Early Childhood Development, School Readiness and Pre-primary Education
Importance of early childhood: There is a widespread consensus on the importance of the early childhood period in the life of any individual59.This is the period when most of the cognitive and emotional development of the child takes place. The child’s development depends to a considerable extent on the conditions in which these years pass. Combined with good health and adequate nutrition, a supportive emotional environment and sufficient and appropriate stimulation pave the way for strong language and social skills, self-esteem and good performance at school.
Declining birth rates are reducing the numbers of young children in the population, providing an opportunity to invest more resources in children in these early years of life, which are now known to be vital for their development and future well-being. This is also an opportunity to reduce inequalities of opportunities which are passed on from generation to generation via low academic achievement.
By contrast, children who suffer from poor health or inadequate care and stimulation during early childhood are likely to be slow learners and to face a higher risk of psychological problems. “Implementing child rights in early childhood is… an effective way to help prevent personal, social and educational difficulties during middle childhood and adolescence,” commented the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment 7 of 1995, issued in response to a lack of information on the rights of the child in the early childhood period60. Since then, it has even been suggested that trauma in early childhood may increase the likelihood of adult diseases including cancer61. For all these reasons, the value of investing in children at an early age is reckoned to be several times higher than the value of investing in them at a later age62. Moreover, the implementation of programmes to improve the care and education of very young children born into disadvantaged circumstances is increasingly being regarded as an “equaliser”: children who benefit will be less likely to fall behind their peers in future, more likely to “succeed in life”, and therefore less likely to suffer from poverty or other forms of social exclusion, and to pass these on to their own children. In short, early childhood development and education programs can be critical for school preparedness, the development of children’s full potential and a more equitable society. In Turkey, data to assess cognitive stimulation and development has been collected by Koç University (Study on Early Childhood Development Ecologies in Turkey – TEÇGE)63. Initial analysis suggests that inputs for the cognitive learning process, such as language stimulation and the availability of learning materials, differ significantly among socio-economic status groups - as do cognitive development test scores.64
Educational attainment of mothers65
The knowledge and capacities of parents and the coverage of parenting education and childcare services are all very limited at present. There is no comprehensive early child development policy encompassing adequate institutional arrangements, policy commitments and budgets.
Knowledge and abilities of parents: The role of parents in the health and development of the young child can scarcely be overestimated. The strong correlation between the mother’s level of education and the likelihood of infant mortality revealed by DHS surveys is the most striking indicator of this. The educational attainment of parents is also likely to be an important determinant of developmental support provided by parents for their children. However, children in Turkey are not fortunate in this respect. Among women aged 15-49, only 30 percent have had an education lasting more than five years and 18 percent have had even less. While indicators of education and literacy are somewhat better among the younger women, they are worse among women in the East and in rural areas, who are likely to have the most children66. A recent UNICEF survey, funded by the EU, provides evidence about the level of cognitive stimulation provided to young children67. Only 50 percent of the parents questioned stated that they play with their children at least “usually”. Out of the twelve provinces, there were five in which less than 50 percent of parents played with their children at least usually, and all of these were located in the East or Southeast of the country. Only 38 percent of the parents surveyed read stories to their children and only 62 percent and 64 percent do not make them tell stories using pictures in a book. Clearly, parents are unaware about the importance of stimulation in early childhood. Moreover, low levels of cognitive stimulation usually coincide with other sources of disadvantage. For instance, all of the indicators of interaction and stimulation mentioned here are worse in Eastern provinces, where mothers are less educated and families are larger. Children who do not receive this early stimulus are likely to be slow learners and may well drop out of school at an early age.
Responses to the question “Do you read/yarn stories to your child?” by provinces
Parenting education: The provision of training courses for mothers and fathers is an important policy tool for ensuring that better care is taken of children’s health and nutrition, and that they benefit from sufficient interaction and stimulation at an early age. In this way, the likelihood of health disorders is reduced and emotional, cognitive and linguistic development can be accelerated. Children are better prepared for school and less likely eventually to drop out. These policies are particularly important in families and communities where parents are poor and not well educated. Parenting education has increasingly been made available in Turkey in recent years as a result of the efforts of various pubic institutions in the health, education and social protection sectors and of NGOs including the Mother and Child Education Foundation (AÇEV). The Directorate-General for Non-Formal Education of the Ministry of National Education implements many of these courses, using programmes developed by UNICEF with support from the EU. The Directorate is also now coordinating parenting education with the help of a multisectoral scientific committee. A national action plan has been drafted, which emphasises the need to reach the most disadvantaged parts of society. The content of parenting education programmes is constantly being enriched. In 2009, the Directorate General developed a consolidated, modular package for parents not only of young children but of children of all ages, to be used in different environments and with different groups. Based on the existing programmes and existing best practice, the new package includes renewed and more comprehensive content for the 0-3 age group and a module dedicated to sensitivity to issues of disabilities. Draft surveys and cost-benefit analysis conducted under UNICEF’s programme in Turkey have showen parenting education programmes to be successful and cost-effective. Moreover, the implementation of parenting education has generated alarming anecdotal evidence about existing parenting practices, which include the use of violence as a form of discipline, the failure of parents to communicate things to their children and the harmful practices passed on by mothers-in-law. The coverage of parenting programmes is still modest compared to the number of children in need (Roughly 3.5 percent of children in the age group 0-6 are reached68). Expanding the programmes and reaching the most disadvantaged communities remains a challenge in terms of political support and funding. The General Directorate for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) also offers family training programmes and counselling services at 79 Child Community Centres in disadvantaged neighbourhoods across the country.69
The government is committed to a widespread expansion of pre-primary school education, initially for the 60-72-month age group, with the goal of 100 percent coverage by 2014. Key issues are the allocation of resources, maintaining the quality of the education provided and above all ensuring access for the most disadvantaged groups.
