5. Future Policies and Recommendations for Remedial Education and Learning
Mitigating learning losses for all children
Policies and programmes need to be developed to mitigate the learning losses of children. Our simulation results using PISA show that larger learning losses are predicted to occur, especially for certain groups of children in specific types of schools, from poorer and rural households or from households without internet connection. Children who had low scores prior to the pandemic are also predicted to be affected the most. Given that there were already considerable gaps in the home learning environment of Turkish and Syrian children aged 6-17 years old, learning losses would occur in all levels of the education system. Policymakers underline the importance of remedial education for the most vulnerable children to mitigate learning losses and reduce the widening educational inequalities across K-12 classrooms. Ways to implement changes to the curriculum include implementing summer schools and increasing the number of after school programmes across the country to help educationally at-risk children with their return to school; setting up accelerated education programmes to support the learning of educationally at-risk children (including those from refugee households); and supporting the learning of children with age-appropriate and linguistically diverse educational materials. The start of the UDEP programme, reintroduction of the Support Courses (Destekleme ve Yetiştirme Kursları) and the exams to measure the learning losses of children have been proper and necessary measures, yet more needs to be done to remedy the learning losses.
Improving teacher effectiveness is necessary to mitigate the learning losses during the recovery period. School teachers will play a significant role in the retention of learning for educationally at-risk children. Teacher training programmes and adapted school guidelines may be necessary to facilitate their work with vulnerable children. Equipping teachers with the knowledge to support their work with disadvantaged children or children with special educational needs, health safety, and pupil well-being via governmental guidance can aid teacher effectiveness during the recovery period. Exemplary guidelines published by the UK Government show some important areas of support for educational staff. Teacher training programmes can also focus on improving teachers' digital literacy and developing online teaching materials to maximise their teaching effectiveness for children who continue their education remotely. Stakeholders and governmental institutions can work in collaboration with teachers to improve and adapt the education materials for more effective online teaching during hybrid learning. A list prepared by the UNESCO website demonstrates resources for distance learning that can be adopted by schools and teachers to create digital learning content and to teach effectively online.
Capacity building in schools will play an important role in responding to the varying needs of pupils returning to school. As the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children is expected to rise, schools should prepare for the diverse needs of pupils from different ability levels. As our simulation results using PISA 2018 also suggest, students in some schools are expected to experience larger learning losses, hence special attention could be paid to students studying in schools in smaller areas such as villages and small cities and towns and in specific types of schools. Employing additional qualified teachers to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to improve teaching effectiveness and provide the support needed by children may help to maximise each child’s learning potential during the recovery period. Responding to the needs of educationally at-risk children, including those with special educational needs with additional support programmes delivered on a 1:1 basis may also generate better results in reducing achievement gaps for the disadvantaged children and children with special educational needs and to help them to master foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy. Primary school children should be supported for their behavioural and social skills important for school education, such as self-regulation, behaviour management, and social perception and competence. Language immersion programmes and services should be developed for refugee children and children with Turkish as an additional language to mitigate their language losses and facilitate their return to school. Capacity-building should also respond to the increase in demand for mental health support and well-being needs of children in the post-pandemic world. To support and strengthen the psychosocial well-being of children in schools, the schools should recruit more teachers for psychological counselling services at schools and train teachers on child well-being and mental health at schools. An exemplary guideline for improving the psychological counselling services at schools has been prepared by the Ministry of National Education in collaboration with UNICEF in 2019. Similar guidelines can be prepared to improve mental health and well-being services and responsiveness at schools to mitigate the psychosocial effects of the pandemic on children.
Providing family training programmes to enrich home learning environments is necessary to facilitate the return of children to school. To continue children’s learning outside the school and support their learning during the recovery period, the home learning environment will continue to play an important role. The quality learning resources and interactions at home will have an effect on children’s educational levels when they return to school. As shown by our analysis results, children in Turkey already have important gaps in their home learning environment ranging from lack of infrastructure to lack of quality parent-child interactions and the gaps are even higher for Syrian children. During the recovery period, learning resources at home can buffer the effects of school closures. Research, however, shows that the pandemic had a negative impact on the home environments of many children due to financial strains and other stressors, especially for families from disadvantaged backgrounds. Programmes that equip parents with the knowledge to support their children’s learning at home can help with improving home learning environments and additionally contribute to children’s school adjustment. An exemplary intervention study in Turkey, the Turkish Early Enrichment Project, shows how a well-rounded family training programme can improve the learning environments of children and have sustained effects on child outcomes for disadvantaged families in Istanbul. An international example is the Sure Start Programme, which involved the opening of local centres across the UK to support families in parenting, child development, family health, and well-being. Longitudinal evidence has shown that these centres contribute to long-term developmental outcomes of children, as well as improving the quality of the home learning environment. The future programmes should also focus on parent skills and knowledge in the areas that have been found to be important to support children during the pandemic, including surrounding digital literacy and mental health.
Future policies need to focus on ways to improve ECEC attendance and reduce early leaving in education. The pandemic has underlined that children of pre-school age are at risk of not having access to ECEC in Turkey, and attendance in nurseries and pre-school environments in Turkey has significantly reduced during the pandemic. Research shows that access to quality education in the early years’ foundational stages has long-term effects on children’s later school attainment. Future programmes should address ways to increase ECEC attendance as well as access to quality education in the early years for all children. Examples of similar policy responses come from the UK and EU countries, where public expenditure was raised to provide free childcare for up to 30 hours. These changes in policy also facilitated parents of young children, especially women, to join the workforce in their respective countries. Another problem with children’s retention in education in Turkey is documented for early school leavers. Evidence shows that the number of children in education starts to drop from the age of 9. This is particularly due to children’s roles in household income for disadvantaged families. Programmes such as conditional cash transfer support to keep children at school in Turkey have also proved to be effective for the retention of refugee children in education. To improve retention, policy responses should adopt holistic approaches in tackling factors related to early school leaving at the personal, social, economic, and educational levels. The future programmes should aim for collaborative intervention projects that bring together school leaders, teachers, parents, and families. In so doing, the government need to work together with education specialists to tackle the predictors of early school leaving and bring forward institutional change to respond to the needs of at-risk children. A policy guideline prepared by the European Commission shows that a holistic approach targeting students at risk can improve school effectiveness and education culture in disadvantaged areas through the collaboration of school governance, teachers, local organisations, parents, and families. 
