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After more than six years of brutal conflict, the Syria crisis has proven to be the largest humanitarian disaster of our generation. The sheer numbers of IDPs and refugees, combined with a generalized deterioration of living and security conditions both inside and outside of Syria, has led to a critical situation in highly fragile neighboring states. Lebanon, a nation of approximately 4 million citizens, is now sheltering 1,067,785 registered Syrian refugees and over 2 million total vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Of these initial registered totals, there are more than 482,034 displaced Syrian children between the ages of 3 and 18 living in Lebanon.
The response to this crisis-- as with humanitarian responses around the world--has placed a clear emphasis on initiatives focused on survival and short-term support. Largely missing from the response are high-quality, large-scale, early childhood development programs, which provide the foundation for future academic success, health, prosperity and wellbeing. A large body of scientific evidence emphasizes the need for increased investment in early childhood, particularly for children experiencing conflict, crisis and displacement as they are extremely vulnerable to the long-lasting effects prolonged stress has on the developing brain. Yet despite the high rates of return on investment—13% per annum for every dollar spent, early childhood programming has been neglected, receiving less than 1% of all education aid, and a tiny fraction of the overall humanitarian response budget.
To address the critical needs of young children in conflict and crisis living, the IRC’s Preschool Healing Classrooms (PHC) program builds upon our evidence-based Healing Classroom model to provide nurturing, safe and consistent learning experiences for young children through play, exploration and social interactions. PHC includes a strong emphasis on the role of parents and teachers through parenting programs with home visits as well as structured trainings, mentoring and ongoing professional development for teachers.
In April 2016, IRC began piloting a 4-month ECE program, with a particular emphasis on responding to the needs of young children experiencing distress and displacement. The program is in alignment with the Government of Lebanon’s national NFE Framework and the UN Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP). The curriculum draws from the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) preschool curriculum, and is infused with PHC content focusing on strengthening social-emotional skills to build young children’s resiliency. IRC currently serves 3,000 preschool aged children through 8-month programs in Bekaa and Akar regions of Lebanon.
To ensure our preschools provide high-quality learning experiences in safe and inclusive environments, the IRC measures the quality of the preschool classroom environment using an adaptation of the MELQO- MELE tool. In addition, children’s gains across the domains of motor, pre-literacy, pre-numeracy and social-emotional skills are measured using Save the Children’s International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA). This presentation will provide an overview of the preschool and parenting components of PHC, and will include a focus on the analysis of the relationship between the quality of the preschool environment and classroom-level performance, measured by the IDELA tool during the 2016-2017 school year. The presentation will also highlight recommendations for future implementation and scaling.