Lack of access to early learning is affecting children’s future life chances
Quality pre-schools and kindergartens give children a vital ‘head start’ in life. In the right early learning environment, children develop the skills they need to successfully navigate their future growing years. Though Myanmar has made significant progress in developing early learning policies, and has introduced a new kindergarten curriculum, challenges remain. Enrolment in pre-school for children aged 3–5 is just 20 per cent, according to the Myanmar Demographic and Health Survey 2015-16. Attendance varies considerably among different groups of children. Children under 4 are much less likely to attend than those aged 4–5.
Children born to mothers with post-secondary education are more than three times likely to be attending pre-school (37 per cent) than children of mothers with no education (11 per cent). Those living in urban areas are more likely to be attending pre-school (30 per cent), than in rural areas (17 per cent), the survey found.
Children from the wealthiest families are nearly five times more likely to attend pre-school than those from poor families (38 per cent versus 8 per cent).
Some geographical regions are less able to provide early learning for children than others. Children from Rakhine State have the lowest probability of attending pre-school (11 per cent), compared to 34–35 per cent of children in Kachin and Kayah States, according to the survey.
Currently, many pre-school teachers do not yet have the benefit of pre-service training, as there is attrition of trained teachers and in many cases, teachers are recruited and paid for by local communities with few resources. Without training, stimulating environments to carry out their work, and proper support systems, many teachers struggle to provide adequate services. Their work is made more challenging when parents are unclear about the importance of early learning for child development.
Myanmar is a country of many ethnicities and languages and the new kindergarten curriculum is planned to be delivered in children’s mother tongue. However, this has still to be achieved, making it much harder for children who struggle with a language barrier to successfully navigate key child development markers.
Young children are eager to learn, and enabling them to fulfill their potential boosts the prospects not only of the young learners but the nation as a whole. UNICEF is supporting the Government and partners to increase investment in early childhood education and operationalize the national Early Childhood Care and Development policy (2014). In addition, the National Education Strategic Plan 2016-2021 also highlighted the following as three key pillars:
- Strengthening governance and coordination in pre-school services
- Expanding access to pre-school services in rural and remote areas
- Improving the quality of pre-schools to better prepare children for primary school.
Collaboration across many sectors is key to achieving these national goals. UNICEF is a convener for the Government and other actors, including ethnic groups, non-state actors, academia and international institutions, to cooperate to ensure early learning and education will reach all communities and areas of the country.
We supply learning and training kits to more than one million children in kindergartens nationwide and our support for mother tongue-based teaching and learning materials will help ensure that all children are reached in the language they understand.
Underlining the importance of ensuring children receive the right start in life, we advocate for Early Childhood Care and Development to be recognized as a profession.
A pilot rollout of ECI interventions in seven sites during 2018 is enabling action to be taken over child developmental delays, abnormal behaviours, disabilities, malnutrition and chronic illnesses.
To ensure all children are included, UNICEF supports intensive, family-focused, child-centered and integrated Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services to benefit at-risk young children aged 0–5. These services provide holistic, collaborative actions by partners in the fields of education, health and nutrition, and sanitation and hygiene, to provide individualized solutions for special needs children.