Monday 17 January 2022

How to make pre-school accessible to every child on the planet?


Teacher Hosna Ara Dipu interacting with pupils of BRAC Pre-Primary School at Korail Slum, Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo credit: courtesy of UNICEF

 As Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on education systems around the planet, educators and leaders from around the world are trying to build them back better. They are particularly focusing on early education, which has a lifelong impact on children’s education and well-being.

In Sweden, the pre-school curriculum has been designed to respect the language and culture of refugee and migrant children. In Zimbabwe, an organization works with parents of children with disabilities and pre-schools to promote inclusion. These are the types of innovative initiatives from around the world, which the Global Partnership meeting will look at today.

Many studies have shown that the absence of early childhood education can lock children into deprivation and marginalization. And benefits for children attending quality early education impact not only the children, but generations and society as a whole. Yet, too many young children are missing out. Two in five children, mostly in lower income countries do not attend pre-primary school — especially girls, children with disabilities and children living in vulnerable situations, according to a recent UNESCO report.

“Ensuring early universal access to education is the foundation for inclusion in the lifelong journey to learning and a decent life,” says Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO. “Numerous benefits for children attending quality early education span generations and spill into society as a whole. Yet, too many young children are missing out. If we want them to reach their full potential, we have to get it right from the start”.

Educators and leaders from around the world have recently launched a Global Partnership Strategy (GPS) for Early Childhood Education, a series of recommendations and action plans to help governments make pre-school compulsory and inclusive, and tackling new challenges arising from the pandemic. The guidelines address barriers related to socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, language, disability and remoteness. They also call for educators to be given the knowledge, training, and support to implement inclusive practices and work with families from all backgrounds.

Here are just two examples, amongst many others presented at the meeting, showing positive, promising and innovative initiatives, which could be reproduced elsewhere.

1. Over half of Roma children in Europe are still missing out on pre-primary school. In the small town of Orehovica, in the northern part of Croatia, Roma and Croatian pre-schoolers get together twice a week to play and learn. The activities have been adapted to their needs and specific culture. This has created a sense of belonging for everyone regardless of their ability or their background. Teachers have been trained on inclusive education practices and how to best support these young children before they enter primary school. Parents also play a central role at the school and feel supported and valued. The positive impact is not only evident on the children but has spilled over into the entire community leading to better social cohesion.

2. Disabled children are more likely to miss out on pre-primary school because these settings are not adapted to their specific needs. The Masvingo Community Based HIV/ AIDS and Vulnerable Children Organization (MACOBAO) in Zimbabwe has done research (this is very important as there is not enough data on pre-primary children, especially those who are excluded) and identified the reasons children with disabilities could be excluded from pre-primary school. These range from discrimination, stigmatization, prejudice and isolation. Once they had this information, they set about educating parents, communities and schools about their responsibility in insuring that children with special education needs access early childhood development and education. To do so, the organization organizes home visits to establish trusting relationships with the parents. These meetings encourage parents to access services for their child and to overcome their fears about enrolling their children in preschools.

Educators hope that these examples and recommendations will be promoted widely across the globe and lead to collaborations at regional, national and global levels in order to bring about concrete actions and real changes.