I had no difficulty in listening and understanding. I am so happy to be able to fulfill one of responsibilities of being a father. Due to the rush of daily life, we tend to forget to spend time with our children. Now, with this program I have the chance to spend enjoyable moments with my children."
Emine’s mother Esra explains how this program has helped her family. “My husband works 12 hours a day in a restaurant. Although he loves spending time with his children, he usually cannot spend time with them because he is tired or comes home late from work. This program let them spend at least some time together once a week in a fun and enjoyable way. My daughter Emine asks so many questions so story time does not end easily”.
The program serves many different purposes. Aside from allowing fathers to spend quality time with their children and increase their children’s interest in reading, the program helps to break down traditional gender roles and encourages fathers to actively engage in their children’s development and learning at home.
Ayşe, the local program coordinator, further explains: “It is actually very similar to the work we've done with mothers over the years. We share storybooks and quick guides with the fathers. The aim is to strengthen the communication between fathers and their children, to ensure that fathers are a little more involved in their children’s educational life and to create a little space for mothers, whose burden has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal through this program is to promote fathers’ presence in the household and for them to spend more quality time with their children and be involved in their life."