CG GLOBAL REPORT 2:
TWO PARENTING PROGRAMMES THAT ADDRESS INEQUALITY IN THE ARAB REGION

CG GLOBAL REPORT 2:

TWO PARENTING PROGRAMMES THAT ADDRESS INEQUALITY IN THE ARAB REGION

YOUSSEF HAJJAR (ARC)

This case study focuses on two parenting interventions implemented by the Arab Resource Collective (ARC), a development NGO operating in the Arab region since 1988. Launched in Lebanon and Egypt between 2011 and 2013, the projects have the potential for scaling up in both countries and for outreach in Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. The scope of the case study is limited to the prospects of implementation within the geographic and socio-political context of these seven countries.

It is important to note that the number of children and families living in displacement and deprivation has grown exponentially in the region since 2011.

Implementation of the ARC parenting interventions discussed here is still possible, but projects will need to integrate approaches that are feasible within the current context of persistent emergency.

Background and Context

INEQUALITY AND UPHEAVAL IN THE ARAB REGION

The Arab region is currently in the throes of socio-political upheaval. Rather than delivering on promises of participatory societies, the Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 and 2011 have ended up exacerbating fragmentation and exclusion. What began as a hopeful movement for change has turned into sustained armed conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen; created civil strife of varying intensity in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan; and heightened pressures related to the occupation in Palestine.

This situation has exacerbated social and economic inequalities which were already endemic throughout the region. Despite advances in the provision of essential services in recent years, significant portions of the population continue to experience high levels of poverty and marginalization. Statistical data from 2010 to 2012 indicate an average poverty rate of more than 19% across all 7 countries, ranging from 8% in Lebanon to almost 35% in Yemen.1 Although enrolment in primary school was almost universal in these countries during this time (with the exception of Yemen), high illiteracy rates are indicative of the low quality of basic education, particularly for the poorest members of society. Enrolment in higher education during these years ranged from 10% in Yemen to 46% in Jordan, and innovative capacity in science and technology at the tertiary level is practically nonexistent. High youth unemployment rates (an average of 29% for young people under the age of 24) are frequently cited as a major cause of discontent fuelling the Arab uprisings.

Inequities have only worsened since 2012. Conflicts have destroyed normal life in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and major disruptions have affected all other countries in the region. The number of refugees and internally displaced persons is overwhelming. Estimates from June 2015 indicated that close to 12 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Syria ― almost 8 million internally, and over 4 million in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.2 Syrian and other refugees also continue to move to Europe in large numbers. An estimated 4 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq, with smaller numbers registered in Jordan (30,800) and Lebanon (8,000). About 4 million Palestinians have been living for decades in refugee camps in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza, and an additional 1 million are scattered across the world. In the last few years, because of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, several hundred-thousand Palestinian refugees have had to move from those countries to Jordan and Lebanon.

Displacement creates a context of rising costs of living and housing, coupled with lower wages, which causes refugees and displaced persons to sink deeper into poverty. This downward spiral has been described as a ‘race to the bottom’, producing a ‘new underclass of citizens’.3

ECD AND THE ARAB RESOURCE COLLECTIVE

The early childhood development (ECD) sector in the Arab region is still in its initial development stage, and inequalities in opportunities for ECD are prevalent in all seven countries. Prior to 2012, essential ECD provisions by the health sector were almost universal, yet the rate of stunting for children under the age of 5 is still 23% on average, ranging from more than 7% in Jordan to 53% in Yemen.4 Access to organized ECD services is very low on average (25%), though variations are pronounced: ECD access is estimated at 1% in Yemen, compared to 83% in Lebanon. The vast majority (84%) of ECD services are provided by the private sector, which generally caters to families in the upper and upper-middle income groups. There is a severe shortage of trained ECD practitioners, which needs to be addressed quickly in order to expand pre-primary education (PPE) and other ECD services. While there are no reliable data for organized ECD services for children under the age of 5, it is likely that these services are significantly less developed than PPE services aimed at children about to enter primary school (ages 5 to 6).

In the wake of the Arab uprisings, the health and education infrastructures in the region have been dealt a double blow of dispersal and destruction. About half the displaced children in neighbouring countries have no access to education. Overstretched ‘host’ communities struggle to provide services, resulting in double shifts in schools and higher teacher-student ratios. With so many children out of school, early childhood care and education are at the lowest level of priority for service providers.

