Children are a Nation’s future…. Any nation that believes in this term will see the value of investing their energy and expertise in Early Childhood Education (ECE). This would require government, non-government, private sector organisations, agencies and individuals (teachers and parents) to bring in their collective wisdom to illuminate a path towards a comprehensive system of care and education towards pre-schoolers worldwide. ECE applies to children between the ages of 3-5 years and is often referred to as preschool, pre-kindergarten, day care, nursery school or early education. It helps children to transition from pre-school to elementary school, which ensures a positive impact giving the child a head start towards a bright future.
The Importance of Early Childhood Education
Early Childhood Education and care is the first chance to introduce a child to the diversity of our society. This will have a huge impact and will influence their attitude and behaviour in life. Investing in a child’s education at the early stages will help a country eliminate poverty, boost prosperity and will create human capital which will help economies diversify and grow, helping its country reach great heights.
Quality is of the essence. Providing quality education to pre-schoolers must have sound philosophies and goals; provide high-quality educational environments; reflect developmentally appropriate and effective curriculum and pedagogy; attend to children’s needs, both basic and special; respect families and communities; employ professional teachers and staff and implement rigorous programme evaluation practices.
The years before a child enters the world of formal education are important for their overall development and to have their worth as human beings recognized. All societies have a universal responsibility to recognise the preschool years as ones in which children should be protected from harm, nurtured in growth, motivated to learn, and equipped to contribute to their society in a multitude of ways. Policies must be created and should not separate the needs of the ‘‘poor’’ or the ‘‘disabled’’ or the ‘‘different’’ from those of children presumed ‘‘disadvantaged’’ or ‘‘normal.’’ Nations should set one excellent standard for meeting the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs of all children within their societies. It is imperative that the transition from home to school should not be so drastic as to cause psychological or emotional stress for the child.
The peak for learning new things, improving motor, language and cognitive skills is usually from the age of 3 years. It also helps in the screening process of the child’s development such as health, cognitive development, speech, vision, hearing, coordination, emotional skills and social skills. This helps identify any development or health issues that need to be taken into consideration, to prevent learning delays.
Parents playing an active role in a child’s early educational development has lifelong benefits. Establishing the importance of education and developing a network of helpful connections is a critical point which provides the child with aids that make the move to elementary school a more peaceful transition. Parents that are actively involved in their child’s education will be able to extend and replicate activities that are experienced at school. This helps them understand what their child might need to work on to increase competency and confidence. Taking the time to see where the child stands in his/her development will help parents discover their strengths and interests and appreciate them for who they are.
Across the Globe
Roger Neugebauer from Exchange, The Early Leaders' Magazine, asked the members of the World Forum community on Early Childhood trends around the world. This is what they had to say:
Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia
Liana Ghent, International Step by Step
Under the educational system of former communist countries, the care and teaching of children 0-7 years was a service provided by governments in kindergartens financed and run by the state or by big enterprises. After the political and socio-economical system changed, many kindergartens either closed down or started charging parents significantly higher amounts for their services. The families that have been most affected by these changes are those with low socio-economic status, language differences, from rural areas, and with challenging personal issues.
In an attempt to improve the situation, in some countries a compulsory preschool year has been introduced in primary schools and usually focuses largely on cognitive issues related to readiness for school. But it is not always accessible to children from disadvantaged families. Other problems include the high number of children in classrooms, and the fact that in some cases day care is viewed as a business and provided by private non-professional individuals.
The Netherlands, Amsterdam
Betsy van de Grift, Partou Kinderopvang
The government considers child care as an integral and essential part of economic growth. Especially the fact that a large part of the working population is middle-aged makes it necessary that mothers with young children get the opportunity to participate in the economy and thus increase the economic wealth of the nation and their own emancipation.
Kishor Shrestha, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu
The number of students in the schools in the hilly regions has dropped. In some schools there are more teachers than students. On the other hand, the number of students in the schools in the urban plain areas has increased disproportionately. A single classroom has to accommodate more than 200 students and be taken care of by a single teacher. This has led to a shortage of physical facilities and teachers and adversely affects the academic environment of the schools as well as the overall performance of the children.
Ibod Sharifi, Coordinating Child Centre for International Development, Dushanbe
The education system in Tajikistan has gradually deteriorated due to lack of appropriate infrastructures/schools; lack of education equipment, education materials, and textbooks; brain drain; poor level of educator training and refresher courses for teachers; low payment (average $10-15 per month); and lack of motivation of education and other sectors’ workers who are responsible for child education and care and social support. As a result, these and other barriers increase social exclusion of a growing number of children, a majority of which constitute girls, who lack access to compulsory primary and secondary education.
Maggie Koong, Victoria Kindergarten and Nursery
Hong Kong is in the midst of a thorough education reform programme that, having recognized early childhood as an integral part of education as the foundation of lifelong learning, and as the first stage of all-round development, is deeply affecting the pre-primary sector in several ways. It has called for the harmonization of early childhood services and this has provoked a paradigm shift towards integrated or coordinated ECEC systems leading to improvements in professional training, greater financial support, better monitoring, and less disparity between child care centres and kindergartens.
Lara Hussein, The National Council for Family Affairs, Amman
Jordan is amongst the first countries in the region that developed an Early Childhood Development strategy (ECD) and a plan of action (2003-2007). The ECD strategy has adopted a definition of early childhood that includes the period extending from pregnancy up to below nine years of child age. The ECD strategy encompasses 14 themes covering a range of aspects aimed at providing children with protection and appropriate environment that enhance their growth and development. Since then, Jordan has witnessed a noticeable development in its policies and programmes relating to early childhood in the different sectors.
Dr Laurie McNelles, Mothercraft, Toronto
Most regions in Canada are concerned with increasing the level of professionalism associated with the care and education of young children. Many regions in Canada are experiencing a shortage of qualified early care and education professionals. Predictably, some of these shortages are associated with low wages and poor benefit packages offered throughout early care and education. In addition, these shortages are also related to specific cultural considerations as ethnocultural groups build their internal capacity to meet the early care and education needs of children within their communities.
Reeta Sonawat, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai
A large number of children live in an economic and social environment that impedes the child’s physical and mental development. These conditions include poverty, poor environmental sanitation, disease and infection, inadequate access to primary health care, inappropriate child caring and feeding practices. In the private sector, although there are undoubtedly a few outstanding institutions doing wonderful work, the majority are inadequate. The state does not have anybody to describe standards and persons running centres to submit documents that they meet the standards and then the centre is registered. The existence of centres for accreditation, which bring highest standards of quality in early childhood programmes, is out of the question. Globally India is being recognized as a nation whose time has come.
Though most of these global trends in Early Childhood Education around the world, be it in developing or underdeveloped countries, are changing and are upping their ante, progress has been slow. Most countries are now experiencing a high demand for high quality programmes which has stemmed from parent focus on learning outcomes and public funding flowing into early education. Early on parents chose a child care programme based on location – that has changed in recent times. Parents demand to know more about the programme before making their choice. Social media is playing an important role that serves as a forum to review group opinions and ideas while researching a centre. The main factors that influence parents while choosing a centre for their child is the learning environment, parent engagement, teacher experience and training and centre management.
When looking at Early Childhood Education, whether received at home, in preschool, in a day-care centre or elsewhere, we must keep in mind the effects on a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. The brain of a child reared in safe, loving and secure environments is more likely to develop in a normal and healthy manner ensuring they are on the right path for a bright future making them worthy future citizens and happy individuals.