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This research project seeks to explore refugee children’s (3-7years) perceptions of early childhood education (ECDE) in Rwandan refugee camps. The purpose of the proposed study is to give a platform to refugee children to share their experiences of early childhood education in refugee camps, understand their motivation for attending ECDE and challenges (if any). Exploring these experiences will allow for a critical examination of issues with regards to these children’s emotional, social and physical needs and how the same shape their early childhood educational experiences which are critical in laying foundation for their later educational success (Briggs & Potter, 1999; WHO 2016).
Many refugee children mostly from the neighboring countries; Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi arrive in Rwanda with their parents, relatives or even alone. The experience of war is in itself distressing for these children leave alone the idea of relocating to a different country under even more disturbing circumstances (Joshi & O’Donnell 2003).Thus, these children have a wide range of needs, both emotional and physical. Giving them a platform to share their experiences through such a study may provide important insights that would be used to help them regain a sense of stability and begin to develop new aspirations in their new surroundings (Walker-Dalhouse & Dalhouse, 2009).
Previous studies have focused on perceptions of parents and teachers of ECDE in refugee camps (Tadesse 2008; Crisp 2000; Szente & Hoot 2006; InfoAid 2013, Nderu 2005) but minimal attention has been accorded to the voices of refugee children as active participants in early childhood education especially in Rwanda where over 36,000 refugee children attends ECDE centers. Furthermore, this number of children is expected to rise as more refugees stream in following the ongoing crisis in Burundi (Ministry of Disaster Management Rwanda, 2015).
This research project is of vital importance at this point in time because, apart from Rwanda hosting a significant number of refugees, there are significant issues in Rwanda’s pre-primary programmes that are have been recommended for change. According to Education For All (EFA) report for Rwanda (2015), early childhood education still faces substantial challenges including
(i) lack of awareness of the ECD policy and strategic plan at district, sector and school levels,
ii) lack of standards and quality of pre-primary programs,
iii) a shortage of trained ECD teachers with adequate skills to partake in holistic ECD programs, among other challenges. In the refugee camps, partners to UNHCR are responsible for ECDE; yet, the education must be in line with the host countries policies and curriculum. It is hoped that the study will contribute to knowledge on effective early childhood education practices for use with refugee children not only in Rwanda but other countries that host refugees especially those in developing economies where such research is minimal (EFA, 2015).
This study will utilize the ecological systems theory. The theory’s main emphasis is the interrelationships of organisms with one another and their environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). To understand individuals one must understand them in their specific system. A system is whichever set of elements that can affect or impact another (Goodman &Sianesi 2005; Bronfenbrenner& Evans, 2000). The principle of inter connectedness within settings and the linkages between settings that affect child development are reflected.
According to Bronfenbrenner, the way a child interacts with his/her immediate environment and the people around has a direct effect on how he/she grows, develops and learns (Rogoff, 2003). In my study I will endeavor to find out how the child feels about school; what the child likes about school and the challenges he /she faces while at school. The interactions of people in the child’s immediate environment also affect the child’s growth and development and therefore the need for them to work together for the child’s well-being (Szente, Hoot, & Taylor, 2006).
Furthermore, there are other things that the child may not interact with as often but still has a large effect on the growth and development of the child (Bronfenbrenner &Evans (2000). For example in refugee camps, parents being subjected to long queues for food, and water or even parents inability to provide food and other needs as before may affect the child a great deal. Early childhood experiences may help the children have smooth transition and adapt to the camp life (Burns 2009). In addition, other things may seem far from the child but in one way or another they still affect the child. Such things include; the freedoms permitted by the host country, cultural values, economy among others. Early childhood experiences should provide for the well being of the child in all aspects; physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual state of being (Hamilton & Moore, 2004).
The guiding research questions are:
1. What views do refugee children in Rwanda have about their ECDE
2. What supports/challenges have refugee children in Rwanda experienced in ECDE?
3. In what ways (if any) has ECDE enhanced the capabilities of children in Rwanda refugee camps?
4. To what extent do teachers/ refugee parents in Rwanda participate in early childhood education and how does the participation affect/enhance children’s perception of ECDE?