Within this context, ARC implements programmes aimed at promoting ECD knowledge and policies and supporting ECD services and workforce development. In 2014, ARC also helped launch the Arab Network for ECD (ANECD), whose members include government officials, NGO personnel and individual professionals.5 The aim of the ANECD is to pursue the development of national policies, enhance the capacities and status of the workforce and facilitate the scaling up of projects throughout the region.

Project Overview and Impact

Since 2010, ARC has piloted five ECD projects and trained professionals to implement them:

  1. A condensed Science of Early Childhood Development (SECD) course, which targets policy-makers and senior practitioners to enhance knowledge of child development and inform policy-making;
  2. An in-service training course for PPE teachers on active learning methodologies and a holistic, integrated approach to ECD;
  3. A methodology for cooperation between parents, teachers, health advisors and ministry personnel to support public schools (PPE and primary) in promoting children’s healthy development and better learning;
  4. The Mother and Child Education Programme (MOCEP), a curriculum for mothers of 5-year-olds to prepare them for entry into formal schooling;
  5. The Health, Education and Protection (HEP) for ECD curriculum, aimed at families with children from conception to age 5.

This case study highlights the latter two projects, which are both targeted at parents. The projects are described in further detail in the sections that follow.

MOTHER AND CHILD EDUCATION PROGRAMME (MOCEP)

The MOCEP project targets mothers with 5-year-old children not enrolled in PPE, providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare their children to enter primary education. The curriculum comprises 25 sessions covering topics related to education and the skills required to cope with schooling. The project does not include activities with fathers.

MOCEP was developed by the Mother and Child Foundation (ACEV) in Turkey. ARC translated and adapted the course into Arabic and organized initial trainings in close cooperation with ACEV. The project was launched in 2011 in Palestinian refugee camps and neighbouring deprived communities in Lebanon. ARC works together with two local partners rooted in both communities to implement the project.

Following the first implementation, a detailed impact study was carried out with 88 participating mothers.6 The study found that the programme had a positive impact on children and mothers in the Palestinian refugee camps and surrounding communities, where poverty levels are at their highest and opportunities for PPE are extremely low. Children’s cognitive skills improved, and mothers became more aware of their children’s needs and more likely to respond in positive ways that foster healthy development and communication. A short film was also produced documenting this first implementation, which gives a voice to participating trainers and mothers.7

The MOCEP course is currently being administered for the third time. The latest implementation includes research on the programme’s impact, which is being carried out by ARC and the Child Study Center at Yale University in the USA, with support from ACEV and in cooperation with a university in Lebanon. The study uses a randomized clinical trial to assess impact on mother and child pairs. Children’s development will be assessed across multiple domains including social.emotional skills, executive functioning and cognitive development. Assessment for maternal outcomes will aim to measure knowledge, attitudes and practices in regards to: early education and learning, discipline and limit-setting, child-rearing, perceptions of paternal engagement and perceptions of community cohesion. Mother.child interactions will be coded using video-recorded observations. The results of this study will be published in 2016.

The first two implementations of MOCEP were funded by the Arab Gulf Development Programme (AGFUND). The current implementation is funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation, the Open Road Alliance and the Child Study Center at Yale University. Local partners, including a social development centre of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Lebanon, make contributions in services.

Although the project has been implemented for many years in Turkey, it is innovative in the Arab context and remains unique in its approach and target, with no other known programmes providing similar services. With average enrolment in pre-primary education at about 25% in Arab countries, MOCEP’s intervention, now well-established, responds to a real need and makes a real difference. The approach can be scaled up to address inequalities across the Arab region, by giving children with no access to PPE a better chance for success in primary school and beyond.

HEALTH, EDUCATION AND PROTECTION (HEP) FOR ECD

The HEP for ECD project targets families with children between conception and age 5, engaging mothers and fathers equally through a ‘contract’ with the family as a unit. The curriculum for the programmes consists of 22 sessions covering topics in ECD, including physical, cognitive and social-emotional development and a number of related skills. The curriculum is delivered to parents in weekly instalments that incorporate knowledge-sharing, implementation of practice at home, and collective debriefing and assessment.

Designed and compiled by a team of Arab professionals and trainers using a collaborative approach, the curriculum uses a holistic, integrated methodology to ensure a continuum of care from conception to the first years of formal education. It equips mothers and fathers to become agents empowered with knowledge and capacities to intervene for better policy and practice within their community, and helps to build knowledge and competence among the ECD workforce, including parent couples.

