Early childhood education promotes tolerance and harmony
Laying a strong foundation for children to prosper in life
Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan - 25 February 2019: “Like siblings, five-year-old Muskan Ishaq and four-year-old Kanhaiya Krishan stick together during and after school hours,” says Iram Akmal, a teacher who has been trained in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and works at the Government Girls Community Model Elementary School in Rahim Yar Khan district, Punjab.
“Muskan is from a Muslim family, while Kanhaiya belongs to the Hindu minority. Like these two, many of my students come from different ethnic communities but in the ECE class they all learn, play and even pray together. Congeniality among these children has brought their families closer and is promoting social cohesion in a diverse community.”
In Rahim Yar Khan district, families belonging to different religions and ethnicities live together. Though these communities live in peace and harmony, minor issues erupt among children while in school or at the playground. Often, these issues arise out of misconceptions about each other’s religious beliefs and practices.
“Students in the ECE class are young and have impressionable minds. What they learn here will help form their future personalities. We not only try to make learning easy and attractive for them, but also teach them the importance of tolerance, peace, harmony and strong communal ties,” says Iram.
"The overall environment in schools has really improved. Our children go to school without any apprehension of being singled out as a minority."
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is prioritising pre-primary education in South Asian countries, to ensure that children are equipped through play-based learning with the skills they need to complete primary and, if possible, secondary education. Early childhood care, development and education lay the foundation for a child to progress and prosper in life. ECE promotes the emotional, social, physical and cognitive development of a child to provide them with solid foundations for lifelong learning and a well-rounded personality.
“Since Hindu and Muslim families live together in our district, some minor problems can arise from time to time, especially among children in school,” says Surmi Devi, Kanhaiya’s grandmother. “Being in minority, we used to get worried. However, the overall environment in schools has really improved. There is no physical punishment and teachers ensure that students do not bully each other. Our children go to school without any apprehension of being singled out as a minority.”
“The Head Teacher, the ECE teacher and the Care Giver are all so friendly with children that they have no fear of going to school. Every morning, they are excited to go and when they come back, they tell us all that they have learned during the day. Muskan often comes to our house to play with Kanhaiya and he also goes over to her house. I pray for these children to remain friends forever and our families to always live together in peace.”
In 2015, UNICEF and the Education Department collaborated to introduce the ECE programme in six districts of the Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan. UNICEF and partners trained Head Teachers, ECE teachers, caregivers and members of School Management Committees in how to help young children learn and grasp new concepts through play. UNICEF provided multifaceted technical support such as environment-friendly classroom décor and ECE learning kits with specialized items for early learning through play and exploration.
The same year, ECE classes started in selected public schools of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts.
“Ever since the introduction of ECE in schools, children’s interest in learning has skyrocketed,” says Rubina Shaheen, an official of the Education Department in Punjab. “The interactive approach used by ECE teachers encourages children to speak up and participate. They look forward to learning and try to apply their minds objectively and collectively.”
“Initially, ECE was introduced in selected primary schools which had at least three rooms and two teachers. According to the new policy, every primary school will have at least four teachers, one of whom will be trained in ECE to work with pre-primary students.”
ECE has multiple benefits and its positive impact on children’s learning and personality-building is tangible. It serves as a catalyst for children to learn, a foundation for children to complete primary and secondary education, an encouragement for parents to get involved in their children’s academic and extracurricular progress, and an incentive for teachers and head teachers to enhance their capacity.
While on one hand, ECE encourages children to participate in play and activity-based learning, develop their decision-making power and learn how to socialize, on the other, it enables the teacher to assess a children’s strengths and weaknesses and help them accordingly.
In Punjab, ECE classes are functional in nearly 12,000 schools, benefiting around 100,000 pre-primary students. ECE classrooms provide an attractive and colorful environment, learning materials and toys that most parents cannot afford to provide at home being financially disadvantaged.
“Even before the first year of school, children from lower socio-economic groups, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and children with disabilities are more likely to miss out quality play-based early learning opportunities,” says Rubina Nadeem, UNICEF Education Specialist in Punjab. “This is a missed chance as ECE generates interest in playful learning, increasing the likelihood that children continue their education through primary level and beyond.”
Together with Pakistani authorities, UNICEF works to help more children access ECE, including those who come from underprivileged backgrounds, and fulfill their right to quality education.