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Investing in early learning & development essential to get children on track

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 16 April 2009 - Following a two-year development process, today the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy together with UNICEF presented new early learning and development standards (ELDS) for children aged 0-6 years.  The standards build on evidence that the first years of life are crucial years for children for the development of the cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills they need to reach their full potential and succeed in school and life.  The standards will help parents and care givers ensure that they are on track in meeting their obligations to young children.

“The evidence is unambiguous,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative. “Setting  ambitious early childhood development standards for learning and care, and investing state and community resources to ensure that these standards are met , has enormous potential to boost educational achievement, promote social inclusion and promote good citizenship.”

“It is one of the best investments a state can make.”

Studies have shown that investments in early childhood education yield a return that far exceeds the return on most other public investments. For every dollar spent on early childhood care there is at least a seven dollar return through cost savings. This figure is derived from studies showing that children who participate in pre-school are less likely to suffer illnesses, repeat grades, drop out of school, or require remedial services later in life.

Unfortunately, kindergartens are the only form of organized early learning opportunities currently funded by the state and do not receive adequate budgetary resources.  Moreover, due to limited infrastructure that is often available only  in urban areas, and due to the fees which  many parents cannot afford, only 11% of young children attend kindergarten - a far lower percentage than in most countries in the region.  This means that almost nine in every ten children are enrolling in primary school at a disadvantage.

To address this, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy together with UNICEF have been working on establishing other cost effective forms of ECD to increase access, such as outreach services by kindergartens, community-based centres and programmes for parent education. 

“Investments in early childhood development, either through improving access to kindergartens or other cost-effective alternatives organized in the communities, will pay tremendous dividends down the road,” Yett added.

In the broader context, ensuring ELDS are in place is important since they are the basis for ensuring minimum standards of provision and quality of services. During the process of validation of the ELDS it was revealed that young children are not given sufficient support in all areas of development. Focus is given on the physical well-being and motor development with insufficient stimulation of other domains such as cognitive and social and emotional development.  The standards provide information on what children 0 – 6 years should know and be able to do.  Equally important they also provide practical information to help stimulate development for parents, educators and other professionals working with young children.
While the ELDS will be used by parents and professionals working with young children, they present a basis for reforming services that support early childhood learning and development in the country and are being used to guide the development of the National Early Childhood Development Policy, currently being drafted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.  As part of this policy, it is expected that the existing pre-school education programme and teacher training programmes will be revised, new parent education programmes will be developed and monitoring system will be put in place.

The development and implementation of the ELDS are part of a broader Early Childhood Development (ECD) Programme supported by UNICEF.  This programme includes support to build the capacity of kindergartens to increase access to quality pre-school services; support to community-based ECD centres in the most disadvantaged communities and support to develop a National ECD Policy. 

The Early Learning Development Standards can be downloaded by visiting www.unicef.org.mk.

For additional information please contact:

Suzie Pappas Capovska, Communications Officer, UNICEF Skopje 389 (02) 3231-150, spappas@unicef.org




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