WHAT EDUCATION FOR
THE YOUNG CHILD ?
CENTRE DE RESSOURCES DOCUMENTAIRES
"I will develop a leadership framework and programme management model,
which will emphasize decentralization and results through collaboration and
teamwork," Mr Smith says
EDITO - Many people have asked me why, after
founding two colleges and serving Vermont as a
State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, and United
States Congressman, I give up a comfortable job
to face the risks and challenges confronting
UNESCO and the world. It‟s simple. I wanted to
join the global crusade for human opportunity
through quality education and move it forward
The path to world peace is paved with education
for all. Why? Because success in education is directly related to increased individual
opportunity, economic strength, and societal stability. And the journey towards a
peaceful world begins by educating the hundreds of millions of people who need
literacy, job skills, and further learning.
Education has the power to transform people and countries alike, because it is the
wellspring of equality, ability, social opportunity, economic stability and national
I have spent my career developing quality education programmes for the
underserved. At UNESCO, I can join the global effort to build programmes at the
country level, enhancing human resources and sustainable development.
UNESCO‟s Education Sector will become more effective by collaborating with others
and focusing on results at the local level. I look forward to working with National
Commissions, Permanent Delegations, UN and other global agencies, and NGOs, to
implement Education for All, the United Nations Literacy Decade and the Decade of
Education for Sustainable Development as our defining commitments. We will craft
appropriate and effective policies, and quality programmes that respond to national
needs. We will innovate to solve the problems facing us. Let effectiveness and quality,
not tradition, be the standard we use.
As directed by UNESCO‟s Executive Board and Director-General, I will develop a
leadership framework and programme management model, which will emphasize
decentralization and results through collaboration and teamwork. And working
together, we will pave the path to a peaceful world with education for all. I look
forward to this work.
Assistant Director-General for Educatio
for the young child?
Countries, North and South, are seeking to expand early childhood care
and education in line with the Education for All agenda. While there
would appear to be general agreement about the benefits of early
childhood provision, a divergence of views prevails among specialists as
to the appropriate pedagogy for each age group.
A recent early childhood review mission to Kenya remarked that poor, illiterate mothers
in Kenya‟s Machakos District were vehemently opposed to sending their children to an
early childhood development centre if it did not teach them how to read and write.
Indeed, some parents find it hard to accept that what they perceive as „play‟ is a form of
education. One result is that early childhood development centres are being turned de
facto into early primary education facilities, with 3-year-olds arrayed in rows of chairs
and desks, facing the teacher standing at a blackboard.
Parents‟ misunderstanding of what is at stake is symptomatic of a certain confusion that
prevails about what early childhood care and development actually is. While there is
general agreement that learning begins at birth, there is a divergence of views among
professionals concerning two concepts: „early childhood care and development‟ and „early
childhood education‟. In a nutshell, care vs. education. “The ultimate purpose of early
childhood services is to promote the holistic development of the child: his or her
emotions, personality, and cognitive skills,” says Soo-Hyang Choi, Chief of UNESCO‟s
Section for Early Childhood and Inclusive Education. “It should not be considered as an
extension of primary education.”
It is significant, therefore, that the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and
Development, a consortium of agencies, donors, NGOs and foundations that work in this
field, recently set up a working group to address the early childhood component within
the Education for All framework.
Indeed, five years after the international community set the expansion of early childhood
care and education as one of the Education for All goals, state provision in developing
countries is still extremely low, with early childhood care still often the preserve of
parents, the extended family and private organizations.
Little state involvement
According to the 2005 EFA Global Monitoring Report, in India, gross enrolment in all
kinds of early childhood services is 30 per cent, and is virtually non-existent in much of
sub-Saharan Africa, such as Burundi (1.3 per cent), Mali (1.6 per cent) or Senegal (3.3
per cent). The average for sub-Saharan Africa is just 5.8 per cent.
There are exceptions, such as Cuba, where, according to Robert Myers, founding director
of the Consultative Group for Early Childhood Care and Development, “an extraordinary
effort has been made to provide all children under 6 with some kind of education and
But in many developing countries early childhood care and education (ECCE) is not part
of government policy. “It may figure in national plans, but the funding strategies often
remain dependent on the private sector and civil society support,” says Ann Therese
N‟dong Jatta, Director of UNESCO‟s Basic Education Division.
Clearly, part of the problem is competition for a share of the budget in cash-strapped
economies. “In Africa and Asia,” says Kathy Bartlett, of the Aga Khan Foundation and Co-
Director of the Consultative Group for Early Childhood Care and Development,
“governments are having a hard time just getting the primary education part there, and
the challenge is that they sometimes see early childhood development as a luxury.”