Review of Literature and Relevant Practices
Education is a basic human right for all children, and it is especially important that refugee children access education services. When refugee children receive schooling, it creates a sense of security and optimism. Activities that goes on in school restore a sense of normalcy and routine into the lives of children (Szente &Hoot 2006; Tadesse 208).
Many children in war zones are exposed to physical, sexual and emotional violence which leads to destruction of homes and communities occasioning to refugee children experiencing traumatic stress in their new resettlement environment as well as worries associated with migration and displacement (Birman, Trickett, & Vinokurov 2002).
Exposure to war leads to major long term and far reaching effects on the emotional and mental well being of children. Children develop aggressive behaviors, apprehensive attachment patterns and problematic relationships (Joshi & O’Donnell, 2003). Refuge children also suffer home based stresses, due to changes within the family structure and poverty issues (McCloskey & Southwick, 1996). At school the children may feel isolated, lonely and lack a sense of belonging. These issues coarsens refugee children’s process of adapting to their new country (Hamilton & Moore, 2004)
Birman, Vinokurov &Trickett (2002) observed that through provision and utilization of proper conditions, children who have experienced severe horrors, traumas and stresses have been able to develop into healthy and productive adults. However, to provide these conditions, understanding the nature of refugee children and their unique needs is critical. Nevertheless, there is limited research on refugee children’s voices especially as they adapt to life in the host countries (Barowsky & McIntyre, 2010). Hence the proposed study on the ECDE experiences of these children in Rwanda.
Psychologists indicate that early childhood phase is the most critical stage of development. Early years form the basis of intelligence, personality, social behavior, and capacity to learn and nurture oneself as an adult (Ciccarelli and Meyer 2006). Brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. When the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected (WHO 2016).
Efforts to improve early childhood development are an investment, not a cost. Available cost-benefit ratios of early intervention indicate that for every dollar spent on improving early child development, returns can be on average 4 to 5 times the amount invested, (and in some cases, much higher) (UNICEF (2015).Moreover, early years present a window of opportunity to address inequality and improve outcomes in life (Ciccarelli and Meyer, 2006). This makes early childhood experiences an indispensable component of education and especially in refugee camps.
Several factors affect the educational experiences of all children regardless of culture. These factors include children’s perception of their education, their attitude towards education, parent-child emotional ties among others (Li & Batalova 2011). Refugee children share in the above mentioned factors and many other problems that are linked to the cultural and social background of their peers that is different from their own. These challenges that face refugee children indicate that these children have unique experiences and understanding their perceptions is paramount to launching supportive programs (Milner and Loescher 2011)
UNICEF has been supporting Early Childhood Development education in refugee camps in Rwanda in collaboration with other partners (UNICEF 2015). According to recent UNHCR/MIDMAR reports (Dec 2015), 36,000 Children have been placed in 16 schools in 6 refugee camps in Rwanda. Thus, seeking the voices of children attending ECDE centers/programmes is essential for they are the key beneficiaries. It is important to understand their perceptions for they have the right and ability to fully contribute to research on issues which affects them (Grieg, Taylor and Mackay 2013).
Qualitative study is proposed using a descriptive research design. Strauss & Corbin (1990) observed that qualitative research examines lived experiences, with an aim to understand them better and ascribe meaning to them, through systematically collecting and analyzing narrative materials through methods that ensure the credibility of the data.
Story-telling will be used to gather information from children. This is a child centered method of collecting children’s facts of life, personal experiences or observations in a manner that combines analysis and synthesis. (Parrish 2006; Battarbee, 2003; 2006). Children’s drawings will also be used to reinforce collection of children’s ECDE experiences. Children’s drawings reflect their feelings, thoughts, worries and concerns (Wu 2004; Chen 2000; Golomb 2003). Interviews and focus group discussions will be used to gather information from teachers on how they and the parents participate in building the experiences of the children in ECDE centers. Interview and focus group discussions are crucial in facilitating in-depth collection of data (Creswell 2009). Interview questions will be piloted in schools in one of the refugee camps before the main study.
Six schools; one from each refugee camp will be purposely selected. This will ensure that all children hosted in different districts of the country are represented in the study. Sixty (60) children from each school will be selected for the study through stratified simple random sampling this is to ensure both boys and girls are involved. Three (3) teachers from each preschool will be purposively selected. This will ensure trained teachers, untrained teachers; male and female teachers take part in the study.
