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The field of early childhood education (ECE) requires a holistic framework, especially in vulnerable contexts. Almost half of young children in low and middle income countries (LMICs) are at risk of not reaching their full development potential, and this figure uses global data that likely does not fully account for children who have been displaced by war or natural disasters. The most recent Lancet report focused on early childhood development calls for programming that incorporates multiple sectors and domains of children’s development and learning to meet this daunting call. However, the majority of LMICs have not yet been able to achieve this, and more tested models for development and emergency contexts are needed to pave the way.
A holistic ECD framework requires supporting children across multiple domains of development and strengthening the different environments that children encounter. The ecological model of human development as emerging from the complex interplay between a child and their surroundings, stresses the direct and powerful influence of environments on children’s early learning. Shonkoff, et al. (2016) and others have demonstrated the importance of dynamic interactions between children’s development, their home environments, and various environmental and social factors (including poverty, exposure to violence, etc.). Understanding and promoting strong early learning environments is especially critical in emergency or displacement settings where a child’s typical support structures and relationships are likely to have been disrupted.
Further, it’s necessary to measure multiple domains of learning in order to capture a comprehensive picture of children’s varied skill sets. Beyond the development of academic skills like literacy and numeracy, evidence highlights the importance of non-academic skills such as social-emotional development, especially when children are exposed to adverse environments or life events. Focusing only on academic skills risks missing important components of what children need to be successful in school and beyond. This includes, among others, social emotional skills that are critical to children’s understanding of the social world and social interactions that play a foundational role in the adjustment and healthy functioning of children among peers and others.
In Lebanon, early childhood issues appear in many fragmented sectoral policies, with each Ministry developing policy where they see relevance to their own mandate. While average enrolment rates in ECE services in Lebanon are relatively high (72% compared to the regional average of 17%), this breaks down into 84% of Lebanese children enrolled in pre-school and fewer than 20% of refugee children age 3-5 years enroll in pre-school. As a result, the children who need it most do not have opportunities that support early learning, protection and psychosocial wellbeing.
Save the Children in Lebanon is working to meet the need for holistic support to young children who have fled the war in Syria through a project called ‘Hands Up’. The curriculum mirrors the objectives and teaching methodology of the MEHE curriculum for KG1-3, but incorporates additional activities from Emergent Literacy and Math (ELM) and Healing and Education Through the Arts (HEART). ELM introduces play-based learning activities into centers and homes via a resource bank of simple, concrete options to integrate into the daily schedule of any ECD center or home. HEART provides psychosocial support for children affected by serious or chronic stress by using the arts to make learning more interactive and to help children process and communicate feelings related to their experiences. Hands Up will use these curricula to reach Syrian children by training ECE teachers to incorporate dynamic, multi-domain activities into their classrooms, and empowering parents to enhance loving relationships and early learning in the many hours that children are not in school.
This presentation will discuss both the development and research of this program in two program sites in Lebanon. Information from the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) which reliably measures child development across four developmental domains central to children’s school readiness (motor, literacy, numeracy and social-emotional) will be presented alongside data from the IDELA Home Environment Tool to provide detailed and contextualized information about the conditions promoting (or detracting from) children’s development in this challenging context.