The right to education begins at birth. However, new data from UNESCO shows that 1 in 4 5-year-olds – or 35 of the world’s 137 million 5-year-olds – have never benefited from any form of preschool education, and despite research that proves the benefits of early childhood education, only half of the countries guarantee free preschool education.
Children’s brains develop remarkably between birth and age eight, which makes this a critical window of opportunity for schooling. Children are better able to grow to their full potential as adults and participate successfully in economic, social, and civic life when they are healthy, safe, and learn well in the early years. The promotion of equality and social justice, inclusive economic growth, and sustainable development are all goals of early child education.
A body of research and evidence supports this assertion, propelling early childhood learning to the forefront of global debates and government priorities. The first argument emerges from neuroscience which has demonstrated the impact of the environment on the nature of cerebral architecture – the child’s first experiences can provide him with a solid or, on the contrary, fragile foundation, influencing his learning and development. and his subsequent behavior. The second is drawn from the field of economics, which has documented the greater return on investment of preschool programs compared to programs for adolescents and adults. The third comes from educational sciences,
From a human rights perspective, expanding access to quality early childhood learning is an important means of realizing the right to education from a lifelong learning perspective. early child education provides meaningful preparation for basic education and therefore represents one of the most effective equalizers of lifelong learning opportunities.
Policy fragmentation: In many countries, early child education policies and services are fragmented and do not take advantage of whole-of-government or whole-of-society approaches to meet the holistic needs and rights of families and their young children. This is particularly complicated for national governments with limited resources, weak institutional capacity, and weak governance.
- Lack of public service: The provision of non-state early child education services continues to grow in many contexts, and the role of non-state actors in shaping policy development and implementation is evident. Non-state actors are responsible for a high percentage of places in preschool education. In 2000, 28.5% of preschoolers were enrolled in private schools, a figure that rose to 37% in 2019, more than in primary (19%) or secondary (27%) education. While government efforts to expand public provision of preschool education have increased participation in some contexts, governance, regulation, and monitoring efforts need to be strengthened to cover all non-state providers. and target populations.
- Insufficient regulation of the sector: In most countries, there are no specific regulations and standards for early child education. The regulations that do exist generally do not establish quality assurance mechanisms and those that do tend to lack a focus on results.
- Chronic underfunding: On average, 6.6% of education budgets, at national and subnational levels, were allocated to preschool education. Low-income countries invest on average 2% of education budgets in preschool, which is far below the 10% target by 2030 suggested by UNICEF. In terms of international aid, preschool education remains the least well-funded sector.
While it is crucial to acknowledge the complexity of early child education policies as well as the difficulties associated with implementing them, political will and ownership are crucial for improving early child education. The analysis in this article demonstrates improvement in some nations in enhancing the early child education systems’ ability to meet demands. To improve the ability of early child education systems to respond to contextual needs, a number of policies and actions can be implemented in achieving this goal. Examples of these policies illustrate how they place a focus on:
- Expanding and diversifying access: Increasing investments and establishing a legal framework to develop early child education services are essential steps. Innovative early child education service delivery mechanisms such as mobile kindergartens with their teachers, and equipment for learning and play, have been deployed in some countries to reach remote areas and provide children with preschool education.
- Improve quality and relevance: early child education curriculum frameworks should encompass different aspects of early childhood learning and help children acquire the essential knowledge, skills and dispositions for a smooth transition to formal education. This requires rethinking the scope, sequencing, balance and relevance of educational programs. Sequencing should first ensure a ‘learning through play’ approach and children’s acquisition of early foundational skills in literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional areas, enabling them to be ready to enter without difficulty in primary education.
- Making early child education educators and staff a force for transformation : For early child education transformation to take place, early child education educators must be adequately supported and empowered to play their role.
- Improving governance and stakeholder participation : Countries have adopted different modes of governance, which are generally either integrated or divided.
- Use finance to guide early child education development : It is important to strengthen national public financing to provide affordable early child education. As early child education services fall under different ministries, there must be a clear demarcation of funding and funding rules across sectors and ministries. Innovative financing may include the allocation of resources from economic activities and other sources.
All being said, let’s close the topic on this emphasis on Galvanizing international cooperation and solidarity. The Global Conference on Early Childhood Education and Care is an opportunity to mobilize existing global, regional and national networks to place greater emphasis on identifying and sharing innovations, policies and practices. An international knowledge platform is needed for resource sharing. Supporting capacity building for early child education policymakers, leveraging existing platforms and partnerships, is another area of international cooperation and soli