A new approach to parental empowerment
Szilvia Pallaghy* Русский/Russian
The 'Good start' pilot project aims to increase access to early childhood education for more thatn 4,000 Roma and non-Roma. © Róbert Miskovics/Roma Education Fund
BUDAPEST, Hungary – 14 June, 2012 – Experiences during the early years of childhood have an extraordinary influence on lifelong development. A good start in the early years is the ideal way to promote positive developmental outcomes for children and mitigate the risks from poor or insufficient schooling, as recognised by a recent report from the World Bank.
Interest in the effectiveness of early childhood education and care as a way of improving outcomes for children continues to grow as policymakers, politicians, and educators debate the best way to alleviate poverty and foster social inclusion in their societies.
The European Union has identified and prioritized early childhood education and care in its policies (such as the Preventing Social Exclusion through the Europe 2020 Strategy) as a fundamental way of achieving lasting results in Roma inclusion, and is a major contributor, along with the Network of European Foundations for Innovative Cooperation, to the Roma Education Fund ‘A Good Start’ project.
A Good Start
Financed in part by the Directorate General, Regional Policy of the European Commission, 'A Good Start' was developed by the Roma Education Fund to address major disparities in Roma access to early childhood education and care services.
The pilot project aims to minimize the effects of social determinants such as poverty in its target group. The pilot aims to increase access to early childhood education and care services for more than 4,000 Roma and non-Roma children from birth to six years of age in 16 locations across Slovakia, Romania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Hungary.
The project focuses explicitly, but not exclusively, on disadvantaged Roma children. The aim of the Roma Education Fund is to develop and support sustainable partnerships between governments and non-governmental organizations. Activities are tailored to the specific contexts and needs of the target populations in each locality.
The core approach of ‘A Good Start’ is to sustainably support partners who are already working with its target groups, building upon their existing services and ensuring that comprehensive support is available. It focuses on enhancing children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development through activities related to early education, outreach, parental education and health services.
Your Tale (Meséd)
One of the key activities being implemented in the six Hungarian ‘A Good Start’ locations (one urban locality, Nyíregyháza, and five smaller rural localities in the Mátészalka microregion) is the Your Tale programme run by the Unity in Diversity Foundation. The activities work towards achieving two project outcomes for Hungary: improving access to quality early education for disadvantaged Roma children and improving parenting practices among Roma.
During Your Tale, Roma and non-Roma mothers meet with a trained facilitator weekly for two-hour sessions. High-quality story books, particularly those that convey messages to children have been sourced for the project.
The mothers take turns to read a story aloud, while the facilitator guides the reading and initiates discussion. The facilitator is able to both engage them with the text and model a teaching technique to be replicated with their children, and cultivates a supportive, caring and non-judgmental atmosphere in the group.
An integral aspect of Your Tale is that it focuses not just on children but also on mothers. The activities are designed to indirectly support and empower women caregivers as well as directly providing the skills and knowledge to improve early childhood education and care outcomes for young children.
The programme is divided into three trimesters. In the first phase facilitators concentrate on developing mothers’ reading and comprehension skills. In the second phase the element of writing is added. In the third phase they develop their skills in handling the challenging situations facing them in their everyday lives, such as negotiating with kindergarten teachers, doctors, or employers.
Facilitators also encourage women to express their feelings and struggles as parents, to share stories and cultural insights and other concerns. By developing friendships and support among group members, Your Tale aims to promote sustainable outcomes.
Your Tale in Hungary
Nyíregyháza, Nagydobos, Nagyecsed, Hodász, Nyírkáta, and Kántorjánosi all have Your Tale groups which have been running for nine months. Positive outcomes are evident, and some of the findings from a household survey, qualitative research, and the report of the Unity in Diversity Foundation are described below.
In Nyíregyháza 72 mothers, with 181 children, have attended 144 Your Tale sessions. In the Mátészalka microregion 100 mothers with 270 children have attended 288 sessions. Your Tale facilitators reported that the majority of those enrolled continue to come regularly each week.
Mothers in Your Tale groups in Nyíregyháza are aged between 17 and 45 with an average age of 28.47. They have between one and four children (an average of 1.81) from babies to seven years old. All the households in Nyíregyháza speak Hungarian, and just two Your Tale families also reported that they speak Romanes at home.
Mothers’ education levels
Schooling was clearly a difficult chapter in the lives of the women. In Nyíregyháza just over 15 percent of mothers have not completed primary school, while just over 70 percent left formal education after primary school (with an additional 4.40 percent finishing special primary school). Only five women completed secondary education.
Attitudes about the value of education
An aim of Your Tale is to foster and support a culture of reading and emphasize the value of education among target families. The household survey data indicates that Your Tale households place a high value on preschool education with nearly 85 percent of families reporting that they believe children do better at school if they attended kindergarten or other educational programmes before they start primary school.
Parenting resources and practices
From the perspective of early childhood development, particular information and parenting skills can help children with their language and social development. Increasing their vocabulary during their early childhood sets the stage for successful schooling later, an indirect outcome of the programme.
Positive and supportive relationships for mothers
Your Tale aims to support and increase positive attitudes about the value of education in target communities. A positive experience can then lead to improved attitudes towards learning in target households which benefits young children.
The groups also develop supportive relationships between the women who share struggles and successes as parents. One final effect is self-confidence.
Results and conclusions
Your Tale primarily engages Romani women, who in the majority of cases, have not progressed beyond primary education, in a positive learning experience. Women who have participated describe other positive impacts like the opportunity to develop supportive relationships with other members.
Attitudes about the value of education for children are relatively positive in the communities described here, and empowering women with the skills to actively support their children will continue to strengthen them. Women are using the skills learned in groups to facilitate their own children’s learning using new parenting practices and the resources provided by the programme. As an indirect result, a team of Roma women (facilitators) were trained for early childhood education and care, whose ability and expertise to teach parenting skills might also be used in the future.
Your Tale groups are an effective strategy for engaging and supporting Roma mothers to support the education of their children and a simple step in providing a good start that will effect children for the rest of their lives.
The programme has already inspired other non-governmental organizations, including two in Kenya that are adapting the Your Tale curriculum to their local circumstances.
*Szilvia Pallaghy works as the project manager of the ‘A Good Start’ project with the Roma Education Fund.
The author would like to thank Dr. Mark Kavenagh, who wrote the case study of the Meséd (Your Tale) project.
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