Early childhood care and education: the earlier the better
World Conference of Early Childhood Care and Education opens in Moscow
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the first World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education in Moscow today with a reminder that education “is the best insurance against poverty.” “There is no better place to set development on the right track than in the first years of a child’s life,” she said.
Ministers from 65 countries, along with experts, academics and practitioners of early childhood care and education are attending the event, which is organized by UNESCO, the Government of the Russian Federation and the City of Moscow.
The Director-General opened the conference in the presence of the Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, the Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation Andrei Fursenko, Vice-President of the Seychelles Danny Faure, First Lady of Azerbaijan and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva and Eleonora Mitrofanova, Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board.
“Early childhood care and education programmes yield greater investment returns than any other level of education,” Irina Bokova said. “This is probably one of the least publicized facts in the policy-making and development arena.”
The Director-General also stressed the importance of early childhood programmes in addressing inequalities, providing “a starting point for leveling the playing field.” “The number of children missing out primary school - 69 million - could be reduced if they were reached through adequate programmes before age 8. So could the number of children who drop out of school too early. In Europe, for example, as many as 50 percent of Roma children fail to complete primary education. This is not giving them a fair start in life.”
Welcoming the progress that has been made in in pre-primary education since 2000, Irina Bokova pointed out that nonetheless only 15 percent children are enrolled in pre-primary education in Sub-Saharan Africa, 19 percent in Arab States, 28 percent in Central Asia and 36 percent South and West Asia. “Scope for progress is immense. Most importantly, there is real reason for expanding provision for young children,” she said.
In his opening address, the Education Minister of the Russian Federation Andrei Fursenko, highlighted Russia’s achievements in early childhood care and education, but emphasized the opportunity provided by the conference for countries to exchange experiences, look at what works and how.
The Vice-President of the Seychelles, Danny Faure, urged governments to act “swiftly and concertedly”. They must give priority to early childhood programmes and “demonstrate the political will to make this happen,” he said.
Early childhood is defined as a period from birth to 8 years old. It is time of remarkable brain development, but also an extremely vulnerable time for young children, especially in the developing world, where a child has a four in ten chance of living in extreme poverty and 10.5 million children under age of 5 die from preventable diseases every year.
The Moscow conference will take stock of progress made over the past decade and identify ways for countries to achieve the goal of expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most disadvantaged by 2015. It will explore mechanisms for setting benchmarks and targets, for overcoming obstacles that hinder development of early childhood care and education services and for monitoring progress towards service delivery.
Discussions are focused on: development policies, costs and financing, and legal and institutional frameworks; regional experiences; quality and responsiveness; exclusion and marginalization; and monitoring and evaluation. A number of country cases will also be presented to highlight effective programmes in different parts in the world.
Media contact (in Moscow)
Sue Williams Tel: +33 6 15 92 93 62