Ismail takes a step into education with home-based early childhood education

We ask İsmail, who overcame his shyness through home-based early childhood education, what he wants to become when he grows up. “I want to catch bad guys” he says.

21 February 2022

Şanlıurfa, Turkey – It has been nine years since the Al Mustafa family left their home in Aleppo, Syria, and came to Şanlıurfa, Turkey. The mother Hanse (40) tells us that her family stayed on the streets for five or six days while they were trying to cross the border and faced many difficulties as they made their journey to safety.  

Hanse takes care of her seven children: Mahmud (20), İbrahim (17), Yusuf (14), Safa (12), Merve (12), Miray (10) and the youngest, Ismail (5). The father Ahmed is a daily labourer, who depends on whatever works he finds in their region. “The house we live in is temporary,” adds Hanse.  

“At the time of our arrival, I could not send my eldest children to school because of our financial situation,” says Hanse. For that reason, the mother attaches great importance to the education of her youngest child, Ismail who is benefiting from the home–based Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme. During 2021, over 18,000 Turkish and refugee children, aged 3-5 years old, benefited from the programme, and over 20,000 children were reached during 2021.  The programme aims to prepare children for their first grade of education at Turkish Public Schools through developing language and motor skills.

During their door-to-door home visits to inform families about the program, ECE teams also identify families that have difficulty accessing education, healthcare or other public services.

The mother says, “Ismail was mostly playing on the street before this programme started, he did not spend time at the house that much. He now waits for the activity's day, it became a habit. He used to be a shy around strangers, but now he overcame that shyness, and he talks more when we have visitors.”


The ECE teacher Zeliha has been visiting the family for the past seven weeks. “When I first visited, he did not have pencil holding skills because he had always been playing outside. Now he can hold a pencil properly and count numbers, and he also started to comprehend colours. Even though we are only at our 7th week together, he paints well. He had improved very much.” she says.

When we ask Ismail what he has learned during the home–based early childhood education sessions, he says, “I learned how to paint and count numbers”. His teacher adds “While learning numbers, shapes and concepts, he always asks about the words’ equivalent in Turkish. He is really curious about the language.”


Zeliha tells us that communicating with Ismail was challenging at first, “thanks to his mother’s participation, he overcame his shyness. For instance, if I teach him a new number, I tell him, ‘Let’s repeat this with your mother’. He sees that he is not alone, and becomes more confident. We also started to get closer to each other in the last weeks,” she adds.

When we ask İsmail what he wants to become when he grows up, “I want to become a police officer. I want to catch bad guys” he says with a laugh.

Home-based early childhood education consists of three main components: Activity books with exercises that children can do at home during COVID-19 pandemic, a home-based education program aimed at raising awareness of mothers on child development, and a Father Education Program for fathers to participate in reading stories to their children.


Using the activity books, children are playing games with their families. As she explains how this activity strengthens the communication between family members, Zeliha adds, “children can create games at home with the materials we provide, instead of spending time playing outside on the street”.

The whole family pays great attention to Ismail’s education. His mother collects the paintings he makes during the ECE sessions to hang them up on the wall, his siblings also enjoy playing with him using the activity book.


Information related to child development is shared during the weekly programme for mothers, including on a range of topics such as healthy eating, playing games and communication. Teacher Zeliha explains the topic to the mother, and then provides her with a note prepared in Turkish and Arabic to read it again after the sessions ends. Mothers are also encouraged to share the information with their relatives and neighbours.


As part of the Father Education Program, and during home visits, a story book and story instructions are provided to fathers on weekly basis. “Ismail’s father had regrets because he had dropped out of his own education, and that's why he is very interested in participating in these sessions. He reads the stories to Ismail meticulously”, says Zeliha.


 The home–based Early Childhood Education (ECE) program is implemented through a partnership between UNICEF, the GAP Regional Development Administration and Development Foundation of Turkey (TKV), with the financial support of 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 populations in southeast Turkey.