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Early childhood development

Day care centre at Morata, Papua New Guinea
© UNICEF/EAP03479/Bloemen
Children find chances to learn at a day care centre started by a community-run women's shelter in Papua New Guinea

The Issues

Long before formal schooling begins, a child starts developing language and social skills, the capacity to learn and healthy habits. Recent research has shown that these early years have a crucial bearing on how a child performs in primary school. That is why providing a supportive, stimulating and safe environment in the first few years of life is so critical. But our region is not paying enough attention to early childhood development:

  • Rates of children attending preschool have grown modestly in the region, climbing from approximately 35% up to 40% in pre-primary gross enrolment in our region in the past five years. The progress has not been evenly distributed, and some countries even have experienced a decline, such as Malaysia at minus 11% and Viet Nam at minus 5%. Less than 10% of young children in Lao PDR and Cambodia have access to preschool or other forms of early learning.
  • Some governments are slashing budgets for early childhood development and encouraging privatization of the responsibility. In China, for instance, the Ministry of Education no longer covers the cost of running preschools. Such actions make preschool too expensive for poor families and quality control harder.

Giving boys a boost to stay in school in Mongolia
Giving boys and girls a boost to stay in school in Mongolia

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF works to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood development programmes by:
• assessing our region’s progress on early childhood development and devising a set of standards in collaboration with governments;

• advocating for free or subsidized opportunities for children who are disadvantaged to attend early learning programmes;

• raising public awareness on the importance of early childhood development programmes;

• teaching better parenting methods and integrating them into early childhood development through home visits, school parent days and special events;

• establishing an Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) professionals, with initial discussions among UNICEF EAPRO, Plan Asia and UNESCO Bangkok; a steering committee consisting of 14 members from the Pacific, East Asia and South Asia governs the ARNEC. Three ARNEC task forces have been established and have been active in carrying out regional surveys of early childhood policy initiatives as well as innovative early childhood advocacy efforts;

• implementing early learning and development standards (ELDS) and early childhood policy reviews with nine UNICEF country offices; another eight country offices report activities related to early childhood policy review and/or development. Both the ELDS and policy review processes have relied upon inter-sector networks that bring together health, education and social welfare professionals and experts from government, technical institutions and academia. The standards and indicators prepared under the ELDS initiative have been validated for content and age by six countries, which are now using these tools for revising their early childhood curriculum, teacher training reviews and parenting education.

A child's right to the best possible start in life: Early childhood policy review initiated at a regional training workshop



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