Daycare for young children: Most children of pre-school age are looked after at home, usually by their mothers. Where the mothers are working, the mother is still the primary care giver for 30 percent of the children (depending on the nature of her work). Other care-givers include the mother’s mother-in-law (25 percent) or mother (11 percent), a girl child (6 percent) or another relative (5 percent). Only 7 percent of the pre-school age children of working mothers are in kindergarten and only 5 percent are cared for by a baby-sitter. The latter types of care are more common among educated women in higher-income groups in urban areas in western regions70. Professional early childhood care services for the age group 0-3 are mostly provided by the Directorate General for the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (Sosyal Hizmetler ve Çocuk Esirgeme Kurumu – SHÇEK) and have a very limited coverage. In the EU, 27 percent of children in this age group are covered.71 The absence of early childhood care services is an important deficiency in the social policy system, and also curbs women’s ability to participate in the workforce. The cooperative neighbourhood day-care centres for women and children implemented by the Foundation for the Utilisation of Women’s Labour (KEDV), an NGO which bring women in poor neighbourhoods together to self-finance day-care services for their children, is one innovative model for overcoming this deficiency.72
Coverage of pre-primary education: The majority of children in Turkey start school late and suddenly, which compromises their chances of success and puts them at a disadvantage emotionally, cognitively and linguistically when compared with the smaller number of children who have enjoyed more opportunities for learning and socialisation at an earlier age. Centre-based pre-school programmes run by the Ministry of National Education constitute the most widespread early childhood development programme. These programmes serve children in the age group 3-6 and are delivered in independent kindergartens or pre-school classes within primary schools (public and private). As recently as the 2006-2007 school year, the coverage rate in early childhood education was 16 percent - well below the world average (37 percent) and close to the average for sub-Saharan Africa average (12 percent). Concerted efforts to increase enrolment in pre-primary education are starting to pay dividends, and the coverage rate reached 29.85 percent for the 3-5 age group and 43.10 percent for the 4-5 age group in 2010-2011 (In the EU, about 85 percent of children in these age groups benefit from pre-primary school education). The total number of children in pre-primary education in 2010-11 was 1,115,818, of whom 824,760 were born in 2005, 237,292 were born in 2006 and 53,766 were born in 2007.
Equity in pre-primary education: Early childhood education is one of the most important public policy options to improve equality of opportunity within a society. It is therefore important that participation in pre-primary education should include children from the poorest and least education sections of society. Currently, the lowest enrolment rates in pre-primary education are observed in some Southeastern and Eastern Anatolian provinces, and in major cities where observation suggests participation in pre-primary education may be closely related to social stratification. Thus there is a risk that pre-primary education serves to reinforce the disadvantages of the most excluded social groups. However, the pattern is complex – at least for the time being – and participation in pre-primary education is also strong in several provinces of varying socioeconomic character which have been given priority and/or where public officials have been very active. Meanwhile, girls are slightly less likely to attend pre-primary education than boys. For 2010-11, the Ministry of National Education has calculated enrolment ratios of 30.25 percent for boys and 29.43 percent for girls in the 3-5 age group. For the 4-5 age group, the ratios are 43.70 percent and 42.47 percent respectively.
