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The findings > Thematic Studies> ECCD>Part 5
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V. Problems and Proposals: Where do We Go From Here?
 

This section sets out problem areas and needs as identified by survey respondents and country reports and as found in recent publications. The following listing, which is expressed in terms of "deficits" should not be interpreted to mean that countries have not made advances. Indeed, in addressing these deficits, it would be well to begin by securing and extending the gains already made in these areas. Some countries have made greater advances than others in particular areas so that the priority given to areas of action will differ from country to country.

1. Weak political will. In many, even most, countries the need continues to convince politicians, policy makers, programmers, and education officials, often now at local levels, of the importance of ECCD. To create political will, we need to develop:

- better strategies of communicating, lobbying and advocating. These will include strategies directed to groups that have not always been called upon to help in the process (e.g., the mass media) and groups that are emerging as important potential actors (governors, mayors and other officials operating at levels other than the national level).

- a better information base, with systematic descriptions of programmes thought to be effective, improved indicators (see attached note), more solid statistics, strengthened monitoring and evaluation systems, and greater attention to local research.

2. Weak policy and legal frameworks. To formulate and strengthen policy we need to:

- Undertake analytical studies of existing policies affecting children, looking beyond narrowly conceived educational policies to, for instance social welfare, health, and labor policies that affect child care and development during the early years.

- Seek conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, incorporating principles of the best interests of the child, non-discrimination and participation. Work closely with the legal profession.

- Establish norms and standards (for private as well as public, and including provisions for constant revision) that are not so rigid or high as to be unworkable but which will assure positive attention to children.

- Provide a clearer legal base for assigning budget allocations. Operation.

- Clarify the roles of the state, civil society and the private sector as well as forms of partnership among them.

3. Lack of, or poor use of, financial resources. ECCD programmes generally command a small portion of governmental budgets, relative to percentage of young children in the population. In budgetary terms, children (and especially young children) are clearly not placed first. There is, therefore, a need to:

- Increase allocations to ECCD in national budgets and make more permanent commitments to such funding.

- Strengthen the capacity of states and municipalities to obtain resources for ECCD.

- Seek cost-effective approaches, including quality community-based non-formal approaches to ECCD.

- Explore more vigorously such alternative (to government budgets) avenues of funding as debt swaps, philanthropic contributions, and private sector involvement.

- Co-ordinate the increase of financial resources with attention to the capacity to handle such resources and the strengthening of human resources.

- Provide access to central pots of money by local organisations so as to respond better to local demand expressed in proposals originating in communities.

4. Uniformity (Lack of options). The bureaucratically convenient tendency to extend the same programme to all children conflicts with the need to tailor ECCD programmes to cultural, geographic, economic, and age differences. This tendency is reinforced by the notion that ECCD is the same as "pre-school" which, in turn, is simply an extension downward of primary schooling. We need, therefore, to:

- Think in terms of complementary and varied approaches to ECCD that include family and community-based programmes.

- Involve NGOs more actively as partners.

- Decentralise programme responsibility as well as administrative responsibility, with attention to building local capacity.

- Construct culturally relevant programmes with local communities rather than impose ECCD practices from the centre.

5. Poor quality. There is a pressing need to:

Re-examine training and supervision and to provide sound training (both pre-service and in-service) at all levels in with respect to a diversity of ECCD approaches. Reduce the number of children (or families) per education/care agent.

Improve and reformulate curricula, taking into account not only "best practices" but also local definition of what constitutes "best practices".

Draw upon existing experience in a more systematic way.

Establish better systems to monitor and evaluate both children and programmes.

6. Lack of attention to particular populations. The following "disadvantaged" populations need to be given greater attention: low-income, rural, indigenous, girls, HIV/AIDS, children 0-3, pregnant and lactating mothers, working mothers, fathers.

7. Lack of co-ordination. If a holistic and integrated notion of learning and development is to be honoured and if resources are to be used more effectively greater co-ordination is needed a) among government programmes of health, welfare, social security, nutrition, education, rural or community development, etc., b) within the education sector, especially between ECCD and primary schooling, and c) between governmental and non-governmental organisations. We need to:

- Create inter-sectoral, inter-organisational co-ordinating bodies.

- Construct joint programmes crossing bureaucratic boundaries.

- Strengthen the ability of families and communities to call upon and bring together services that are presently offered in an uncoordinated fashion.

- Seek agreement on the populations that are most in need of attention and direct services to those populations in a converging manner.

