22.06.2016 - Education Sector

UNESCO prize-winner makes way for girls in early childhood education

© Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development for Indonesia

Ella Yulaelawati is clear on the powerful difference early childhood education (ECE) can make to girls in Indonesia. “They are better equipped to handle the power of the boys,” she said. “They are confident from an early age. They have a sense of independence and identity and the seeds of leadership are sown. And they are more likely to stay in education.”

Ms Yulaelawati is the Director of the Indonesian project, Improving Access and Quality of Girls' Education through Community-Based Early Childhood Education and Early-Year Gender Mainstreaming, which received one of two awards given out under the first edition of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education.

The project, from the Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development in Jakarta, aims to improve girls’ access to and quality of education in the long-term through gender mainstreaming from birth to eight years of age. It targets girls and boys, teachers, mothers, the community and education administrators in five provinces of the country through early socialization, training, workshops and multi-media campaigns.

Overcoming cultural barriers

When it began in 2000, Ms Yulaelawati had to overcome two obstacles.

“When I tried to introduce the idea of gender mainstreaming of policy there was always a budgetary reason why it could not be implemented. When I tried to produce gender sensitive textbooks or gender responsive teaching materials I was told ‘no budget.’”

Her second obstacle was overcoming cultural prejudices against girls.

“In Indonesia girls and women are discriminated against at home, in school, in the workplace and in the media. Any talk of gender brings with it fears of a threat to cultural and religious values. Gender is not only compatible with faith and culture but that encouraging the educational needs of both boys and girls together would ultimately benefit the whole society.”

Changing people’s minds

“The cultural norm is that girls don’t fare well outside the home and boys fare badly inside it. As a result, ECE classes were mostly boys with the girls often being kept home to look after younger family members and carry out household chores,” she said. So she started a programme of village-based ECE provision in the five provinces.

Enriched by engaging educational material such as songs, videos and books the classes soon started to grow with more participation from boys and girls.

She says there is still work to be done to convince both the government and society in general of the fundamental importance of ECE and especially for girls.

The UNESCO Prize, which brings with it an award of USD 50,000, has brought forward the significance of girls’ education. This is the first UNESCO Prize to solely focus on the gender thematic.

“The prize is meaningful in that it has woken people up to the importance of ECE. National news about the prize has sparked discussion. People say ECE must be important as it has won a national prize and the First Lady of the country was on hand to accept it,” she said.

Now she has a new plan.

“ECE in Indonesia is not very child-friendly. I want to build a toy library offering educational play materials to poor families. That is my dream,” she said.

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