Little Ripples is an adaptable, refugee-led, and cost-effective early childhood education program. Little Ripples builds the capacity of refugee women to improve the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of refugee children, ages three to five, in their community. In partnership with families, refugee homes are selected across a refugee camp and adapted into safe and appropriate learning spaces called Little Ripples Ponds (Ponds).
One Little Ripples Pond hosts two teachers and 45 children from its surrounding homes. Using existing homes reduces the upfront costs of school construction, immediately reduces multiple barriers of access for children and teachers—especially girls and women—and provides a safe space for children and teachers. Refugee women are recruited and trained in the foundations of early childhood development, management, and leadership; and employed to serve as the camp coordinators, education directors, teachers, and cooks of Little Ripples.
The Little Ripples curriculum is a pre-established, evidence-based outline that trains and guides refugee teachers in mindfulness, play-based literacy and numeracy, empathy and social emotional development, positive behavior management and protection, peacebuilding, and hygiene practices for young children. Following training, employed teachers uniquely complete the curriculum outline by adding their own stories, songs, local cultural traditions, and language. This outline ensures refugee children receive an equal standard of quality of learning that is relevant to their respective social and cultural contexts.
Many humanitarian actors recognize the importance of early childhood development (ECD), yet on a large scale, ECD remains seriously under-prioritized in emergency and protracted responses to a growing global humanitarian crisis. In 2014, pre-primary education received just 1.15% of the total humanitarian education budget. As a result, ECD programs which serve refugee and displaced children are chronically underfunded. Little Ripples fills this gap in early childhood development programs in emergency settings.
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CEI approaches in action
iACT partners directly with the “furthest-behind” beneficiary groups to establish, adapt, and implement whole-child- and well-being-focused pre-primary education, and builds dynamic partnerships between education stakeholders to allocate more resources (time, funding, expertise) to the most excluded and to the identified barriers to pre-primary education.
Partnering directly with beneficiaries within a marginalized community ensures that the needs and barriers, strengths and assets, and vision of a community are addressed when designing and implementing a pre-primary program, and that best-practices for reaching the furthest behind within a community are identified and utilized. In eastern Chad, iACT has supported the community-driven implementation and scale-up of Little Ripples—reaching over 2,000 refugee and displaced children living in isolated, marginalized camps with quality, culturally-relevant pre-primary education.
Through dynamic partnerships, education organizations and stakeholders can strategically leverage resources, such as staff time, expertise, curricula, and funding, to engage with and fill gaps in humanitarian aid and development in marginalized communities. While one partner may have the structure and personnel in-country to access these communities, it may be missing critical expertise in curricula and teacher training. Furthermore, collaborative approach would maximize the pool of available resources while addressing barriers identified by the marginalized groups.
Little Ripples operates:
One Little Ripples early childhood education school center which consists of six classrooms
Nine Little Ripples in-home early childhood education centers (referred to as a “Pond”) which host two teachers and 45 children each
Monitoring & Evaluation
To measure the outcomes of attending children, Little Ripples assessments’ survey tools and methods were designed in partnership with Dr. Nathan Jones of the University of Wisconsin Survey Center. Dr. Jones also conducted training of the refugee assessment team and led the first two in-camp assessments in camp Goz Amer.
All-refugee assessment team
In alignment with iACT’s refugee-led approach, iACT recruits and trains an all-refugee assessment team to adapt survey tools and conduct the assessment in their camp community. To date, iACT has trained and employed the same group of twelve assessment team members, male and female secondary students in high standing and male primary school teachers in camp Goz Amer. Team members underwent one week of assessment training in 2013 and have since completed week-long refresher trainings prior to each assessment implementation. All survey instruments are translated to Arabic and then reviewed by refugees to adjust for local dialects and cultural nuances.
The Little Ripples assessment instruments are composed of four questionnaires (see appendices for the full English versions of the questionnaires). The first questionnaire is administered to the caregiver (parent) and asks about characteristics of the family and household. Next, parents are asked a series of questions about each child eligible for or registered at Little Ripples. When the parental questions are finished, the interviewer administers a short series of questions and exercises to the child. First, the child is asked questions to test basic cognitive milestones (colors, animals, counting, and alphabet), then asked to do some physical tasks to assess gross and fine motor skills. At the completion of each set of tasks, the interviewer records a subjective rating of the child’s skills and his/her ability to follow directions. At the completion of the interviewer-administered questions, the parent and child are directed to the anthropometric measurement and health assessment station.
Most of the baseline questions were adapted from the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS). The MICS questionnaires are modular tools that can be adapted to meet specific needs of a project. The MICS survey tools were developed by UNICEF with experts from several UN organizations and experts from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). For the Little Ripples baseline assessment, we drew from the MICS “Household” and “Children Under Five” questionnaires. Questions related to health and hygiene were drawn from the “Children Under Five” MICS questionnaire and advice from a medical doctor and other consultants familiar with conditions in Goz Amer. We ask caregivers about health conditions each child has experienced recently. For most acute conditions (e.g. diarrhea, coughing, vomiting, fever, etc), we ask caregivers to report about the previous two weeks to make it easy to recall specific events rather than estimating or guessing for a longer period. For events that are likely to be rarer (skin rashes, injuries that required adult assistance, and clinic visits), we expand the reporting period to two months. In addition to these caregiver-reported conditions, an assessment team member does a brief (visual) screening for similar conditions during the anthropometric measurements.
