Supporting the expansion and strategic development of early childhood education and care in Cyprus

A brief on the EU TSI project in Cyprus

Child writes is a school workbook.
UNICEF/UN0774463

Highlights

Early childhood offers a critical window of opportunity to shape the trajectory of a child’s holistic development and build a foundation for their future. The European Pillar of Social Rights states that all children have the right to affordable Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) of good quality. It is in the earliest years of a child’s life that the foundation and capacity to learn is laid, and this is built on throughout life. Learning is an incremental process; building a strong foundation in the early years is a precondition for higher level competence development and educational success as much as it is essential for health and the well-being of children. Participating in ECEC is beneficial for all children and especially beneficial for children of a disadvantage background. It helps by preventing the formation of early skills gaps and thus it is an essential tool to fight inequalities and educational poverty. Quality, affordable and accessible ECEC also allows for increased parental workforce participation. 

Cyprus

Cyprus acknowledges the importance of providing affordable high-quality ECEC as a condition for promoting children’s early development and their subsequent school performance. It recognizes ECEC as an area that needs improvement and therefore has high policy priority. This is highlighted in the national Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) adopted in 2021. Through its RRP, Cyprus also aims to enhance the availability of quality care and social development infrastructure for children, and thus address the shortcomings highlighted by the relevant Country Specific Recommendation of the 2019 European semester cycle1.

The Cyprus RRP 2021-2026 identifies the main challenges in the area of ECEC as follows:

  • Cyprus relies heavily on informal settings or private institutions and social protection for families and children, as a proportion of GDP. This is comparatively low at 1.3% v EU 2.5% in 2016. This low investment is linked to weak support for disadvantaged children in ECEC and undermines potential long-term benefits of quality ECEC for inclusive educational outcomes;
  • Free childcare is mainly limited only to guaranteed minimum income recipients, who also receive subsidization for private childcare. Depending on the age of the child, the type and provider of services, monthly fees range from €70 to €400, creating a disproportionate burden for families;
  • The ECEC enrolment gap is higher for children under the age of three: while 97% of children aged 4 to 6 were enrolled in ECEC in 2019 (EU average 95.4%), 20.7% of children under the age of three participated in ECEC, below both the EU average (35.1%) and the Barcelona target (33%). The proportion of children 0 to 3 enrolled in ECEC was seriously impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, decreasing from 31.1% in 2019;
  • The total fertility rate (2019) was 1.33, which since 1995 remains below the replacement level of 2.10 and is lower that the EU average of 1.55”.

 

Cyprus is committed to ECEC reforms and as such has a strong ECEC focus on their RRP and has requested technical support from the EU through the Technical Support Instrument (TSI) to enhance the quality, affordability, accessibility, and inclusiveness of ECEC for children aged 0-6. The Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth and the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare (Social Welfare Services) are committed to this project by driving this exciting intervention.

In 2019, the Council Recommendation adopted in the context of the European Semester for Cyprus, acknowledged (recital 11) that “educational achievements remain low as does participation in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) which has become less affordable for households as their income during the crisis fell at a faster rate than childcare costs”. The Council adopted a relevant country specific recommendation (CSR 3) specifically addressing ECEC: “Deliver on the reform of the education and training system, including teacher evaluation, and increase employers’ engagement and learners’ participation in vocational education and training, and affordable childhood education and care”. The 2020 Country Report for Cyprus, published by the European Commission in the context of the European Semester (SWD (2020) 512 final), concerning the progress on above CSR on ECEC, concluded that “limited progress has been made, as supporting measures for affordable ECEC are still lagging behind. The availability of affordable and accessible childcare is an area where divergence exists and free/low cost childcare is limited, creating a disproportionate burden for families”.
Author(s)
UNICEF
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English