At one school in Istanbul, HP IDEA fosters resilience one book at a time

In its third year, HP IDEA brings specialized training to teachers and students in Türkiye as the country recovers from natural disaster.

By Garage Staff — June 20, 2023

When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated cities across southeastern Türkiye and northwestern Syria earlier this year, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving others in need of shelter and aid, 13-year-old Medine uprooted her life. She was forced to leave her hometown of Adıyaman — the southern Turkish city was one of the worst affected by the earthquakes — and come with her mother to Istanbul. 

Medine — shy, with dark hair and thick-rimmed glasses — missed her friends, her father (who stayed behind), and the school she loved. She struggled with anxiety. 

Sitting in a spearmint-colored chair in the classroom of her new school, she speaks mostly in English to a reporter, except when talking about the earthquake. She says only, “I am afraid of it,” and even in Turkish, she can’t describe it. “It was awful for me,” she says finally. “It still hurts me.” 

Recently, though, she’s found one escape: reading fantasy books, like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

“It makes me feel relaxed,” says Medine, who’s in seventh grade.

Medine’s newfound love of books is a result of a project designed to foster both better (and more) reading, as well as improve behavior in students at the Yenidoğu Okulları Çekmeköy Kampüsü school, located on the eastern side of the Bosphorus on the outskirts of Istanbul. The reading program was created as part of HP IDEA (Innovation and Digital Education Academy) by Sümeyye Alpay, a fourth- and fifth-grade English teacher at Medine’s new school. She says she wanted to address behavioral issues she’s seen among students in her classroom as well as reignite their interest in school, especially among those who say they prefer on-screen entertainment like video games to in-person interactions.  

WATCH NOW: HP IDEA building empathy and resilience inside an Istanbul school

Transforming teachers’ thinking

HP IDEA is intended to empower teachers with digital skills and an innovation mindset. Launched in 2020, the program is offered in six languages across nearly 20 countries in the Middle East, and Africa, and will soon expand into Central and Southern Europe. This year, HP announced its 25th HP IDEA cohort in Angola, the first to be taught in Portuguese. The program is based on frameworks and research from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, and is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 goals. HP IDEA helped contribute toward HP’s commitment to enable better learning outcomes for more than 100 million people by 2025 — a goal the company achieved three years early.  


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HP partnered with leading education consultants to create the rigorous development program. “It’s not about how to use basic digital applications,” says Mayank Dhingra, HP’s Senior Education Business Leader for Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “It’s to get the teachers to ask themselves, ‘How do I create outcomes with this technology? How do I make a difference for my students?’”

There are two tracks, HP IDEA Fellows and HP IDEA Associates, which run in eight-month cycles. For each HP IDEA school, five to 10 teachers are selected as Fellows, and as part of their curriculum learn about different forms of innovation and the essentials of design thinking, to help them come up with solutions in their own schools. Next, they put what they’ve learned into action by creating their own program to solve a community problem. This focused coursework is then offered to other teachers in the Associates track online. More than 3,400 teachers are on the Fellows track and 33,000 are on the Associates track, with some 800,000 students positively impacted to date.

Left: A young girl smiling in a classroom. Right: Students sitting in a circle on the ground outside with books in hand.

Dervis Ay

Left: Student Smanur Sapmaz is all smiles. Right: On a sunny day, Özel Yenidoğu Okulları Çekmeköy Kampüsü students gather outside for a reading lesson..

“The cohorts [of teachers] do become a community. They learn about one another’s schools and support each other,” says Christine Nasserghodsi, education consultant. “It takes so much resilience and commitment to complete a one-year program, and those who stick it out become one another’s supporters.”  

For HP IDEA schools everywhere, the main curriculum has a strong emphasis on exercises that “help build empathy for students,” according to Nasserghodsi. And in Türkiye and Ukraine, HP IDEA recently added trauma-informed and social emotional learning modules to support teachers and students facing extraordinary challenges. 

Building empathy and resilience

Alpay, for one, says collaboration is the most important thing she’s learned from HP IDEA. She brainstormed with the other HP IDEA Fellows at her school at their weekly workshops, and they decided that one way to incentivize students to read more would be if the children were rewarded with seeds or a sapling to plant for each book they finished. 

The program is simple but effective, producing an array of results that both complement and reinforce each other. Because the students want to read, and are reading more, they want to talk to the teachers more — both to get advice and, as Alpay says, “because they’re excited about what they’re reading, and they want to tell us about it.”

And the entire program is providing a shared experience, a sense of belonging for everyone. The change has been palpable, Alpay says, particularly with the four students in her classes she affectionately refers to as the school’s “special guests” — those who arrived after the earthquake. 

“In the beginning they were lonely and sad, because everything was hard to handle,” Alpay says. “But with the project they change day by day. They talk more.”

Three young girls sitting on beanbags, reading books together.

Dervis Ay

Left to Right: Students Mehlika Rana Arıkan, Medlne Evli, and Betül Akay bond over reading.

The trauma module, in particular, has helped Alpay facilitate this change.

“We learn to focus on the positive,” she says. It’s also helped her with her own trauma as well as that of her other students. Although they were miles from the quake, Alpay says everyone was deeply affected by it.

“You’re thinking about [the victims],” she says. “Are they able to eat a good meal? Are they sleeping in a good place? What’s happening there?”

Nyla Khan, co-founder of Mirai Partners, a learning consultancy agency, says this is part of why they added the trauma-informed component. “It’s essential to view trauma as a rule rather than the exception,” she says. “As someone who experienced complex trauma before the age of six, I know firsthand the lifelong impact it can have. It’s both disheartening and motivating to realize that so much pain and suffering could be alleviated if educational systems were better equipped to understand and address trauma.”  

As more children finish reading their books and move on to the next one, soon seedlings will be planted in the school’s garden and saplings in a nearby grove. When the garden project begins, Alpay thinks it will also be good for students’ mental health and maybe their academics to spend more time in nature, away from their phones and computers. The students, for their part, like to talk with Alpay about their options for planting: Strawberries? Apples? Potatoes? Maybe tomatoes because they’re easy to grow? Students will also be able to bring the fruits and vegetables of their labor to friends. 

For Mehlika, being rewarded with planting a tree or seedling every time she finishes a volume will be another benefit beyond the knowledge that comes from reading. The fruit, she says, “is like another present coming from a book.”


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