Expansion of pre-primary education: The Ministry of National Education is aiming to universalize pre-primary education. Priority is being given to the 60-72 month age group, in which 100 percent enrolment has already been achieved in 32 out of the 81 provinces (albeit not the largest provinces). The Ministry intends to go on to increase the national enrolment rate to 100 percent for the 60-72 month age group and 50 percent for the 36-72 month age group by 2014. The expansion of pre-primary education will require a substantial increase in capital expenditures, so that facilities can be built to provide decent services for children. It will also require increased awareness about the importance of early childhood development and education. The TL50 per month fee currently charged for pre-school programmes may also need to be waived or subsidised. A recent survey conducted for the Ministry of National Education on behalf of UNICEF Turkey indicated that while the attitudes of parents and others towards preschool education in Turkey were broadly favourable, some families might not send their children to school for economic reasons, because they perceived the child to be “too little”, because they felt it was the mother’s role to look after him or her, or due to concerns about conditions at school or about transport73. The ongoing EU-supported “Strengthening Pre-School Education” project is expected to improve access to pre-school education for families in disadvantaged communities by triggering demand and developing a community-based service model which will minimise obstacles to participation.
|A Photo by Oktay Üstün|
Quality of pre-primary education: There is a risk that the expansion of pre-primary education will come at the expense of quality. The teacher-pupil ratio of around 1:23 needs to be maintained and improved. The universalisation of pre-primary education also needs to be accompanied by the establishment of a system through which compliance with minimum standards can be monitored and quality of instruction ensured in all settings.
Number of children in pre-primary education
Source: Ministry of National Education: Formal Education Statistics 2010-11
The mother-tongue issue
The transition to primary school can be particularly difficult for children whose mother tongue is not Turkish. The only medium of instruction in Turkish primary education system is Turkish, and those children whose mother tongue is not Turkish do not receive any additional support. Moreover, judging by their geographical distribution, these children may often be among those who receive the least cognitive stimulation at home and are therefore least well-prepared for school life. The danger is that this situation may lead to a persistent disadvantage at all levels of the education system. A quantitative study of the determinants of the drop-out phenomenon in primary education found that children with a home language other than Turkish are less likely to continue attending primary schools even after making allowance for other socio-cultural and economic characteristics of their families74. The same is true for success in education: analysis based on TIMMS75 data shows that, other characteristics being constant, a child scores lower in the exam when Turkish is used less in his or her home76. So far, no policy initiative has been taken to counter the potentially negative impact of mother-tongue variation on the transition to primary education or on educational performance.
A vision for early childhood: A variety of service models can be followed to increase the availability of early learning opportunities and improve young children’s preparedness for school. Centre-based pre-school programmes may not always be the best, most practical or most efficient option, depending on the resources available and the target groups. Indeed, a longitudinal study in Turkey suggests that unless quality standards in centres are ensured parent training can be more effective than centre-based models in terms of continued attendance to school, educational achievement and psycho-social development.77 Besides community-based models and parenting education, summer schools might also be used as alternatives or complements to formal pre-school. In order to be able to form and implement a coherent policy, which is able to use alternative models in different contexts, and to integrate early childhood development programs successfully into the early years of primary education, it has been suggested that the institutional capacity of the Ministry of National Education needs to be improved, and that the Directorate-General for Pre-School Education should be transformed into a Directorate-General for Early Childhood Development.78
 See, for example, www.unicef.org/earlychildhood and www.bernardvanleer.org
 Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/GeneralComment7Rev1.pdf
 Shoinkoff, Boyce and McEwen: Neuroscience, Molecular Biology and the Childhood Roots of Health Disparities in Journal of the American Medical Association, June 3 2009.
 The “Heckman curve” designed by Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman
 Data available at www.tecge.org.
 World Bank, 2009, page 17.
 This figure shows the educational attainment of mothers as a percentage of children. For instance, 24 percent of children in Turkey have illiterate mothers, whereas 4 percent of children have mothers with a university degree.
 Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies: Demographic and Health Survey 2008
 UNICEF Turkey: Knowledge, Attitude and Practices Survey in Pre-School Education, 2008
 World Bank, 2009.
 Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies: Demographic and Health Survey 2008
 Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe: Tackling Social and Cultural Inequalities, Eurydice Report, 2009.
 Boğaziçi [Bosphorus] University Social Policy Forum, Türkiye’de Çocuk Bakım Hizmetlerinin Yaygınlaşmasına Dair Bir Öneri: Mahalle Kreşleri (A Proposal for the Spread of Child Care Services in Turkey: Neighbourhood Creches] , 2009.
 Eduser Consultancy Service Co: Knowledge, Attitude and Practices Survey in Preschool Education, 2009
 Fatoş Gökşen et al.: Türkiye’de İlköğretim Okullarında Okulu Terk ve İzlenmesi ile Önlenmesine Yönelik Politikalar [Dropping out and policies for its monitoring and prevention in primary education schools in Turkey], ERG, AÇEV ve KADER, 2006.
 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement
 Ebru Erberber, presentation delivered at Bogazici [Bosphorus] University, 2008
 Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı et al.: Long-term effects of early intervention: Turkish low-income mothers and children, Applied Developmental Psychology 22, 2001.
 Mother and Child Education Foundation (AÇEV): Türkiye’de Erken Çocukluk Eğitimi: Erişim, Eşitlik ve Kalite [Early Childhood Education: Access, Equality and Quality], 2009.