Four thousand miles apart, two classrooms of children are bearing witness to the same fact: that investing in early childhood education (ECE) can yield lasting changes. In 2015, for the second summer in a row, the Mother and Child Education Foundation (Anne Çocuk Eğitim Vakfı – AÇEV) in Turkey implemented simultaneous sessions of its summer pre-school programme in poor rural areas of Turkey and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao DR).1 Though separated by language, culture and geography, both locations share a difficult legacy of poverty and onflict. Taking place in the Turkish provinces Diyarbakir and Mardin and in the Lao province of Bokeo, the two programmes both aim to prepare impoverished children for primary school by imparting pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills.

Background and Context


Despite a large number of pre-school-aged children and growing awareness of the importance of ECE in the country, Turkey still lacks an accessible ECE system. Net enrolment rates are around 29% for children aged 3 to 5 years, which is far behind countries with similar socio-economic conditions.2

Enrolment rates are higher for 5-year-olds, but still around 40% of Turkey’s children begin first grade
with no ECE experience and, consequently, limited school readiness skills.3 Marked disparities in ECE
access exist in relation to geographic locations and socio-economic status. Nearly all centre-based services are located in large cities, and, with the exception of Istanbul, enrolment rates are much higher in the northern and western parts of the country than in the eastern and southern regions — for example, the south-eastern province
of Hakkari has an ECE enrolment rate of 16%, compared to 50% in the northern province of Amasya.4 Similar gaps are evident among different income groups: nationally, more than 54% of children from the richest quartile attend pre-school versus only 17% from the poorest quartile. Gender disparities in ECE access can also be seen, though they tend to be small for very young children and
increase over time, as girls enjoy progressively fewer educational advantages than male peers
and are faced with a range of systemic social and cultural challenges.5 Gender disparities are
compounded by geographic and socio-economic factors: for example, in rural south-eastern Turkey it is estimated that 45% of all girls are illiterate,6 and 75% of all marriages involve under-age girls.7

Lao PDR demonstrates similar trends in ECE access and inequities.8 In the rural western region of
Bokeo, for example, 64% of villages are classified as ‘poor’ based on the definition given in the Lao National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES) framework: that is, having no schools nearby, no access to roads and requiring over 6 hours of travel to reach hospitals.9 These conditions have a significant impact on educational access. Of the 23% of children in the country between the ages of 3 and 5 who attend an ECE programme, only 15% reside in rural areas.10 Only 6% of children in rural areas without road access attend ECE programmes. Similarly, only 6.6% of children aged 3 to 5 from the poorest quintile are on track in literacy and
numeracy. According to findings from the Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS), school readiness for children under 5 was 24% in 2011/12, and the majority of Grade 1 students are repeaters with much higher drop-out rates than children in other primary grades.11

Linguistic challenges are another complicating factor. In regions where the home language differs
from the language of instruction in schools ― such as in south-eastern Turkey and the Bokeo region of
Lao PDR ― children entering school must grapple with a new language most have not previously
encountered, compounding risks of exclusion from primary education.


AÇEV’s ECE programme was designed to address such challenges. By providing comprehensive ECE
services, the organization aims to support the development of young children living in poverty
and engage and empower their families. To determine the structure, context and content of
the programme as well as the most appropriate model for its initial implementation, a large-scale
survey was carried out that gauged ECE needs as well as the levels of linguistic competence of pre-
school and primary-school-age children in three multilingual provinces of Turkey.12 Consistent with
the aforementioned challenges, the findings revealed a need to expand ECE services in south-eastern Turkey to promote the development of children at the kindergarten level through an intensive school readiness programme delivered during the summer prior to school entry. Since 2003, AÇEV has been implementing its summer pre-school programme in south-eastern Turkey in conjunction with an additional maternal support programme.

Photo: AÇEV

In 2014, Plan International, a global children’s development organization, approached ACEV to collaborate on ECE in Lao PDR. The organization believed ACEV’s work would translate particularly well to poor remote areas populated by under-served ethnic groups like those in northern Lao PDR. In partnership with Plan International, ACEV implemented its summer pre-school programme in five Lao villages which were selected based on specific criteria, including low participation rates in ECE services, high poverty rates, classification as a remote district, location in the Myanmar-Thailand-Lao PDR border area, and a demonstrated commitment to developing an ECE agenda in their respective districts. A majority of the population in these villages belong to the bilingual Khmu tribe whose second language is Lao. Plan International and ACEV carried out the ECE programme during successive summers in 2014 and 2015 through a joint intervention that included community facilitation, teacher training and short-course pre-school curriculum.

Programme Overview

In both Turkey and Lao PDR, the ACEV summer pre-school programme aims to provide school preparation for socially, physically and linguistically isolated children, so that they can begin formal schooling at the level of cognitive and linguistic competence required for first-grade literacy acquisition activities.13 The programme targets children between the ages of 5 and 6 during the summer before they start first grade. It uses a structured curriculum specifically devised for children unfamiliar with the language of instruction employed in the school system they will enter, and employs bilingual teachers. To address the gender gap in ECE, the programme also aims to recruit more girls into each classroom by encouraging parents to send their daughters to the programme.

