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Strategy sessions I.5 > Early Childhood Education
 
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
 
Expanding access to early childhood care and development programmes
Issues Paper
 
Strategy Session I.5
 
Original : English
 
"Learning begins at birth. This calls for early childhood care and initial education. These can be provided through arrangements involving families, communities or institutional programmes, as appropriate." (article 5, World Declaration on Education for All)
 
A. Introduction
 
  Early childhood care and development (ECCD) emerged at Jomtien as an extension of basic education, in contrast to the view that education begins with entrance into primary school. The Framework for Action agreed at the Jomtien Conference set a number of targets to be considered by countries when drawing up their education plans for the 1990s, including one for ECCD: "Expansion of early childhood care and development activities, including family and community interventions, especially for poor, disadvantaged and disabled children." Bob Myers' recent review suggests that modest gains have been made, but also that any advances need to be kept in context.
 
   This Strategy Session will focus on a few key issues cutting across a range of programmes and country contexts: (i) the importance of families and communities, (ii) the need to attend to gender concerns and issues, and (iii) the role of different types of partnerships in ECCD programmes at all levels. The Session should encourage discussion and sharing of experience and ideas, looking ahead in a strategic manner so that the recognition that "learning begins at birth" becomes more than rhetoric.
 

B. Review of some key advances, changes and issues

 
1. The well-being of children: Key advances have been made in reducing infant and child mortality, the level of malnutrition has declined in some countries, and the consumption of micro-nutrients has improved. However, malnutrition continues at high levels in many countries, particularly in rural areas. There is also evidence that feeding programmes, on their own, may not be particularly effective in decreasing malnutrition.
 
Critical issues: In reviewing country reports, Myers noted that very few countries provide measures for the psycho-social well-being of young children or for their learning during their early years. Moreover, reported improvements were inferred from changes in subsequent school performance and retention rates, which are inadequate and indirect measures of a child's general development or psycho-social well-being.
 

2. ECCD enrolments: In many countries, enrolments tended to increase since 1990, but in others enrolments decreased, particularly in the countries of the former Soviet Union and in countries of Eastern Europe. Attention continues to be concentrated on "pre-schooling", usually for children of age 4 to 6 and particularly for children about to enter primary school.

 
Urban children are more likely than are rural children to be enrolled in some sort of ECCD programme; children from families that are better off are more likely to be enrolled than are children from families with small incomes.
 

Critical issues: Very few children under age four in the Majority World are attending organised ECCD programmes. In addition, the relative roles of the State, the private sector, social organizations and local communities in providing and supporting ECCD services vary widely among countries.
 
3. Conceptual shifts and changes in the knowledge base and its dissemination. There have been significant advances in our understanding of how the brain develops and functions, and there is a growing body of knowledge coming from research studies and programme evaluations showing long-term benefits of early intervention programmes for children at risk.
 
Critical issue: New research studies being carried out on "resilience", conditions under which programmes can have a negative affect on child development, and child-rearing practices and patterns are likely to enhance our understanding of young children and their families.
 
4. Planning, programming and implementing ECCD. A number of important conceptual shifts can be seen. Early childhood programming is increasingly viewed within a broader framework of poverty alleviation and transition to democracy. In addition, more attention is being given to "holistic" development, cutting across sectoral lines with "prevention of" rather than "compensating for" problems being the goal. Finally, thinking has been shifting from a "needs" perspective -- often associated with "targeted" interventions-- to a broader "rights" perspective, and from a "preschooling" perspective to a more holistic ECCD perspective. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and, to a lesser extent, the conceptual frame provided at Jomtien have been critical forces shaping these changes.
 
Critical issues: There is an ongoing change in how governments see their role in relation to other actors (i.e. parents, communities, civil society groups such as NGOs and religious organisations, and the private sector) in respect to ECCD programmes. One tendency has been to shift some of the burden of providing services from government responsibility (which has often been exclusive) to "partnerships" or sometimes to the marketplace through privatisation. This moving mix of providers can have a positive impact on the effectiveness and relevance of ECCD programmes. But, it can also have a negative impact in terms of access and sustainability.
 

To facilitate more diversity in the types of ECCD offered, as well as in the partners involved, the following actions could be helpful:

Broadening the range of options with a view to complementarity, including programmes directed to the family and community, as well as to the child, and encouraging inter-sectoral collaboration and co-ordination;

Constructing culturally relevant programmes with local communities, rather than imposing ECCD practices from the centre.

