Achieving successful early childhood education in a challenging context
Looking back on the project and our work over the past year and a half, we gained a lot of insight and learnings and we’re proud to report that overall, we did achieve what we set out to do:
- 6 Little Ripples Ponds (in-home learning centers) were constructed in the home spaces of refugee families across each camp. With 6 families agreeing to maintain a safe environment for young children.
- 270 young Darfuri children ages three to five participated in a quality, play-based and trauma-informed preschool program and received a daily nutritious meal, which for some was the only meal they would receive that day.
- 28 women were trained and employed as Little Ripples Camp Coordinators, Education Directors, teachers, and cooks, working together to adapt and lead the program in their community. They continue to demonstrate strong capacity and leadership in managing the Little Ripples programme.
- 1 programme assessment was completed, demonstrating improvements in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development while also highlighting the high level of food insecurity among households across each camp.
OUTCOMES OF THE PROJECT
1) The capacity of the all-female Little Ripples team has exceeded iACT and JRS expectations.
The women, employed as Little Ripples Camp Coordinators, Education Directors, teachers, and cooks, implement and manage every aspect of the programme. This includes registration, weekly monitoring of children and attendance rates, weekly problem-solving, outreach to parents and community members, daily teaching, and the management of the meal programme. They also report to iACT, JRS, and education stakeholders. The women consistently send monitoring data at the end of each month; meet together every month to discuss challenges, learnings, and opportunities; and have identified solutions to challenges they face in the classroom with students.
During the first full school year, each Pond enrolled 45 children and maintained a 2 to 45 teacher-to-student ratio and a more than 80% attendance rate. Additionally, since the start, the program has maintained a 100% employee retention rate. The same group of women who completed Teacher Training I and were employed in November 2017 are still employed and managing the programme as a new school year begins in October 2019.
“At the beginning, kids registered [but] didn't attend. They started to see that we are happy teachers and we have mindfulness, songs, food, colors, shapes, sports, language, and numbers. Now, they come and they talk to people. Kids of Little Ripples are now very well. One student just three years old, asks his friends to make a circle around him so he can sit in the middle and do mindfulness like at Little Ripples.” – Saida, Little Ripples Teacher
2) The assessment found promising outcomes after one year of the programme
When interviewing caregivers and measuring the development of children from the baseline the assessment found positive results. 100% of caregivers reported ‘Yes’ when asked if they feel their child is safe at Little Ripples. Whereas, 56% of caregivers do not feel their child is safe in their camp. There was an increase in the number of caregivers who report their child(ren) is able to do something independently and that their child(ren) ‘always’ or ‘often’ share with others. It also found an increase in the number of children across both camps able to identify colours, count to 10, identify animals, and recite the alphabet.
The achievement of the project did come with challenges. Most notably, the conditions in which Darfuri families face and the resulting impact on the assessment and the physical health of young children.
Our partner, iACT, was not able to measure the same total number of caregivers and children at baseline and at each follow-up assessment over the duration of the project. iACT did attempt to address this issue by:
- offering families a small incentive for their participation
- adjusting the timeline of the assessment to ensure families were more likely to be in-camp (not away at their gardens)
- increasing the amount of advanced notice
- conducting household visits for recruitment and reminders.
However, iACT found that it was still too difficult for families to spend a day at the assessment instead of working to meet their essential daily needs. To understand this challenge it is important to understand the context in which these refugee families live: food rations have been cut with some camps going several months with no rations at all; there are very limited livelihood opportunities; and, families are resorting to spending more time away from their home in order to look for work outside of the camps, tend their gardens, and find opportunities to gain a livelihood in order to make up for deep food ration cuts.
Many caregivers of Little Ripples students admitted that sometimes this meal is the only one their child receives that day because their food rations are so limited. Food rations consist of grains, oil, and sometimes salt if they are lucky. The food rations in camps Kounoungou and Mile are typically distributed monthly; but, depending on family size, most of these rations are gone before the next ration is available. According to our survey, the majority of families run out of their food rations with 3 weeks receiving them. This means that most families are going at least a week without food rations. Additionally there were periods in 2018 and early 2019 when food rations were cut off entirely for all families in the camp. This further exacerbates the food insecurity of each household and the health of the community at large.
FURTHER RESEARCH & UPTAKE OF FINDINGS
Little Ripples uniquely integrates a trauma-informed approach and mindfulness tools and activities into the Teacher Training and the Little Ripples pedagogy. There is a dearth of research around such an approach and pedagogy and the resulting impact on young children affected by displacement and trauma.
We call for research and attention on these very important approaches and tools when designing and capacitating a community to address the needs of and nurture the development of young children.
We imagine there will be an uptake of our findings among refugee education stakeholders. JRS and iACT are distributing reports and findings with the Darfuri refugee community and conducting targeted outreach and knowledge sharing with refugee education stakeholders.
The women employed by the programme and parents across each community have shared passionate support and dedication to ensuring the programme continues.
Moving forward, Little Ripples continues in refugee camps Kounoungou and Mile—because it must. The women employed by the programme and parents across each community have shared passionate support and dedication to ensuring the programme continues.
Little Ripples is the only comprehensive early childhood education programme in each of these camps. We know the future of these children and their foundation for social, emotional, cognitive and physical development will be shaped by their experience in these under-resourced and forgotten refugee camps.
The Little Ripples education directors and teachers in refugee camps Kounoungou and Mile have reported that they have enrolled new students, again attaining 100% enrollment of 45 students per Little Ripples Pond. In seeing the impact of the programme on the children, teachers, and wider community, and because early childhood is the most critical stage of human development—especially for young children living in displacement, iACT and JRS will continue our partnership to support the programme for another year. This includes the meal programme and the salaries of the women employed as Little Ripples Camp Coordinators, Education Directors, teachers, and cooks.