3 Ideas on Expanding the Impact of Early Learning Opportunities in Jordan

Learning begins long before most children enter school, and research has shown that play-based learning is linked to improved educational and developmental outcomes that span well beyond the early years. Yet safe and supportive opportunities to learn through play are often lacking in many countries, particularly in humanitarian contexts or where crises and conflict have impacted the lives of families.

In an effort to strengthen quality early learning and development opportunities for more children across the Middle East, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop have collaborated with government and civil society partners through Ahlan Simsim, a regional initiative to support a generation of young children displaced by the crisis to learn, grow and thrive. Coupled with a new, locally produced Arabic-language version of Sesame Street, Ahlan Simsim is reaching children, parents, teachers and community leaders in areas affected by the Syrian crisis with early childhood programs. The initiative equips children and their caregivers with the skills and knowledge necessary for healthy growth and development, and includes preschool classrooms and other early education programs, parenting sessions and visitation programs home delivered through a combination of remote and in-person delivery. This work is accompanied by ongoing advocacy for quality early childhood development (ECD) for all children in the region. Central to all of Ahlan Simsim’s work is a focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) and learning through play (LtP).

Ahlan Simsim’s Scaling Journey

Since 2019, IRC and the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings have been studying efforts to expand Ahlan Simsim’s impact in Jordan through a real-time scaling lab, a participatory action research approach to learn about and support scaling up efforts. Over the past few years, important insights have emerged from IRC’s efforts to support the integration of SEL and LtP activities into the Jordanian education system through comprehensive services such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers, learning resources (teachers’ guides), and Programs run by the Department of Education, including School Readiness (SRP) and Remedial (REP) programs. These efforts provide children with quality early childhood education (ECE) now, as well as long-term changes in how Department of Education services reach and engage young children with quality early learning. . The ultimate goal of this approach, when scaled up, is to improve early learning outcomes for all children in Jordan, from grade 1 (equivalent to preschool in the United States) to the 3rd year (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Ahlan Simsim’s scaling journey with the Ministry of Education in Jordan

Notes: School Readiness Program (SRP) – National program for children who have not attended KG to help them prepare for entry into Grade 1. Remedial Education Program (REP) – National program for children in grades 1-3 to help with remedial education, expanded during the pandemic. Continuing Professional Development for Teachers (CPD) – National in-service training and support program for all Department of Education teachers.
Source: Authors’ analysis.

From the outset, Ahlan Simsim’s approach focused on meeting immediate needs and creating long-term, sustainable impact. This means not only designing high-quality ECD programs delivered by IRC or its partners, but also co-designing tailor-made initiatives with the national government (including the education sector as well as the health sectors and social development) and civil society organizations that meet the needs of families and strengthen existing ECD systems. In Jordan, these scaling pathways align with the ECD goals of the National Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS). In short, the goal has always been to ensure the availability of quality ECD opportunities for more young children rather than to replicate a specific model. While realizing these ambitions is still ongoing, the following insights have emerged that can inform ongoing efforts in Jordan, as well as other crisis-affected countries.

Preview 1: Approach must respond to national demand and critical gaps

Although quality early learning for all children is a national priority in Jordan and enshrined in the HRDS 2016-2025, as in many countries, its availability remains limited, especially for disadvantaged or displaced children. This includes both access to preschool school experiences and the quality of early learning that occurs once children are in school. Ahlan Simsim’s suite of ECD resources and evidence-based approaches addresses a critical gap identified by the Ministry of Education, teachers and communities: the need to integrate SEL and LtP approaches into services existing preschool education. Driven by a partner-centric and systems-based approach, the IRC began by identifying this need with the ministry as well as local communities, then aligning them with national policies, and finally identifying core competencies and components of Ahlan Simsim’s program that could help fill these gaps. The national SRP, which prepares children who have attended preschool for entry into 1st grade, has been identified by all partners as a unique opportunity to integrate the SEL and LtP approaches into an existing program and thus achieve many marginalized children who did not attend preschool with significant social problems. – emotional skills to help them thrive in school and beyond.

Insight 2: Organizations looking to scale an initiative may need to become less visible over time for optimal impact and sustainability

This shift in mindset from scaling up a specific project to aligning partners to work towards a shared vision for change has also led to a change in the day-to-day details of implementation and the roles of partners. For example, over time, rather than focusing on developing and expanding the reach of specific Ahlan Simsim materials, the IRC has focused on sharing frameworks, activities and approaches to evidence-based SEL training for adaptation and integration into SRP and national teacher education and training. guides, at the request of the Ministry of Education and other partners. Changes like this illustrate how, over time, the IRC has adapted from being the originator of a particular initiative to becoming a behind-the-scenes supporter of government implementers who share a common vision. This change by organizations seeking to scale may require giving up branding or visibility in exchange for increased impact and sustainability. Flexible funding partners are also essential to enable this shift from original designs to adapting those designs to deliver programs or services that best fill the gaps.

Insight 3: Flexibility is key in a rapidly changing landscape

As COVID-19 has exacerbated the need for SEL alongside other learning for all children who have been out of school in the past year, the Ministry of Education has proposed adapting the SRP for l ‘integrate into an existing three-week REP, thus allowing the national remedial program to be extended to all 1st graders. The Ahlan Simsim project team worked closely with these same partners to integrate SEL and LtP into teacher training for the program. This then led to an opportunity to integrate this same content into the teacher CPD curriculum for all Grade 1 teachers, expanding beyond those who teach REP. Although REP and CPD were not part of the initial scale-up plan, the focus on meeting emerging critical needs (rather than scaling up a specific model and rigid), together with the strength of the partnership, has enabled the Ministry of Education and the IRC to respond to this new challenge and apply their previous work to an initiative with even broader reach potential. It has also paved the way for longer-term and lasting impact by integrating this content into the ministry’s CPD curriculum for KG teachers – 3rd year, which has an existing annual budget line.

Since funding is a significant concern for ministries looking to scale in a sustainable way, integrating delivery components into existing budget lines (rather than trying to identify new funding) is an optimal route. when possible, especially for scale-up partners with limited resources or dependent on external funding for program expansion.

Next steps

Ahlan Simsim is part of a broader effort to strengthen the ECD system for all children in Jordan, with significant progress made and valuable lessons learned about what it takes to sustainably scale the impact of ECD approaches. quality. Going forward, it will be important to continue to learn, adapt and institutionalize these efforts within the Jordanian government to ensure that all young children in Jordan have access to quality early learning opportunities.

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