Author: Research Institute of Motherhood and Childhood and National Institute of Education
The research entitled “Early Children Development” was conducted on request of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Belarus by consultants of the Research Institute of Motherhood and Childhood and National Institute of Education in October-December 2001. It is essential to contribute to the understanding by the government, legislative authorities and the general public of the role of a family as being the key component of the society which needs social protection and support in fulfilling its major function, namely birth and upbringing of physically and emotionally healthy children. This is especially important for Belarus because the current social and economic crisis entails reproduction crisis.
Purpose / Objective
The objective of the research was to determine the range of problems related to the healthy start in life as well as to seek possible ways for their solution.
Tasks of the research were to evaluate:
- accessibility and quality of primary health services provided to pregnant women and children at an early age; economic and social conditions for families and parents who take primary care of children
- the level of access to safe water, sanitation and garbage collection systems;
- the scale of discrimination, neglect, lack of care, cruel treatment and violence in relation to women and children
- the general level of parents' knowledge on how to take care of children and ensure their early development
- parents' attitude to respective organizational forms (channels) of obtaining new information on how to improve educating skills
- the scales of problems that pregnant women and young mothers consider as their priority problems
- efficacy of the implemented programs for supporting breast feeding and forming a healthy child
- the system of governmental institutions' support to families and children
- the condition of health of pregnant women, neonates and young children
- early diagnosis and interventions for preventing deterioration of children's health and disability; iodized salt supply and demand
- existing forms of pre-school care and early child education
- existing national policy measures regarding early childhood development (ECD)
- expenditures allocated from national and local budgets for priority programs on survival, development and protection of young children
When the existing national policy measures related to ECD were assessed, regulatory documents in the field of protection of women's and children's rights, social guarantees and measures for provision of guaranteed free medical support were analyzed. The organizational infrastructure of the motherhood and childhood protection system in the country was also evaluated. When the existing problems were identified, the basic indicators characterizing the condition of women's and children's health in Belarus were analyzed. To assess the level of public knowledge on the key issues as well as basic difficulties encountered while rendering support to young children and pregnant women, a sociological opinion poll was conducted among 1,700 pregnant women and 1,740 young mothers having infants under one year of age.
Another sociological opinion poll was organized to study iodized salt supply and demand; this poll was conducted among 2,000 respondents. In analyzing the efficacy of programs on the promotion of breast-feeding implemented in the country, 2,000 men and women of different age groups were interviewed.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The research demonstrated that, over many years, the protection of mother and child health has been a priority line in the state policy, including the sphere of health protection. At the same time, a rather great number of difficulties related to the medical support of pregnant women and children that are of organizational nature have been identified. Many of these problems may be solved by changing the attitude of medical personnel, including middle-level personnel, to the patient applying for help.
It is very important that a medical worker should properly understand his/her role as a counselor, be capable of assisting a patient to take a correct decision regarding the preservation of his/her health, rather than as an official who takes decisions instead of the patient.
Problems have been outlined connected with the general level of public awareness: violence against women (including pregnant women) is occurring in a rather great number of families; a significant share of pregnant women does not receive proper attention from other people.
Almost half of the rural population do not have access to water supply controlled by sanitary authorities; safe heating and sewerage systems are not in place.
Programs implemented in the country for supporting breast feeding and preventing iodine deficiency disorders are rather efficacious. Majority of the population are aware of the advantages of breast feeding and of the need to use iodized salt.
Most government programs are designed, principally, for professionals in the fields of medicine and pedagogy. While specialists knowing methods of rational physical and psychological education of children at an early age are available in the country, there are no educational materials devoted to issues of care and education, adapted for parents and members of their families. The majority of parents wish to expand their knowledge on this issue. They indicate television programs and popular scientific literature as the desired sources of information.
The results of the study have allowed the following proposals to be made on ensuring decent development of the child at the age of 0 - 6-7 years:
- to substantiate the introduction of the new cost-efficient forms of pre-school education as the mechanism of preserving and developing the network of pre-school institutions;
- to work out a package of documents ensuring research and methodological support to the process of setting up, operation and development of the new forms of pre-school education in rural areas such as seasonal (play) ground, day care center of family-type, home groups and to develop the model «Day care center - school» which is seen as the most suitable form of a pre-school institution in rural areas;
- to develop (based on the collaboration of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education) the forms of methodological support of educating a child in the basics of a healthy life style for teachers (parents), and direct mechanisms of the formation and adoption of a healthy life style by children i.e. the guidelines of "double address" assuming for joint efforts of a child and of an adult. The key component should be the adoption of a healthy life style by the parents of the child and other family members, a balanced daily diet and schedule, and the relevant psychological education of the child;
- to develop a system of government measures aimed at the formation of a "health dominant" in the society and to encourage a healthy physical and spiritual mode of life. One of the directions can be the establishment of micro-ecological schools within the system of health care and education, with the purpose to improve children's health; the Ministry of Health is supposed to develop the program for informing teachers and other school staff about the current specifics of children's morbidity and risk factors negatively affecting the child's health and causing chronic pathologies, particularly if a child has inborn or genetic susceptibility to diseases;
- to develop the package of diagnosing techniques for the comprehensive medical, psychological and pedagogical testing of the child's development at the age of 0 - 6-7 years;
- to substantiate and develop the basics of pedagogical testing, to ensure the relevant methodological and instrumental support;
- to publish the set of "tests in the form of a game" with explanations and recommendations. This would give a child an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills, and an adult (a teacher, a parent) would be able to monitor the child and to assess the level of his or her development;
- to study the age specifics of children (0-3 years), to ensure the relevant research and methodological support covering the specifics typical for this age period and to help the child to actively participate in creative activities, communication and games;
- to develop and publish age-specific materials (books, games, toys for ensuring sexual and role self-identification of pre-school children; as well as books, games, toys and guidelines for schoolchildren and students, helping them to realize the importance of the role of the mother and father) contributing to the formation of well-informed parental choices in today's children and young people of different age groups.
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ECD - Policy