Author: Bennett, J.
The focus of the text is on future orientations in the early childhood and family policy fields that UNICEF and the responsible ministries may wish to consider.
Purpose / Objective
Its purpose is two-fold: to evaluate the contribution of UNICEF to the Government of Mauritius Early Childhood Care and Development Programme, and secondly, to outline possible policy directions in the early childhood field over the next three years that the Government of Mauritius and UNICEF may wish to consider.
First, the home evaluation team members and the UNICEF Office provided intensive briefings to the external evaluator, concerning all aspects of early education and care in Mauritius. These briefings were filled out, in turn, by a critical review of the main documentary evidence available. The documentation examined included the Government of Mauritius/UNICEF Programme of Co-operation 1996-2000, and other related project documents and evaluation reports. Analyses were also undertaken of the major national policy documents and plans concerning children, and documents on early childhood, education and child policy that have been drawn up by involved Ministries and other sources in recent years. The review of the relevant policy literature was then cross-checked by a series of interviews with representatives of the relevant Ministries, senior UNICEF officials and major stakeholders in the early childhood field in Mauritius. In all, six Ministries were interviewed, three para-statal bodies, several NGOs, representatives of two teachers' unions and numerous involved persons.
A final, but far too brief part of the review, were field visits to different services catering for young children, particularly, but not exclusively, in the vicinity of Port Louis. Field visits are essential if one is to gain insight into how, in practice, an early childhood system works, and how it is perceived by the various stakeholders. This is an aspect of the review that we hope can be completed by a later visit, as the analyses and conclusions proposed here need to be verified and tuned by more adequate field work.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The Government of Mauritius/UNICEF Programme of Co-operation for 1996-2000, was signed on June 1, 1995. The three main foci of the programme from 1996-98, within the early development domain, were the elaboration of a national ECD policy, the training of child caregivers and the establishment of a quality improvement and accreditation scheme for early development centres. These three objectives have all been successfully completed.
The first objective - elaboration of a national ECD policy - gave rise to a participatory, two-year long process of preparation. The Task Force responsible for the drafting of the National Early Child Development Policy Paper (NECDPP) comprised both government planners and representatives from the private sector and NGOs. Much emphasis is placed on enhancing collaboration among the diverse agencies involved in the early development services.
Some criticisms of the process have been voiced by the ADEA (Association for the Development of Education in Africa) Working Group on Early Childhood Development (WGECD). The ADEA study points notably - and justifiably - to a certain watering down of the values basis of the original policy document, the absence of a clear statement proposing affirmative action for disadvantaged children, and an avoidance of the decentralisation issue (Case Study on Mauritius, 2000, ADEA/WGECD Policy Studies Project). What is perhaps more questionable - despite the undoubted strengths of this ECD policy - is the ready acceptance in the policy document of the division in early childhood services. In our view, even if the line of auspices is clearly drawn at central level, there is much to be gained by not separating early development and early education at local level. In sum, integration of services means for us not only co-ordination of the early childhood development project with child health, nutrition and other services, but also the more difficult task of bringing together in a coherent away, early education and early development services at community level.
To meet the second objective - the training of caregivers training, both parents and staff - some 300 members of the staff of early development centres were trained and a pilot parenting education programme was launched. It seems that consolidation of both programmes is desirable. There is a need to standardise and formalise training content and methodology among the various providers of training for child care workers, home caregivers and parents. The production of training kits and supporting IEC materials is to be pursued.
For the third objective - to establish a quality improvement and accreditation instrument - the design of the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System, initiated in 1998, is almost complete, and the system needs to be promoted among providers of early child care services and implemented in phases.
Another instrument to improve quality was also produced, namely, a curriculum for pre-schools. The latest draft of the curriculum is the Programme Guidelines for Pre-school developed by a Task Force based at the Mauritius Institute of Education with a broad membership inclusive of representatives from NGOs and other sectors. The guide aims at providing a theoretical framework for the activities to be undertaken and for the role of the pre-school teacher in relation to children's learning needs. After a period of trial, the Programme Guidelines will be updated to meet more effectively the health and psycho-social needs of the pre-school children.
After the 1998 mid-term review, the original structure of the 1996-2000 Country Programme (CP) was revised to cater for cross cutting priority themes like implementation of the CRC and early child development. As a result, an Early Childhood Care and Development Programme - aimed at giving all Mauritian children aged 0 to 8 years the opportunity to realise their right to survival, protection, care and optimal development - was included in the revised structure of the CP, effective as from January, 1999. A holistic approach and a strong focus on the equity and quality aspects of early childhood services were to be features of the programme. The programme comprised two separate but inter-linked projects: the Early Childhood Development Project, and the Child Health and Nutrition Project.
These and other plans made by the UNICEF office are concrete and brief. All plans are accompanied by detailed co-ordination, scheduling and funding protocols. Evaluation is accordingly rapid and without difficulty. When we checked the progress of various activities with the UNICEF Office, and then with the responsible ministries, the implementation figures were generally in excess of targets. When they were not - or, as in one case, had fallen below target - the constraints had already been identified and were being addressed.
Within the framework of the decision taken by the UNICEF Executive Board to reduce UNICEF presence in Mauritius from 2004, an immediate concern must be to identify key early childhood polices, and reinforce the national agencies who, in the future, will be solely responsible for their delivery and renewal. With this concern in mind, we have outlined below some upstream policy initiatives, based on present programmes, that UNICEF may wish to consider for focused investment. Many of these initiatives are inter-ministerial and will require the advocacy and consensus-building skills for which UNICEF is well-known.
- Reaching consensus about the values on which Mauritian education is founded
- A strong focus on Ministry capacity-building and co-operation
- The creation of a stable funding mechanism for crèches, pre-schools and after-school care
- Integrating services at local level
- Data collection, surveys and research in the early childhood field
- Energetic support for school reform
- Extending parental leave and family friendly work practices
- Increasing fiscal and community supports to families with young children
- Bringing private, informal child care into the mainstream
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ECD - Policy