|Uma Sikdar, 24, conducts a play group for children at a UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre in Chittagong, Bangladesh. A new UNESCO report emphasizes the lasting impact of such programmes.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 26 October 2006 – Early childhood care and education make a real and lasting difference in children’s lives, says this year’s ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report’, released by UNESCO and launched today at UNICEF headquarters in New York.
“The first three years of a child’s life set the pattern for their futures, during the period children develop their ability to think, speak, learn and reason,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “And the foundation is laid for their values and social behaviour as adults. For many children under five, care and nutrition – or lack thereof – can mean the difference between life and death.”
Despite the well documented benefits of early childhood development on later education, this link remains forgotten in many parts of the world, the report concludes. Nearly half of all countries lack policies on early childhood care and education, and funding for such programmes remains a low priority for most governments.
|Launching the ‘Global Monitoring Report’ (left to right): UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Peter Smith, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, report Director Nicholas Burnett and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.|
Early childhood on the agenda
“It is no coincidence that the first ‘Education for All’ goal focuses on the youngest and most vulnerable children,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. “Improving their well-being at the earliest age must be an integral and systematic component of education and poverty reduction policies. High-level political endorsement is essential to getting early childhood care and education on the agenda.”
According to the ‘Global Monitoring Report’, the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean lead the developing world in the provision of pre-school education. Some 62 per cent of that region’s pre-school-age children are in education programmes – compared to 35 per cent in the developing countries of East Asia and the Pacific, 32 per cent in South and West Asia, 16 per cent in the Arab states and 12 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the launch ceremony, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet delivered a video message on her country’s commitment to early childhood development. She described a plan – known as ‘Chile grows with you’ – to offer every child and family access to services such as education, early stimulation and biosocial development, as well as maternity and child health care.
“One of the central aspects of my government’s platform is the implementation of an early childhood protection system,” said President Bachelet. “Why this priority? Because we understand that the first few years are crucial for development throughout a person’s life.”
|‘Global Monitoring Report’ Director Nicholas Burnett (standing), presents the major findings of the study.|
Disadvantaged must come first
Targeting the most disadvantaged children should be the first step in any national early childhood policy, states the UNESCO report. Quality caregivers are also essential in early childhood programmes.
Yet in developing countries, those who work with young children typically receive less training than their primary school counterparts. Even in industrialized countries, highly trained educators often work alongside untrained child-care workers, many of whom are part-time staff or volunteers.
“Early childhood programmes make for strong foundations and pay high dividends,” said ‘Global Monitoring Report’ Director Nicholas Burnett. “Each year in the developing world, over 10 million children die before age five of mostly preventable diseases. Early childhood programmes that combine nutrition, immunization, health, hygiene, care and education can change this.”
Nevertheless, added Mr. Burnett, “the children who stand most to benefit from such programmes are those least likely to have access to them.”
Global Monitoring Report
Educating young children left behind in China [with video]
Education for all, from the start [with video]
Early childhood in Iraq [with video]
'Chile Grows with You' [with video and audio]
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