I am currently attending the Salzburg Global Seminar on Early Childhood Education. I have had a fascinating day of listening to academics, policy makers, business people, music therapists(!) talk about the complexities of Early Childhood Education.
The reason I am writing about the session as a Givology blog post, is because Givology already supports Early Childhood Education [url=https://www.givology.org/~gmweiss/blog/8507/]initiatives[/url]. There is a growing body of literature that provides conclusive evidence that early childhood education is a determining factor for future success. Therefore more and more attention is being given to this issue, and it is very likely that Givology will partner with more organizations working in this sphere.
Keeping this in mind I shall provide a quick review of the field. There are currently 635 million children in the world between the ages of 0 and 5. 317 million of them require better access to education.Only one third of all the countries in the world meet UNESCO's 'Education for all (EFA)' criteria which focuses on early childhood education among other things. In fact, this agenda has been pushed to the side as countries have scrambled to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), placing excessive emphasis on universal primary education.
In light of this, work is currently underway to include the objective of providing quality, accessible early childhood education in the Sustainable Development Goals (The only reference to ECE in the MDGs is the goal to reduce infant mortality). The current proposed Sustainable Development Goal (Goal 4) is 'To ensure effective learning for all children and youth for life and livelihood'. It is to be hoped that this goal will be far more inclusive, in terms of being aspirational for both high income and low income countries.
Why is ECE important? In the past 20 years there has been a growing evidence base indicating the importance of effective ECE in determining the success of a person. Seminal work done by Levitt(2009) and Engle et al (2011) talk about how the plasticity of the brain is highest during this formative period, and the benefit/cost of ensuring 100% enrollment in ECE programs as opposed to later educational interventions. In addition, beyond survival children have a right to thrive.
Under proposed Goal 4 of the SDGs mentioned earlier, 4.2 focuses on ECE. Draft 4,2 is 'By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education. The criteria for defining this, is that it has to be: 1) Clear, 2) Has to be reached by a consensus, 3) Efforts have to have been made in the past to measure the progress of such a goal, 4) Countries and the UN have to think this goal is feasible, 5) The goal has to be dis aggregated- the process of learning is different between the ages of 0-3, 3-5 etc, and thus the objective for each stage has to be different 6) Universal, 7) Managed by a designated organization. There are currently 338 indicators being considered to measure such a goal. This number has to be reduced in the next few months. Two possible indicators are 1) % of children < 5 years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well being, 2) % of children aged 24 months and above who attend an organized early learning care and education program.
ECE is tricky because it requires a revamping of the current educational institutional structure. Although Early Childhood is recognized to cover 0-8 years of age, in several countries the institutional structure recognizes ECE to span from 0- 6 years. This is because at 6 years of age in most countries, children transition from pre-school to school, and thus the governance of the institutions, at this point, changes. In many countries still, politicians have failed to recognize the importance of ECE. The Ministry of Labor could be in charge of financing day care- preschool centers, while the Ministry of Education is in charge of the primary school sector financing. However, research indicates that this transition from kindergarten to primary school is also crucial to the child's future development.
In addition ECE is more than simply ensuring health, nutrition and cognitive development of a child. It also involves protecting children, and providing them with stress-free environments. Implementing such a program would require explicitly multisectoral policies, the professional development of ECE personnel- to ensure equivalence between ECE teachers and primary school teachers. It would also require the development of an inclusive, language and culturally specific ECE program with regular monitoring. It is also important to consider the informal ECE sector. 80% of children in the US have experienced informal care. This is because of the workforce in the US. Many parents do not have traditional 9 to 5 jobs. Thus, integrating the importance of informal care into and ECE plan is important.
Thus in the future it will be important for member nations to receive guidance in the implementation of nation specific ECE targets. The collection of comprehensive, comparable data sets will be a challenge. Capacity building will be another important focus, as well as the development of adequate financing channels.
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