- Build partnerships. A clearer definition is needed of the roles of the state and civil society and of forms of partnership

8. Narrow conceptualisation. The conceptual frameworks guiding programmes intended to improve early childhood care and development and early learning have come primarily from developmental psychology and from formal education. There is a need to go beyond the knowledge that these fields can provide to incorporate broader views with cultural, social and ethical dimensions brought to bear. There is a need also to relate ECCD programming, conceptually and operationally, to other programmes lines that begin from analyses of children's rights, poverty, working mothers, rural development, special needs, street children, refugees, adolescents, gender, etc.

Where should the emphasis be placed?Where should we concentrate efforts?

The first answer to this question must be, "It depends." A point that has been reiterated in this document is that there is that regions and countries (and parts of countries) present extremely different conditions and cultural views and are at very different points in a process. It is therefore inappropriate to try and set general priorities for action in all situations. In some places emphasis must be given to advocacy and to getting the policy and legal frameworks right. In others, emphasis needs to be given to problems related to combating HIV/AIDS. In others, facilities need to be repaired.

Consistent with this posture, the second answer to the question must be, "Each country (or perhaps even municipality) must take stock and decide upon its priorities."

Having said the above, it does seem appropriate to 1) present my own biased opinion of areas that seem to need special emphasis and that seem to stretch across many settings and 2) to suggest some general guidelines that represent the author's particular view of what needs to be put front and centre as the field evolves.

1. Some possible areas of special interest.

A. Training and Supervision. Starting from the premise that the quality of programmes will be only as good as the people who operate them, it is logical to place emphasis on assuring that ECCD people at various levels are well motivated and are part of a continuous process of training. This does not mean that all those who attend to, care for, and educate young children or who work with parents and communities to improve care need to have university degrees. It does mean that they need both pre-service and in-service training. Experience suggests that early childhood programmes often suffer from weak systems of administrative supervision linked to "inspection" when what is really needed is a strong system of technical supervision tied to improving continuous learning that includes opportunities to interact with and learn from peers. Such training, done well, motivates as well as provide essential information and improve methods. A priority for many countries, then, might well be to strengthen their pre-service and (especially) in-service training in combination with a reconstituted system of supervision that builds and builds on participation of education, care and development agents. In addition, training of administrators, supervisors, planners, evaluators and others who form part of an ECCD system will be needed. Increasingly, there is a need to assist local administrators, planners and functionaries to work in the ECCD field. Again, history and current conditions will dictate where more, or less, emphasis is needed within this general priority area, but the general need for better and more appropriate training at various levels will be, in my opinion, general.

B. Supporting, educating and involving parents and other family members. Parents and other family members will continue to be the main influences on young children's lives for the foreseeable future, especially for children under 3 or 4 years of age. Perhaps the greatest and most lasting effects on a child's learning and development can come from improvements in the capacity of parents to provide a supportive environment for learning and development. As suggested earlier, there are many possible ways to support and work with parents and family members and the particular combination of how to go about this work will vary with conditions.

There is a tendency to view parent education as a kind of quick and cheap way of dealing with the early childhood area. There is also a tendency for some ECCD programmers to look at parents as instruments rather than as people. In addition, parent education is often thought of as mother's education. A concerted effort will be needed to moderate these tendencies, providing more prolonged and better funded programmes in this area, emphasising programmes that help parents grow as people, not just parents, and involving fathers as well as mothers.

In institutional environments there is a tendency to keep parents at the margin, at best providing them with periodic "talks", rather than seeking ways of involving them directly in setting the directions of the institution and in its functioning. This is another trend that needs to be countered because experience also suggests that parental participation improves programmes.

C. Evaluation and monitoring. Giving priority to building monitoring and evaluation systems derives from more than an academic bias. Among the lessons learned from successful programmes is that effectiveness is fostered if programmes develop slowly and are monitored and adjusted regularly. The information that comes from monitoring and evaluation will serve advocacy purposes as well as policy and administrative purposes. The information should help the process of reconceptualisation that many survey respondents felt is necessary.

Earlier in this paper, it was noted that countries did not provide information about how the well-being of their children has, or has not progressed. This gap needs to be filled by supporting countries to define the particular outcomes and measures that they feel will provide essential feedback about how well they are doing with respect to the learning and development of their young children.

Other "priorities" will be implicit in some of the guidelines that follow.

Possible guidelines

Take a holistic view of the child and of the learning and development process, adopting cross-sectoral policies.

Concentrate on the well-being of children and on active learning not on the size of particular programmes or on building bureaucracies.

Begin with pre-natal attention.

Include the excluded. Focus on gender and social 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. Build child-focussed partnerships.

Seek cost-effectiveness, broadly defined.

Avoid formulas. Be open to diversity and to complementary approaches. Seek quality defined not only by the nature of inputs and processes, but also by outcomes.

Incorporate monitoring and evaluation into programmes from the outset.

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