To analyze the stories, I will use cluster analysis as proposed by Mingoti (2005, pp.155-156). Content analysis will be used to analyze information from the drawings. Data will be examined for recurring themes. These themes will be combined with themes that will be selected from the Stiles and Gibbons (2000) system of drawing analysis to develop a coding frame. This will help in making inferences objectively and systematically identify specific characteristics of messages (Creswell, 2007; Franzoshi 2004)). Data from interviews will be transcribed then, a three step coding process will be used.
1) Open Coding-Data will be sorted and categorized
2) Axial coding-relationships across categories will be established.
3) Selective coding-recurring patterns and themes and categories will be established.
Finally data will be presented in form of a narrative.
Research Ethics will be observed throughout the study. Protecting the dignity and the rights of the participants will be a priority. I will adhere to Open University requirements on ethics and seek necessary permission with the government of Rwanda before undertaking the research.
Research time-line: This research is expected to take 3 years from October 2016 as follows:
Year 1: research training, survey of literature to help refine research questions, piloting of tools to be used and development of research techniques.
Year 2: Main empirical phase. Research will be conducted in Gihembe, Mahama, Kigeme, Nyabiheke, Kiziba, and Mugobwa refugee camps in Rwanda.
Year 3: Analysis, supplementary literature review, complete writing up and submission of thesis.
Barowsky, E.I., & McIntyre, T. (2010).Migration and relocation trauma of young refugees and asylum seekers. Journal of childhood education, 86(3), 161-168.
Battarbee, K. (2003). Stories as shortcuts to meaning. In I. Koskinen, T. Mattelmaki, & K.
Battarbee (Eds.), (2006). Empathic Design User experience in product design. (Chap. 3, pp. 107-118). Finland: IT Press.
Birman D, Trickett E.J, & Vinokurov A. (2002). Acculturation and adaptation of Soviet Jewish Refugee adolescents: Predictors of adjustment across life domains. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 585-607
Briggs, F & Potter, G (1999). The early years of school: Teaching and learning, Addison Wesley Longman, NSW
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723-742.
Bronfenbrenner, U., & Evans, G. W. (2000). Developmental science in the 21st century Emerging questions, theoretical models, research designs, and empirical findings. Social Development, 9(1), 115-125.
Burns, A., (2009). Refugees in Australian society in J. Bowes & R. Grace (eds), Children, families and communities: Contexts and consequences, Oxford University Press, Victoria, pp. 148-160
Ciccarelli, S. and Meyer. (2006). Psychology, New Jersey; Prentice Hall
Chen, Y. C. (2000). The Influence of Popular Culture in Child Artistic Development. Department of Art Education, Changhua University of Education. Unpublished Graduate Thesis. Taipei City
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (Second Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage
Crisp, J. (2002). No Solution in Sight: the Problem of Protracted Refugee Situations in Africa. University of California, San Diego, Centre for Comparative Immigration Studies. La Jolla: University of California, San Diego
The Syrian Society in the United States has continued to rise due to the conflict in the Middle East. Syrians have relocated to the U.S as refugees, and their number stood at 12,587 in 2016. Most Syrians are mostly Muslim and hence demonstrate Islamic cultures. Men can marry non-Muslim women though the reverse is prohibited. Women are supposed to be in their veils while the men wear baggy trousers though the western civilization is creeping into them. They also observe religious festivals such as Ramadhan. Its common for them to invite a person for meals.
Syrian refugees are eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Despite this, they face plenty of obstacles in receiving proper care. They do not get good specialized health services such as dental, optical as they expect.
The refugees should be eligible to purchase health insurance Exchanges to be able to acquire good health care. Too many requirements and paperwork should be removed to cater for the need of these refugees. Even the poor adults should be eligible for Medicaid.
In my community, the homeless Refugees are given shelter in the community halls where aid is usually given to them as a group. Normally specialized health-care personnel visits them and checks on their health at no costs. If any cost on their health is incurred, the community comes together and assist the refugee. Furthermore, the members of the community also offer any job opportunity to the refugee to enable the to cater for their basic needs. I consider this to be one of the best care according to the refugees who should be adopted countrywide.
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