Children attend the programme for 5 hours per day for 10 weeks, which exposes them to a total of 250 hours of ECE. The programme promotes creativity, self-expression and active/participatory learning for children. Structured sets of activities, each lasting for 20 to 30 minutes, are distributed over the different parts of the daily routine:

  • Movement time supports physical development, body awareness and creativity through bodily expression.
  • Circle time promotes thinking about a subject, sharing ideas and seeing the cause-and-effect relationships between events.
  • Outdoor time helps children exert energy and use skills of speaking, observing and thinking through games.
  • Planning-play-review time begins by promoting planning skills through engaging children in conversations about what, where and with whom they will play. Then children have an opportunity to work independently with different materials, engage in problem-solving and share experiences with friends and adults during play time. Review time provides an opportunity for children to share their experiences with peers.
  • Cognitive training time helps children develop pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills through school readiness worksheets.
  • Reading time helps children enhance discourse skills by listening to stories, relating story characters and events to their own lives, and projecting alternative unfoldings of events.
  • Snack and clean-up time supports children’s self-care behaviours including hygiene, the need to clean up after one’s self, and self-feeding with healthy food. Each day includes two snack and clean-up time slots.

The implementation in Turkey incorporates an additional maternal support component, which complements the ECE programme by targeting mothers of participating children throughout the ten weeks. It is carried out in the form of weekly 2.5-hour group discussions covering topics such as nutrition, preventative health care, mother and child health, enhancing children’s school readiness, and positive disciplinary methods. The programme facilitator, who is an ACEV-trained teacher from the community, also makes a home visit to mothers and observes their interactions with their children. The programme includes two extra meetings targeted at fathers held on separate days, which aim to increase their involvement in child-rearing and share a summary of the topics discussed with mothers throughout the programme.

Programme Impact and Enduring Benefits

ACEV’s programme aims to address the significant need for ECE services in under-developed regions. The programme enables participating children to begin first grade significantly more prepared for school than they were prior to the programme’s start. By preparing children to receive an education in a language that is not their mother tongue, the ECE programme helps reduce some of the academic challenges and psychological suffering they might otherwise endure in first grade. Children who attend the ECE programme are also more likely to enrol and remain in primary school.


To assess the programme’s effectiveness, short-term impact studies were conducted in both Turkey and Lao PDR. In Turkey, pre-test data were collected from both the intervention and control groups before the programme began, and post-test data were collected following the termination of the ten-week programme.14 Children were tested on early literacy, numeracy and language skills, for an average of 75 minutes for each child. The test, which was developed to assess the immediate effects of the programme, consisted of 26 verbal and 15 numeracy-based questions. The internal reliability coefficient was calculated as 0.74 for the pre-literacy scale (which suggests the results are reliable) and 0.69 for the pre-numeracy scale (which suggests the results are reliable, but only marginally so). The results revealed that the development of children’s skills in all three areas was significantly impacted by the programme. Children who attended the intervention programme improved their overall school readiness skills compared to control groups that had not participation in the programme.

A similar evaluation study was conducted in Lao PDR to assess the short-term impact of the ECE programme. The study was carried out through a quasi-experimental design with a control group, using the same instrument that was developed for the Turkish evaluation.15 Before use in Lao PDR, the instrument was first translated to English and then translated back to Turkish to ensure both forms were equivalent. Again, results revealed a significant impact on the children’s literacy and numeracy (and related concepts) scores. The programme enhanced the development of these skills beyond the level of the control group who did not receive the intervention.

The immediate impact on skills in both evaluations indicates that children who participate in the programme are better prepared for formal schooling than children from similar backgrounds who do not receive the intervention. However, additional school readiness comparisons are not possible at this stage, as similar testing has not been conducted on the general student population.


The ACEV ECE programme also offers a range of enduring benefits for system capacity and infrastructure at the regional and national levels, in both Turkey and Lao PDR.

To build ECE teaching capacity, the programme employs and trains local teachers, who are not teaching during the summer because the public schools are closed. Bilingual teachers are trained in methods for reducing language barriers for children. The programme enlists one bilingual teacher per classroom in Turkey and two in Lao PDR.

To help build government capacity, Ministry of Education staff are also trained to monitor the ECE programme, leaving them better equipped to provide broader educational oversight beyond the programme’s duration.

To improve physical infrastructure, the programme furnishes the classrooms it uses. Classrooms are provided free of charge by the partnering education ministries, who also subsidize teacher salaries.

These newly furnished classrooms are later used for formal schooling throughout the year. Parents and community members are encouraged to become involved in this portion of programme delivery, to promote community ownership in young children’s education. In Lao PDR, for example, classrooms have been furnished with community-made bamboo furniture and toys.

Lessons Learned

This ECE programme, carried out on two opposite ends of the Asian continent, shows how organizations like ACEV and Plan International can provide children with a fair start in school through a structured and well-designed programme developed for contexts with similar educational challenges and needs. Such a strategy can and should be used to bring ECE services to marginalized young children and families throughout the world.

Programme results also highlight important areas for future research. Although the programme had an immediate impact on school readiness skills, more general testing needs to be conducted in order to make broader comparisons. In addition, more evidence is needed to understand the long-term impacts of such a programme ― for example, by looking at children’s longitudinal learning and development over time, improvements in school success, and primary-school enrolment and drop-out rates.

  • 1 ACEV, n.d.
  • 2 Agirdag et al., 2015.
  • 3 UNICEF, 2010.
  • 4 Agirdag et al., 2015.
  • 5 UNICEF, 2010; McLoughney et al., 2007.
  • 6 Ward, 2014.
  • 7 Muftuler-Bac, 2015.
  • 8 UNICEF, 2013.
  • 9 Lao PDR, 2004.
  • 10 Lao PDR et al., 2012.
  • 11 Lao PDR, 2014.
  • 12 Aksu-Koc et al., 2002.
  • 13 Ibid.
  • 14 Bekman et al., 2011.
  • 15 Bekman and Diri, 2015.


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