Understandably, therefore, ECCE for young infants, especially for the under-3s, is still
mainly private, often set up in response to local needs and funded by NGOs, such as
Save the Children, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation, etc., and
UNICEF. But the picture varies enormously from country to country. In India, for
example, 95 per cent of expenditure on pre-primary education comes from public funds,
while the figure is just 5 per cent in Indonesia.
As for the industrialized countries, state provision of early childhood care and education
is gradually becoming more widespread, albeit with significant variations in access and
quality, especially for the poor. In the United States, for example, 90 per cent of
provision for under-3s is from the private sector (60 per cent non-profit and 30 per cent
for profit), giving way gradually to publicly-funded kindergarten provision by school
districts from the age of 4.
Reaping the benefits
International agencies and NGOs are trying to persuade governments that it may be false
economy not to invest in early childhood services. In a recent document published by the
Consultative Group, Caroline Arnold points out that ECCE is first of all a right, under the
Convention on the Rights of the Child. She also cites evidence that it is a “frontline
strategy for achieving poverty reduction goals”, while also being a “significant entry point
within, and foundation for, diverse broad educational, social and health achievements.”
Similarly, a World Bank/Consultative Group publication by Judith Evans and Robert
Myers, Childhood Counts, claims that “neglecting children in their first years decreases
the likelihood that they will grow to be healthy, productive citizens, and has been
demonstrated to have economic and social implications for the society as a whole.
The benefits to society of early childhood care and development programmes are: lower
child morbidity, higher enrolment, lower repetition, fewer dropouts, improved school
performance … and lower crime.
Studies in Turkey and in Latin America show that the benefits of early childhood
education are much greater among poor children. And reports from certain East African
countries and Nepal reveal that children who have attended pre-school – 3-6 year-olds –
go to primary school more prepared and better ready to learn. Indeed, the argument that
pre-school is a useful preparation for primary school is easier to demonstrate than more
nebulous concepts, such as „cognitive development‟ that may be hard to measure.
A response to needs
For Helen Penn, Professor of Early Childhood at the University of East London (UK), one
of the obstacles to the successful implementation of ECCE in the South is that the models
and the economic arguments were developed in the North, and do not travel well. The
claims for financial savings “are, in general, hugely optimistic and have limited
application in many developing countries,” she says.
Meanwhile, the emphasis on the benefits of ECCE for the child is fairly recent. In many
developed countries and the former Soviet Union, most of the well-established, state-run
systems of care and education in early childhood came about as a response to women‟s
need (or, more recently, desire) to find paid work outside the home.
In France, where some 70 per cent of women are in paid employment, nearly all children
from 3 – 6 years of age attend a state-run école maternelle, while subsidies of one form
or another are available for childcare for the under-3s that includes activities aimed at
stimulating and integrating the child socially. And, since educational reforms in Sweden
in 2001 and 2002, all children from 1 to 5 years now have the right to nursery school, no
matter how much the parents earn, or whether they work.
In the developing countries, where mothers usually work in the informal sector – in the
fields or selling at the market – the demand for early childhood services is not
Mothers are presumed to be at home which means that governments are not forced to
act. More broadly, in rural areas of much of Asia and Africa children may be co-opted by
parents from a young age to carry out household chores, leaving little time for play or
pre-school. But there are exceptions.
In Bangladesh, for example, a local NGO, Phulki („spark‟ in Bengali) persuaded garment
factories – which mainly employ women – to set up factory-based crèche facilities for
children between 6 weeks of age and 2 years. These give breast-feeding mothers access
to their infants during working hours, so they no longer have to give up essential income
to look after their babies at home. Initially funded by Phulki, the crèche is now managed
jointly by the employer and employees.
The steady migration in developing countries from rural areas to towns and cities brings
its own challenges for young children, as an increasing number of woman work in the
formal sector. UNDP estimates that by 2015, some 42.8 per cent of the population of
sub-Saharan Africa will live in towns and cities, compared to 21 per cent in 1975. “A rise
in urban population is closely associated with a rise in double income households,” says a
2003 UNESCO report on early childhood care and education in E-9 countries, “with less
access to childcare support from family members.”
For many developing nations providing early childhood services for the full zero to 6
spectrum is therefore a daunting challenge. Although governments worldwide are bound
by the EFA agenda to provide some form of early childhood provision, there has long
been a split between the period from birth to 3, which is seen as the responsibility of
parents and largely in the domain of the social and health sectors, and the period from 3
to 6, more likely to fall within the realm of education. Because the Education Ministry
(the „lead‟ ministry where EFA is concerned) is less familiar with early childhood services
to younger children, it has a tendency to copy the primary school model and, in the
name of ECCE, provide „early schooling‟. “This is a problem,” says Soo-Hyang Choi.
“Early schooling is not early childhood care and education.