Accepting non-formal approaches, but without regarding them as "second best";

Working with non-governmental organisations;

Decentralising programme and administrative responsibilities, with attention to building local capacity.

 
Two important, related issues:
 

(i) Lack of attention to particular populations. In all countries there are "disadvantaged" populations and special groups that need to be given greater attention, e.g. low-income families, rural dwellers, persons affected by HIV/AIDS, pregnant and lactating mothers, working mothers, etc.

(ii) Poor quality. There is a pressing need to improve the training (both pre-service and in-service) and supervision of ECCD personnel at all levels, in line with the diversity of ECCD approaches. Reformulating training curricula to take into account local definitions of what constitutes "best practices" is a continuing priority. In addition, further attention is needed to reduce the ratio of children (and families) per ECCD worker and to devise better means to monitor and evaluate programmes and children's progress.

 
5. Changes in policies and in legislative frameworks for programming ECCD. Myers notes specific changes in laws, the development of policies and the explicit inclusion of ECCD in national plans as advances in the field of ECCD. However, in too many countries there is still a serious lack of good and comprehensive laws and policies, particularly for children under age three. Moreover, some broader government policies (e.g. economic adjustment policies) can affect ECCD indirectly and are often linked to international agency policies that are not sensitive to ECCD concerns.
 
Critical Issues: Weak political will and inadequate policy and legal frameworks for ECCD are still characteristic of many countries. There is a need, therefore, to continue to convince politicians, policy makers, planners, and education officials at all levels of the importance of ECCD. Local ECCD providers and their international partners need to develop better strategies for communicating, lobbying and advocating. This will require a better information base, with improved indicators, statistics, monitoring systems, studies and evaluations. More analytical studies of existing policies and practices - across sectors - affecting children are needed, with a view to establishing realistic norms and standards for private as well as public ECCD programmes. Such norms must avoid being too rigid or unworkable: they need to assure positive attention to children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child offers important principles related to the best interests of the child, non-discrimination and participation for all.
 
6. The availability of resources. The overall level of international financing available for ECCD has increased a great deal since1990. Still, there are questions about the style of funding organisations and about national capacities to use available international funds well. With respect to national budgets, Myers notes that, in general, the field is under-funded, that public financial support is low and unstable, and that the lack of resources is an important problem for ECCD providers. Similarly, despite advances in the professional training of ECCD personnel in many countries, there is a strong feeling among interested observers that adequate human resources are lacking and that more and better training is needed at all levels, but particularly at local levels.
 
Critical Issues: There is a lack of, or poor use of, financial resources, with ECCD programmes generally receiving a smaller portion of government budgets, relative to the percentage of young children in the population. How can public funding for ECCD be increased and made more stable? How can the capacity of states and municipalities be strengthened to obtain resources for ECCD? What are the more promising alternative sources of funding (e.g. debt swaps, philanthropic contributions, and private sector involvement) ? How can central funding be made more accessible to local ECCD providers so as to respond better to local demand? What are the more cost-effective approaches to ECCD, including community-based non-formal approaches, that have been tested in different contexts?
 
C. Conclusion:
 
It is inappropriate to set general priorities for action in all situations. There is no single formula for ECCD for all locations, countries and groups. Nonetheless, the following possible guidelines may serve as a starting point for discussion:
 

Take a holistic view of the child and of the learning and development process, adopting cross-sectoral policies. Begin with pre-natal attention.

Concentrate on the well-being of children and not on the size of particular programmes or on building bureaucracies. Build child-focussed partnerships.

Include the excluded. Focus on equity.

Be family-focused and community-based, fostering participation.

Seek cultural relevance, determined by those involved, and accommodation, beginning where people are, building on inherent strengths.

Be open to diversity and to complementary approaches. Seek quality.

Seek cost-effectiveness, broadly defined.

Incorporate monitoring and evaluation into programmes from the outset.

 
Finally, to end with a statement from Myers' review: "For many international organisations, the changes suggested above constitute a huge challenge that goes to the heart of how organisations function. In a meeting where commitment to change by national governments is being sought, a parallel commitment might be asked of international organisations that goes well beyond a resource commitment and includes re-examination of values and the ethics of intervention styles and modes of operation".
 
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