Home-based early education gives young refugee children in Turkey an equal chance in life
Refugee children affected by conflict and displacement are the most at risk of missing out on a pre-primary education due to factors such as poverty and language barrier.
When we set out from Ankara to meet the Bereket family in the southeast border province of Hatay, we didn’t realise the region was experiencing its coldest winter in years. By the time we arrived at our early-morning rendezvous with Nurdan, an early childhood educator, and the family, we were frozen stiff. But the warm welcome we received soon melted our hearts.
Since the war broke out in Syria, hundreds of thousands of families have fled to Turkey and started a new life. Bereket family was one of them. In 2015, Amara (31) and Ahmed (38) crossed the border from Idlib and settled in neighbouring Hatay with their then only child. Amara had a stressful pregnancy, with the war raging all around them, and Tertil (6) was born with ocular hypertension and eye complications. Although she had an operation in Syria, the family found it extremely difficult to access health services and medicine during a time of conflict. Nasha, who is now four, made the journey in her mother’s womb. The youngest member of the family, Muhammed Malik, was born in Turkey and is now four months old.
Refugee children affected by conflict and displacement are the most at risk of missing out on a pre-primary education, due to factors such as poverty and language barrier. Yet these are the children for whom pre-primary education has some of the greatest benefits.
It helps young children affected by crises overcome the traumas they have experienced and builds a critical learning foundation by providing the social, cognitive and language skills that are necessary for success in their upcoming years of education.
UNICEF, in partnership with the Southeast Anatolia Development (GAP) Administration, is implementing the Home-Based Early Childhood Education programme with the generous financial support of donors, including the Government of Japan, to ensure that young children of refugee parents, particularly mothers, who find it difficult to leave their homes to access services due heavy household responsibilities or restrictive social or cultural norms can still access early childhood education opportunities.
During each 11- week cycle of the home-based ECE program, early childhood educators meet with the mother/caregiver and children of the household once a week at their home and teach the mother how to use the activity-based learning materials so she can do these activities with her children in between visits. The learning materials are in both Turkish and Arabic. The mothers also get to discuss a wide range of young child development topics, from nutrition to hygiene to safety at home, as well as important issues like gender discrimination and violence, with the visiting educator. “During the cold weather, it can really be difficult to keep the children occupied at home” said Amara, the mother of the family, as we were taking off our shoes at the door.
“To be honest, we all look forward to Miss Nurdan’s visits, because they are so much fun, apart from being educational for me and the children.”
The Bereket family had found out about the Home-Based ECE Programme from their neighbours and were signed up after a survey of the area by the outreach workers.
With the support of the Government of Japan and other donors, since 2019, around 20,882 refugee and vulnerable Turkish children, aged between 3 and 5, have benefited from a range of early childhood education services, including this home-based ECE programme, with support from 335 early childhood educators.
“Before I started to work at this programme, I used to be a kindergarten teacher,” Nurdan says. “I really love children and it makes me very happy to see them develop and change, and to know that I am making a contribution, however small.”
Advantages of home-based programmes
One of the key aspects of the home-based programmes is that the visiting educator can also identify any difficulties that the families might be facing, such as getting access to education, healthcare or other services. They then provide the necessary guidance and referrals for the family. The home-based approach is adapted to the needs of the most vulnerable or socially marginalized families and offers parents and children that are affected by crises a safe environment to learn and play together without having to leave their home.
“I’m a teacher too,” points out Amara. “I used to teach music. I know that a child’s education starts long before they enter a classroom. These visits remind me of my teaching days. I also really like being a student again - there is no end to what you can learn.”
The parents’ perspectives
Ahmed (38) used to be a journalist in Syria. After coming to Turkey, he found a job in a tyre factory. When the factory closed, he was left jobless. At the moment he is trying to make ends meet by taking on temporary jobs.
“Which mother or father doesn’t think of their children’s health, education or needs?” asks Ahmed, tears welling up in his eyes. “When we first came here, our biggest problem was language. I’m happy that our daughters are learning Turkish at a young age. For Tertil especially, the things she learned through this programme will hopefully make things much easier for her when she starts school in September.” Tertil, has also benefited greatly from these visits in terms of dealing with the traumas she experienced at such an early age.
As we part ways with the Bereket family, Ahmed bids us farewell with one last comment:
“When I was a child, I never once thought that our future would be like this. That our country would get into this state. Like every child, I had dreamed of great days ahead. Of course, only God knows what our lives will be like from today onwards. But I know I’ll keep doing everything in my power so that my children will never stop dreaming.”