Social services and support programmes need to be improved for improving the lives of children living in extreme poverty. Future legislations can focus on improving the living conditions of children living in extreme poverty. The number of children who live in extreme poverty is expected to rise following the pandemic, putting more children at risk for learning poverty and child labour. Our analysis results also suggest that especially older children (aged 14-17 years old), children living in poor households, households with less educated adults and with more children are at risk of participating in child labour and for Syrian children, the risk is higher. Children at risk of drop out also are found to have similar background characteristics. Children at risk of child labour and at risk of drop out are found to be only at the 14-17 year olds age group for Turkish children, whereas the children in younger age groups were also found to be at risk, though lower, for the Syrian population. Social services are key to identifying and supporting children who are at risk for early school leaving. A pilot study conducted for the UK Government shows that introducing free school meals can help with the educational attainment and the dietary habits of the most disadvantaged children. Other ways of monitoring educationally at-risk children can include building social services for a better child welfare system, capacity building in the local services supporting families in deprived neighbourhoods and improving the communication between schools and local institutions (e.g., health centres) for a rapid response from the child protection services.
Preparing for the future of education
Globally, education systems and schools should prepare for the potential return of pandemic measures and online/hybrid teaching for the future of emergency management. Improving online infrastructure and digital resources for schools, as well as providing professional training programs for teachers will be important for the future of education. Some scientists predict that pandemics may become more frequent as a result of the changing bioecological atmosphere of the Earth and stress the need for pandemic preparedness for the future. These predictions magnify the importance of future readiness in all areas of life, including education. To ensure the educational preparedness for future pandemics in Turkey, policy responses should draw on the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 outbreak. Improving digital and electrical infrastructure across the country, especially in rural areas, should be of the utmost importance for potential similar pandemic situations in the future. Educational institutions should also collaborate with disease specialists to create safe learning environments to reduce the transmission of infectious outbreaks in schools. School leaders should be trained for emergency responses for a potential return of the pandemic measures and school closures. Stakeholders further underlined that education should be prioritised in future emergency situations, and the schools should re-open as soon as conditions permit. These practices will also play an important role in schools’ preparedness for other emergency situations such as earthquakes and wildfires. Previous experiences in Turkey have shown that emergency responses are not prepared enough to buffer school-aged children against the detrimental effects of natural disasters.
School systems and infrastructure should be improved, especially in rural areas. The number of schools in rural areas should be increased to allow for the potential return of pandemic measures and the future of emergency management. Building infrastructure of schools should also be improved for ventilation and heating. Landline, electricity and internet infrastructure in these areas should be improved in line with the services provided to larger cities across the country to improve communication between teachers and families. The local institutions and organisations should be provided with resources to support disadvantaged families and teachers with access to digital devices and the internet in the case of remote education. The central education system should either give more agency to the schools and teachers in rural areas or assign local ambassadors to accommodate the needs of the children better and in a timely manner in emergency situations.
New ways of collecting data on child development and learning are necessary to monitor and evaluate the academic attainment of children. To improve educational policies in Turkey, developmental and educational data from children and families should be collected in every key stage of education, including the early years. In order to facilitate the knowledge exchange between educators and policymakers, data collection tools should be standardised and monitored across the country. PISA is a good example for tracking the educational improvement in the academic attainment of 15-year-old children in the country. However, this assessment does not allow for researchers or policymakers to conduct longitudinal analyses on child development to improve the local services in the country. In England, for example, pupil data is collected by schoolteachers using the national assessment materials throughout the key stages of school education. The stages include the Early Years Foundation Stage (0-5 years old), Key Stage 1 (5-7 years old), Key Stage 2 (7-11 years old), Key Stage 3 (11-14 years old), Key Stage 4 (14-16 years old), and 16-19-year-old education. Information collected in each stage allows for a better transition from one to another by informing educators and social services. During the Early Years Foundation Stage, for example, teachers assess children on skills related to communication and language; personal, social and emotional development; physical development; literacy; mathematics; understanding the world; expressive arts and design. Drawing on these examples, a knowledge exchange method for educators and social services should be designed and standardised in Turkey to monitor and improve children’s learning at all levels and respond to their needs with effective policies.
Revisions to curriculum content are necessary to prepare children for societal changes in the post-pandemic world. Future curricula should focus on changing global conditions and how these may impact future lives. Education at all levels needs to focus on the future in order to mitigate against the effects of infectious diseases and natural disasters as well as other novel problems as they arise, such as climate change and the required reduction in carbon footprints for global citizens. An example study has been carried out in Tokat to inform and mentally prepare pre-school aged children for earthquakes in the area. Similar to these case studies, more importance should be given to supporting children’s preparedness and resilience in the face of emergency situations and mental health in the areas of forming and maintaining healthy relationships, strengthening family environments, as well as raising children’s awareness on when or how to seek help. Evidence shows that many children are at increased vulnerability for domestic abuse, family neglect, and exploitation as they spend more time in isolation with their families due to the pandemic measures. Policymakers must work in collaboration with mental health professionals and social workers to implement courses on child mental health and family well-being across K-12 education.
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