ARC produced the HEP for ECD training pack between 2011 and 2013, and the programme was piloted in Egypt and Lebanon, with two groups of fathers and mothers in each country. Parents were organized into two groups according to their children’s age: from conception to age 3, and from age 4 to age 5. In Egypt, the pilot was conducted in one rural and one urban community in Upper Egypt. In Lebanon, it was conducted in a Palestinian refugee camp and the neighbouring mixed community (which included refugees), located in a populous suburb of Beirut. All of the pilot communities are characterized by low incomes and low access to ECD services.

An impact assessment study was carried out during piloting, using an action research approach.8 Results indicated that the programme had a significant positive impact on the families’ understanding and practice with their children and within the community. Concrete plans were designed for a second phase, which would include selecting ‘graduate’ couples with competencies for further training to deliver the course to other parents within the community in a parents-to-parents approach, with support from a central pool of professional ‘mentors’. The second phase was also designed to extend the course to families with children aged 6 to 8, adapting topics to be more relevant to formal schooling.

Unfortunately the second phase could not be implemented due to a lack of funding. A new investment strategy, a change of staff familiar with the project and probably a reduction of financial resources led the sponsoring organization, UBS Optimus Foundation, to cease funding for the project altogether. ARC has been looking for a new source of funding to re-launch the project, so far without success. One possibility emerged for scaling up the project in Egypt through a government fund for youth employment, but plans were cancelled due to a change of government.

Lessons Learned

In spite of setbacks caused by current conflicts in the Arab region, the ECD community continues to accumulate new assets in terms of knowledge-building and human resource development. Civil society interventions such as the ARC programmes described here have improved ECD services over the years, particularly in the area of PPE. Though such programmes remain limited in light of the tremendous need for ECD services, they have the potential and momentum for quick expansion.

Evidence from assessments of the ARC parenting programmes show that initiatives to address inequalities through the provision of ECD . and in particular to provide support to mothers and fathers of young children in situations of displacement . are possible even in the current context, and indeed have the potential to be scaled up. Large social sectors in the region are in a state of flux, but a good proportion of the population still lives in relative stability, and the public sector is still functioning in most places. These and other ECD programmes stand poised to create a structure of access for deprived communities, should conditions be favourable for scaling up.

One major obstacle to scaling up such programmes is the lack of sustained funding, particularly for investments in training a qualified workforce. More often than not, promising tracks are abandoned because of short-termism or changes in funders’ priorities. Long-term funding schemes substantial enough to launch a process of scaling up are indispensable for sustainability. Related to this issue is a lack of longitudinal research in on ECD interventions in the region, which would provide evidence-based knowledge to inform policies and project design, and help convince the public sector to engage more substantially with ECD.

  1. El-Kogali and Krafft, 2015; UNESCO, 2014.
  2. Yahya, 2015.
  3. Ibid.
  4. El-Kogali and Krafft, 2015; UNESCO, 2014.
  5. The launching of ANECD was the outcome of three years of regional activities,including the projects listed in this section, of the Arab Programme for ECD, organized by ARC. ANECD was one of five components of the Arab Regional Agenda for Improving Education Quality (ARAIEQ), funded through the World Bank’s Development Grant Facility (DGF) ending in 2014, and based at the Arab League Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).
  6. Oweini and Issa, 2015.
  7. ARC, 2013.
  8. Ismail, 2014.

References

Arab Resource Collective (ARC). 2013. Mother and Child Education Program Documentary
[Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlL0hQ7H6Ng (Accessed 7 March 2016.)
El-Kogali, S. and Krafft, C. 2015. Expanding Opportunities for the Next Generation: Early Childhood Development in the Middle East and North Africa.
Washington, DC, World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/21287
Ismail, R. 2014. Health, Education and Protection Parenting Program for ECD: Pilot implementation evaluation study.
Unpublished manuscript.
Oweini, A. and Issa, G. 2015. Evaluating MOCEP’s pilot program in Lebanon in Palestinian camps.
M. Carmo (ed.), Education Applications and Developments. Advances in Education and Educational Trends Series. Lisbon, inScience Press, pp. 142.57.
http://insciencepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/ISP_Education-Applications-Developments-Book.pdf (PDF)
UNESCO. 2014. EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4. Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All.
Paris, Author. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002256/225660e.pdf (PDF)
Yahya, M. 2015. Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder.
Beirut, Carnegie Middle East Center. http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CMEC57_Yahya_final.pdf (PDF)

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