Are Children Ready to Learn?

September 19, 2013

This blog originally appeared on the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific blog site on 16 September 2013.

By Chemba Raghavan

The most critical period in a child’s life is between 0 to 8 years; this is when the child’s brain undergoes its most rapid growth and development. Good quality ECCE that combines health, nutrition, social protection and cognitive stimulation can also make a huge difference to the psychological and social development of young children. Investing in ECCE makes sense – for every $1 spent in early childhood it is estimated $7-12 can be saved in future costs.

Children stand outside their pre-school in Long Lao village, Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. © UNICEF/LAOA2011-00048/Tattersall

However, not everyone has access to quality ECCE programmes and reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children is a significant challenge. These children include children living in poverty or in remote areas and urban slums, ethnic and linguistic minorities and children with disabilities.

UNICEF is working to improve children’s access to early education throughout the Asia Pacific, whether in formal preschools or alternative childhood development programs. The region has made good progress in developing national ECCE policies and improving child survival and nutrition. We support governments to build on this by developing and implementing comprehensive and inclusive ECCE policies and programmes.

Sharing knowledge with the region

Colleagues attending the Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education © Ji-Hyun Kim

Renewing countries’ commitment to inclusive and holistic development and learning of all young children is an important step towards achieving Education For All Goal 1 to expand early childhood care and education. The Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Forum on ECCE held in Seoul, Korea, which colleagues from our Asia-Pacific Regional and Country Offices attended last week, was a fantastic opportunity to bring policy makers together, share their learning on good practices throughout the region, and ultimately to make a difference to young children in Asia and the Pacific.

Good practice in Mongolia
One example of good practice that we heard about on Wednesday is the introduction of mobile kindergartens for herder communities with nomadic lifestyles in Mongolia. These kindergartens are held in traditional ger tents and rotate between the villages in a particular district. The ger kindergartens give children living in sparsely populated and remote areas access to ECCE services and opportunities to play and interact with their peers.

Mongolia also shows us how policy change can make a real difference to children’s lives. Mongolia introduced their Preschool Education Law in 2008, and the country has a legal and policy environment that encourages alternative service delivery and training programs – like the mobile kindergartens. Mongolia invests a significant proportion of its education budget in ECCE. As a result, preschool gross enrolment rates have risen from just 46% in 2007 to more than 77% in 2011.

All of us from UNICEF and staff from co-organizing agencies, UNESCO, ARNEC, KICCE and KDI, felt the energy, momentum and renewed enthusiasm in the room to work towards high quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) for all children.

The Forum ended with commitments from several Ministers and senior government officials noting that their understanding of new research from ECCE had been broadened and they would report back to their Cabinets, Council of Ministers or Heads of State regarding the meeting. Specific directions and follow up actions were identified. These included a) increased cross-national cooperation through knowledge sharing, b) joint monitoring and evaluations for bringing programs to scale, c) collaborating on establishing regional quality frameworks and standards in ECCE and d) increasing bilateral study visits.

About the author: Chemba Raghavan is Education Specialist for UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific

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