What is needed to ensure the best start in life for every child
National Strategic Plan of Action for Early Childhood Development
TBILISI. 11 July. 2008. The National Strategic Plan of Action for Early Childhood Development being launched today at the Parliament of Georgia aims at providing an overarching framework for young children’s health and education. The Action Plan underlines the importance of children’s holistic development, and defines children’s needs in both health and educational spheres.
The National Strategic Plan was developed by the National Alliance on Early Childhood Development, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs with the support of UNICEF.
“Over the last years Georgia has tried to develop policies and programmes in line with international standards. In this context, developing a shared vision for early childhood development is one of the key programmatic innovations. Without improving the situation of children it will not be possible to eliminate poverty, and improve the quality life of our population,” said Giorgi Tsereteli, Vice-Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Chair of the Early Childhood Alliance.
The National Alliance on Early Childhood Development, established by the Health and Social Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Georgia with the support of UNICEF a year ago, is leading the overall design, coordination and oversight of the implementation of the National Strategic Plan.
“UNICEF is actively collaborating with the National Alliance on Early Childhood Development to ensure full integration of early child development principles into the plans and reforms of the health and education sectors,” said Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Representative in Georgia. “This approach takes into account a wide range of children’s needs: good health care and nutrition for children and mothers, clean water and proper sanitation, psycho-social care and attention to early learning, along with better protection from violence, exploitation and discrimination. It is of crucial importance to consider all of these components to ensure the best possible start in life for every child. We highly recommend all policymakers to invest in early child development programmes as the best way to eradicate poverty, fulfill children’s rights, and develop human capital and economic growth” Barberis added.
"We highly recommend all policymakers to invest in early child development programmes as the best way to eradicate poverty, fulfill children’s rights, and develop human capital and economic growth” said Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Representative in Georgia.
Mainstreaming of early childhood development into the Health Sector
In early years it is not enough to focus only on the health needs of a child. In Georgia, as well as in the rest of the former soviet republics, psycho-social development continues to be neglected. Currently, there is no mechanism in place to assess child development beyond his/her basic physical development, nor the achievement of main developmental milestones, and screening for abuse and neglect or mental health issues.
Thus, the integration of early childhood development principles within the health sector is of paramount importance. Currently, all 0-3 children in the country are entitled to patronage visits from doctors and nurses but these visits mainly focus on the physical development of the child. It is essential for nurses to incorporate social and emotional development based on an agreed development monitoring guide. The patronage visits are also instrumental to the education of parents and families on the importance of early childhood. The patronage visits will also provide a valuable opportunity to screen for child abuse and neglect.
Maternity houses will begin a dialogue with parents on child’s health and development, the importance of early stimulation, and social interaction, healthy nutrition and timely immunization.
Special attention will be given to reaching the poorest and most socially isolated members of the society.
Mainstreaming of early childhood principles into the Preschool Education Sector
Presently in Georgia there is no state policy, system or regulatory framework regarding the education and development of children prior to primary school entry. The ongoing reforms in education and child protection do not sufficiently address preschool needs. Only 44 per cent of children attend pre-school institutions in Georgia and 20 percent of them seem to be falling significantly behind in school readiness.
The National Strategic Plan of Action for Early Childhood Development envisages creating a framework for quality pre-school education in Georgia: setting standards for child care and pre-school institutions; development of new policies in the area as well as improving services provided to children in existing pre-school institutions; rehabilitating kindergartens; designing a new curriculum and teaching programmes for children; and, enhancing skills of child care personnel in these institutions.
Mainstreaming of early childhood principles into Academia
The lack of training related to child development for professionals (including the pre- and post-graduate levels) remains a consistent and significant gap across the health and education sectors. The plan envisages the mainstreaming of early child development principles into the curricula of the relevant higher educational institutions (medical, psychology, pedagogic, social work, etc.).
The development of an evidence-based early child development curriculum as an integral part of the university courses for undergraduate medical students and doctor-residents has been already initiated. All third year students of the medical faculty and paediatric residents will have access to the mandatory early child development courses, including relevant theoretical and practical sessions. Early child development will be also introduced as an elective subject for the higher year medical students, and eventually will be integrated into the curricula of family doctors and nurses.
The Tbilisi State Medical University will build partnership with selected western universities with well-developed early child development know-how, in order to bring good practices and experiences and evidence-based scientific early child development approaches into the country.
The Child Development Centre in Tbilisi is being established at the clinical site of the Tbilisi State Medical University Pediatric Division to host under- and post-graduate students, residents, doctorate degree seekers, and will be used as an on-the-job training facility for health practitioners (continued medical education). On the other hand, the Center will build the capacity of health providers in early child development, and will serve as the referral point for children with suspected developmental problems.
Education programmes for parents and families
The studies demonstrated inadequate knowledge and practices among parents and families for young child care, healthcare, and development. Responsive parenting and early stimulation practices were found to be inadequate in at least two thirds of families; 56 per cent of families do not have resources to promote early child development (i.e. books, toys); fathers involvement in early childhood development is also inadequate; 60 per cent of families report corporal punishments as a common and frequent practice with a high (11 per cent) child injury rate at home.
The National Strategic Plan of Action for Early Childhood Development includes a clear focus on educational programmes on early child development for parents and families (including rural/urban population, vulnerable and socially disadvantaged groups), within both the health and education sectors.
Early Childhood Development refers to the period up to eight years of age, or until the transition to school. The latest scientific evidence indicates that this period of life is crucial and has a major impact on children’s health, growth, and development. Early years are the formative period of development, with the human brain growing to 80 per cent of the adult size by age three, and 90 per cent by age five.
Programmes that combine health and education are more effective in improving a child's current wellbeing and preventing future problems. Moreover, a high quality early childhood programmes are a very good financial investment and for every $1 invested in high-quality early childhood education, $7-8 are returned to society.
Latest research demonstrates that children involved in high-quality early childhood programmes form closer and more secure attachments with teachers, show more positive interaction with peers, have wider vocabularies and show better pre-reading and pre-math skills. Moreover, these are more prepared for school entry and have better high school graduation rates. The research also proves that young children who have attended high quality preschool programmes have lower rates of crime, higher rates of employment and higher lifetime earnings.