Trained refugee assessment team members conduct the height and weight measurements and make a series of subjective health observations with each child. First, the assessor weighs the child with a scale and the assistant records the measurement in kilograms. The scale’s screen displays up to tenths of kilograms, so weight is recorded to one decimal place. Height is measured with a height measuring board. The assessor reads the height measurement and the assistant records the height in millimeters after the two agree on the reading. During the anthropometric measurements, the assessor also screens the child for a variety of health conditions and gives a subjective rating of the overall health status.
Upon completion of interviews, surveys are sent to Dr. Jones at the University of Wisconsin Survey Center for analysis. With the assistance of Arabic-to-English translators, Dr. Jones enters all the data into R Code, creates a spreadsheet of raw data and graphs of each indicator result, and produces a comprehensive report of results for iACT and Little Ripples stakeholders.
In 2013, 134 children registered at Little Ripples and their caregivers were interviewed and assessed prior to the program’s start. One year later, the same group of 134 children were interviewed to evaluate whether there were any improvements in their cognitive, social-emotional, and physical health. The following results demonstrate improved outcomes after just one year of participation in Little Ripples.
‣ Number of students able to name colors increased from 27% at baseline to 51% at follow-up.
‣ Number of students able to count to five or higher increased from 43% to 73%.
‣ Number of students able to identify four or more animals from pictures increased
from 21% to 63%.
‣ Number of students able to recite at least the first ten letters of the alphabet with
no mistakes increased from 45% to 83%.
‣ Fewer caregivers reported that their children had persistent rashes: decreasing from 33%
at baseline to 17% at follow-up.
‣ Fewer caregivers reported injuries serious enough to require adult assistance within the
past two months.
Number of reports made by parents of basic hygiene practices among the students, including
washing hands after using the latrine and before meals, increased.
‣ Washing hands always after using the latrine increased from 59% of students to 84%.
‣ Washing hands always before meals increased from 71% to 97%. Acute health conditions remain common among Little Ripples students, but proper hygiene practices are having a positive impact.
‣ Caregivers reporting their children experienced diarrhea decreased from 33% to 27%.
‣ Caregivers reporting their children vomiting in the past two weeks saw a considerable
reduction from 46% to 12%.
‣ Caregivers reported that violence (kicking, biting, or hitting) decreased.
‣ The proportion of caregivers that said their children never or sometimes (in contrast with often or always) were violent with other children increased from 84% at baseline to 95% of students at follow-up.
‣ The proportion of caregivers that said their children never or sometimes were violent with
adults increased from 82% to 97%.
Many caregivers reported improvements in negative social-emotional indicators.
‣ Being never or sometimes unhappy increased from 75% at baseline to 87% of students at
‣ Being never or sometimes restless increased from 73% to 89%.
About 50% of the parents left their children alone or in the care of other children under
ten years old for four or more hours each day.
‣ Only about 18% of parents said they always know where their children are during the
day, but there was a large increase in the proportion of parents who said they sometimes
know where their children are and a decrease in the proportion who said they never know.
80% retention of teachers employed
1. The physical health of children clearly improved:
- 17% of the caregivers reported that children had persistent rashes, in comparison to 33% at baseline.
- More children always wash their hands after using the latrine, from 59% at baseline to 84% after one year at Little Ripples.
- Washing hands always before meals also increased from 71% at baseline to 97% at follow-up.
- Fewer children experienced diarrhea, from 33% at baseline to 27% of pupils at follow-up, as reported by caregivers.
- Number of children vomiting in the two weeks preceding the survey largely decreased from 46% (baseline) to 12% (follow-up), as reported by caregivers.
2. Peace-building and emotional health improved:
- More children were never or only sometimes unhappy — from 75% (baseline) to 87% (follow-up).
- More children were never or only sometimes nervous — from 73% to 89% .
- More caregivers reported children to be never or only sometimes violent with other children (from 84% to 95%) and with adults (from 82% to 97%).
3. Cognitive and physical abilities of children have developed:
- 51% of children could name colors at follow-up, compared to 27% at baseline.
- The proportion of children able to count to 5 or higher increased from 43% to 73%.
- The proportion of children able to identify 4 or more animals from pictures increased from 21% to 63%.
- The proportion of children able to recite at least the first 10 letters of the alphabet with no mistakes increased from 45% to 83%.
4. Children are less and less often left alone:
- Every day, about half (50%) of the parents leave their children alone or under the responsibility of other children under the age of 10, for 4 or more hours.
- 18% of parents in the community reported to always know where their children are during the day. A large increase was observed, however, in the proportion of parents reporting to sometimes know where their children are, and a decrease in the proportion of parents who said that they never know where their children are during the day.