Early childhood

The Issue

UNICEF in Action

Resources on Early Childhood Development

 

Introduction

© UNICEF/McConnico/2011

In a bid to expand provision, countries in the CEECIS region have adopted a number of different approaches to reach young children with early education opportunities.

Several countries have introduced, expanded or universalized one year of pre-primary education. Sometimes referred to as Grade 0, this arrangement is intended to address 5-6 year olds or 6-7 year olds depending on the age of entry to compulsory schooling which for example is age 6 in Serbia and age 7 in the Kyrgyz Republic. Children in the age group 3-6/7 years, particularly those who come from privileged, urban families, attend full-day kindergartens many of which survived the transition from Soviet times.

Given the very limited number of places in these kindergartens, countries have begun to devise and expand alternative arrangements for early education, primarily community-based early learning centers and half-day preschools that are supported by Ministries of Education, local authorities, NGOs or private parties. Given the burgeoning early childhood education sector and the relatively independently evolving educational arrangements, it is critical that there is a common understanding and application of quality concepts in order to ensure a) that resources invested will lead to appropriate outcomes, and b) young children are protected from potentially harmful practices.

A generic quality framework developed at regional level is intended to guide the development of country-context specific frameworks, in order to guide, control, and monitor the performance of the respective early education arrangements. It is hoped that country specific frameworks will provide the necessary impulse to gather and analyze relevant data and feed it back in order to improve the quality of services. Quality monitoring and assurance of ECE services is directly related to larger issues that countries face in the region such as ECE programme improvement, scalability, certification, and impact assessment.Monitoring has important implications for equity as it has the potential to identify variations in provision for different socio-economic population groups.

All children have the right to education resources and services that support their development in early childhood. In addition to young children’s right to early childhood education, quality early childhood development interventions are proven to alleviate the effects of poverty on children, families, women, communities, and societies. In the CEECIS region, access to early childhood education (ECE) services, although generally still limited and inequitable, has begun to show signs of improvement in the last decade, with increased preschool enrolments, improved policies on early education and more widespread awareness of the importance of ECE.

The drive to improve access to ECE has not been accompanied by a parallel interest in issues of quality, leaving the region with very little information about how well children and families are being served. As innovative alternative models of ECE services continue to develop alongside traditional models, there is a need for measurement tools to gather and analyze data in order to assess and monitor the quality and outcomes of early education services, with a view to increasing both effectiveness and efficiency. Such data are needed to provide evidence to support policy, regulatory, planning and advocacy processes.

Research in the United States, the European Union and developing countries shows that the positive impacts of early education services for all children, including those most in need, are evident only when services meet a minimum threshold of quality. Internationally, the quest for quality in ECE services, together with fairness in the provision of services, is beginning to appear more frequently on the agenda of international policy platforms, programs and initiatives, in both developed and developing countries and is of growing concern for international organizations worldwide (OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank, among others).

The new challenge for the international community is to support countries in developing strategies for assessing, monitoring, and improving the quality of early education services. While indicators and tools for monitoring access to early education have become more widespread, resources and capacity at country level for tracking levels of and improvements in quality remain scarce. In order to increase countries’ interest and commitment to improving the quality of ECE services, there is a need to create a common understanding around:

(i) the definition of quality for early education services;
(ii) the components of quality that should be tracked and monitored;
(iii) a selection of validated tools for measuring and monitoring services; and,
(iv) the gathering, management and use of information and data on quality.

In early education, as in other levels of education, there are many different factors that contribute to quality, e.g. learning environment, teacher quality, and the home-school relationship. To measure quality accurately, all of these factors must be taken into account. While there are many tools for monitoring individual aspects of quality, e.g. learning outcomes, there is currently no comprehensive framework in CEECIS countries that incorporates all components of quality in a systematic way.

Contents

This ECE quality resource comprises two documents:

Volume I: Entitled Quality in Early Education: Conceptual Choices and Context, develops the rationale and justification for the conceptual framework. It defines quality and presents selected components and indicators of quality for ECE services. It presents the CEECIS context, a brief overview of the status of children (with a focus on ages three to six), and of ECE services in the region. It answers questions like: What are the progress and current tendencies for ECE services addressing children’s needs between ages three and six and before Grade One? What are the challenges that must be met in order to achieve quality ECE services that also reach children who are most vulnerable and most at risk?

Volume II: Entitled A Framework and Tool Box to Monitor and Measure Quality describes the objectives, scope and methodology of the quality framework; it lists and explains seven components of quality ECE services used in the framework. It builds on Volume I by providing guidance and tools for the development of frameworks for country-level monitoring and evaluation. Relevant existing tools for measuring and evaluating the quality of ECE programs for each category of quality factors are identified and recommended for use at country level. Two main sources were used to identify suitable tools:

(i) measures classification by Child Trends (Child Trends 2010, Quality in Early Childhood Care and Education Settings: A Compendium of Measures, Second Edition)
(ii) a toolkit for assessing early child development (Fernald and al. 2009. Examining Early Child Development in Low Income countries: A toolkit for the Assessment of Children in the First Five Years of Life, a World Bank commissioned study).

It is anticipated, that a thorough understanding of the concept of quality and familiarity with the necessary instruments of data collection will enable ECE actors at country level:

(i) to prioritize at policy level aspects of quality across different ECE arrangements that should be measured and monitored;
(ii) to address disparities in the quality of ECE services across population groups; and,
(iii) to maintain and promote improvements in access to quality ECE services for all children, especially the most disadvantaged children.

Aims

The proposed quality framework is expected to respond to:

(a) The policy challenges that governments in the CEECIS region are currently facing in order to improve the quality of existing Early Childhood Education services;

(b) The recognized need to drastically improve the quality of ECE services especially for children from disadvantaged environments in the region, given the fact that there is now vigorous evidence suggesting that only quality ECE services benefit all children and especially children from disadvantaged families;

(c) The international interest in boosting the quality of Early Childhood Education services, in order to meet EFA Goal 1 aiming to ensure that all children are prepared for school and successful learning.

 

 
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