Home-based Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Cene’s colourful world
Despite the pandemic, children in Turkey are able to access early childhood education.
Şanlıurfa, Turkey - The Elreca family fled the crisis in Syria in 2015, joining over 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. They left their family home behind and entered the country through Şanlıurfa, southeast of Turkey.
“We used to own the house we lived in there, while we live in a rented house here. Rents are extremely expensive” says the mother Gufran (27) who lost her father and brother during the crisis. “I was studying agricultural engineering at the university, but I had to drop out during my second year because of the war. I also had to leave my relatives behind,” she adds.
While Gufran takes care of their children Cene (5), Usame (3), and Bilal (4–month–old), her husband Munir (32) works as a day porter at the open–air market. “My husband used to be a special education teacher in Syria, but now he can only do day labour,” explains Gufran. Since the father could not work during the Covid–19 period, the family encountered many financial difficulties.
While ECE teachers make door-to-door home visits to inform families about the program, they also identify families that have difficulty accessing education, healthcare or other public services.
Tuba, the home–based ECE teacher, shares her experience with Cene during the last six weeks, “Cene is really excited about learning. I teach her numbers in both Turkish and the Arabic. I noticed that she now watches videos on Turkish numbers on YouTube before our sessions,” she says.
Gufran says that thanks to this programme, Cene learned the colours, how to hold a pencil, distinguishing between right and wrong, counting, and placing numbers in order. She adds, “We used to have difficulties when we tried to teach her something. But thanks to this programme, we are always waiting for her teacher to visit because it is fun for her.”
When we ask 5–year–old Cene what she learned from her teacher, she says, “I learned colours!” and joyfully she names them one by one: “Red, blue, green, yellow…”. Of all the different activities, Cene was most excited about painting the wooden house that her teacher brought.
Her teacher Tuba says, “Cene’s family cannot buy books or notebooks for her. We provide such resources for families with economic hardships. It is highly effective for children who cannot go to school” she adds.
The activity books that are given to children every week contain exercises that children can easily do with materials they can find at home during COVID–19. Mothers are provided with information in Arabic, on a range of topics including healthy child development. Teachers also encourage mothers to share what they learn with their neighbours and relatives, including concepts on nutrition, child wellbeing or suggested games for children.
The Father Education Program is also implemented during the same period. On weekly basis, fathers are asked to read a story for their children. The storybooks are designed to be interactive, allowing children to answer questions related to the story and visuals. Additional information including tips for fathers on supporting children’s development are shared with parents via WhatsApp. Cene’s mother says, “Cene especially likes the stories sent by her teacher. She makes me and her father read the stories over and over again.”
Cene's father also agrees that the stories contributed a lot to the development of their children. Many fathers, like Münir, read the stories to their children in the evenings or during the weekends. Together with Cene, he plays out the gestures in the story and talks about the feelings of the different characters.
When we say goodbye to Cene, we ask her what she wants to become in the future. “A doctor!”, she says, and then waves to us with her big smile.
During 2021, over 18,800 Turkish and refugee children, in the 3–5 age group, were reached with home-based ECE activities, and over 20,000 children were reached in 2021. The programme aims to prepare children for attending first grade in Turkish Public Schools, by developing motor, language, cognitive, social and emotional skills.
The home–based Early Childhood Education (ECE) program is implemented through a partnership between UNICEF, GAP Regional Development Administration and Development Foundation of Turkey (TKV), with the financial support of the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) and the Government of Japan. The program targets Syrian refugee children in 11 provinces with high refugee population in southeast Turkey.