Why teachers working with young refugee children need more support

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A teacher instructs a young refugee girl in the Greek alphabet at the Tapuat Centre on Lesvos, which is supported by Theirworld (Theirworld / Yorgos Kyvernitis)

Early childhood development, Theirworld

Expert Maysa Jalbout briefs a global webinar about a Theirworld report on how to ensure better professional development for early childhood education teachers. 

Living through conflict and displacement is traumatic enough for adults. For young children, it can have devastating long-term effects on their development and wellbeing. 

Early childhood education (ECE) is a key element in helping refugee children deal with trauma and toxic stress. But teachers need much more support to help them deliver quality programmes. 

That was the message from Maysa Jalbout – an international development and education expert who has worked with Theirworld – when she spoke at a global webinar on early childhood development (ECD), hosted by the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE).  

Ahead of World Teachers’ Day today, she presented key findings from a report she co-authored for Theirworld about finding a new approach to the professional development of ECE teachers. 

Jalbout said: “We know that sustained, nurturing relationships with adults can help mitigate and protect against the effects of conflict and displacement. Early childhood educators can play a very important role in this process. 

“However, despite the crucial role of early childhood educators in supporting young refugee children, early childhood education remains severely underfunded and under-supported in conflict-affected contexts. Only 1% of development going to early childhood development in crisis-affected countries goes to pre-primary education. 

“We saw that there were huge expectations and hopes placed on early childhood educators. But these teachers were often not centred into the design or in the planning and certainly not always in the implementation of refugee education programmes.”

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Learn more about Maysa and ECE

Maysa Jalbout is a non-resident fellow at the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and has worked with Theirworld to highlight the challenges and solutions for refugee education. Read our Spotlight on... feature with Maysa.

The webinar also heard from Remie Rhayem, a programme manager at Ana Aqra Association– a project partner of Theirworld in Lebanon, which provides quality professional development to its early childhood educators. 

Rhayem said: “Teachers are supported with in-class coaching to improve their planning and classroom management. Thinking aloud about what to teach and why to teach makes teaching more meaningful. 

“We believe that investment in teacher wellbeing leads to improved health and wellbeing for teachers and learners. Teachers are recognised and appreciated for all their efforts.” 

Jalbout said there is a lack of evidence about ECE for refugees and particularly on teachers’ professional development. She said setting global standards for teachers can be counter-productive when a more localised approach would be better – especially one that takes into account the wide-ranging backgrounds and demographics of teachers. 

Her report for Theirworld made four main recommendations: 

  • Expand teachers’ access to information on the science of ECD. 
  • Incentivise local technical and vocational education and training providers to provide accessible training and accreditation to ECE teachers working with refugee students. 
  • Support the establishment of communities – probably virtual – to foster collaboration and exchange between teachers and practitioners.  
  • Translate learning from local communities into broader evidence and resources through a hub or learning lab system. 

The webinar was hosted by the INEE’s ECD Task Team. It also featured presentations about ECD in emergencies by Lucy Bassett from the University of Virginia Humanitarian Collaborative and Angelica Ponguta from Yale University. 

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