Bacău County, promoter of early childhood development - part II
11 communities in Bacău County have understood the importance of early education and they assumed the role of promoters for change.
In Buhuși, for example, the mapping revealed as the main need the setting up of a creche, as the community includes many preschoolers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic situation has shifted priorities and the team's efforts had to focus on finding temporary solutions to get through this challenging period.
Therefore, “we sensed the need to set up a health and education information office in two areas, Orbic and Colonia Bistrița, both with a large population, where it was a priority to promote the importance of following the hygiene rules and to educate the community members in this regard. This information office started its activity on 28 July and carries out regular educational activities with work volunteered by the members of the program team, alongside health mediators, educators and teachers.”
A second need identified in Buhuși as being highly important is the Ludoteca for online learning (Resource Library). It is due to begin its activity this autumn, in the central part of the city, and it will target those who do not have access to Internet - children, parents, educators. Parents will be able to take from there educational resources to help support their children with the online learning.
In the rural area of Poduri it was also necessary to reprioritize the needs, therefore the awaited "Day Center for recreation and play" was put on hold. Meanwhile it will be replaced with an online service for psychological, educational and health counseling which will be available on a digital platform and the counselling will be volunteered by program team members and other dedicated specialists.
In Poduri there is also a great need for the establishment of a Ludoteca (Resource Library) within the communal library, with the contribution of both teachers and librarians. "Out of 134 children enrolled in kindergartens, 124 did not have access to the Internet," Mioara Chiriloaie said with concern.
"As many households did not have access to Internet for online schooling during the spring term, the teachers and educators took various learning materials to the library, for the postman and local police to distribute them to parents in the area, with the costs fully covered by the City Hall."
This is how this unfortunate pandemic situation brought together the community and united it around its most important members - children.
In the Municipality of Moinești, one of the main needs identified refers to refurbishing and equipping the existing spaces in schools, as well as extending the space of the “First Steps” creche.
There are 521 pupils and about 600 pre-schoolers in Moinești, thus there is a great need to increase the space dedicated to creches.
Moreover, the mapping revealed "the need for a program of free vitamins and nutritional supplements for children, but also setting up public playgrounds in the Moinești suburbs". But the pandemic context required the reprioritization of needs, so the emphasis was primarily on the distribution of hygiene and protection products to children and vulnerable families, an action that took place this summer.
Furthermore, there is the idea of setting up an online counseling system to ensure the participation of all children in the online learning process, with medical and psychological counseling also being provided through this platform.
In Târgu Ocna, the most important need identified was setting up a creche, but the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the community's effort over the summer towards preparing the reopening of kindergartens in accordance with the new hygiene regulations in place. Since October 2019, significant work has been done for the full redevelopment of two kindergarten buildings.
At the same time, time, in the near future parents parents can access a parental counselling service on educational platforms, provided by parent educators trained during another UNICEF program, carried out previously in about 50 communities, including Târgu Ocna. Parent educators provide their support on a voluntary basis and guide parents on how to use different educational platforms.
Although in some areas the need for creches became secondary, training of educators remained a priority
"I have been working all summer on the guide for early childhood educators and I have been attending training courses, which were very important and timely for the current context. The emphasis was on how we will work with children in the future and on how we can manage this difficult period generated by the COVID-19 pandemic when the school year resumes”, said proudly Magdalena Nicolae, preschool teacher at the Ștefan Luchian School from Moinești.
Magdalena Nicolae was part of the working group that developed the guide for preschool education called "FRIENDLY PEDAGOGY - Approaches in a pandemic context", a group which included professionals from early education services within the program "Romania Grows With You", from all communities involved, together with local teams, under the coordination of the Step by Step Center. The guide is available online and can be accessed free of charge by all educators who need support with developing their abilities of interacting with children. The resources are helpful for the restarting of face-to-face courses for preschool children which requires limitation of physical interactions and close / prolonged contact between children.
"From this point of view, the summer went pretty well!", said Magdalena Nicolae with a smile on her face.
"Without this program, we wouldn't have had this opportunity for training and collaboration with so many colleagues from all over the country. We have distributed the guide to all those we know, through various channels, including social media, so that our colleagues in education have the time to go through it and understand it, before the beginning of the school year.”
Both children and parents, as well as the rest of the community involved in early childhood services, will notice along the way how many of the educators have put effort in their training during this period of time and how receptive they have been to the various resources available.
What is certain is that all the educators and creches staff in the mentioned communities (81 people in total) had the opportunity to participate in training courses provided by the Step by Step Center and will continue to participate to trainings that relate mainly to online learning for preschool age.
‘Now they see things from the education perspective rather than just childcare’
"The colleagues I work with in the creche were very happy with the training sessions that were delivered both face to face and online, because now they see things from the education perspective rather than just childcare and they learned a lot" said Mioara Chiriloaie.
And not only educators have been and will continue to be beneficiaries of training / development courses, but also all other important actors in the respective communities - local authorities and professionals from the field of education, health and social protection will benefit from various training activities aimed at developing the communities they belong to.
"Maybe in time there will be more funds allocated for early childhood, all over the country", Mioara Chiriloaie sighed with optimism.
"Everyone understood how important this period is in a person's life. It builds the foundation! And then they agreed that where services for early childhood are in place, these need to be developed, and where they are lacking, these need to be set up.”
This fall, as a result of the “Romania Grows With You” program, the Pedagogical High School from Bacău included in its offer a class for those who want to become early childcare educators.
"This program has managed to draw attention to the need for specialists in Ante Pre-School education, not just Pre-school"
Considering that everyone involved in the implementation of this program dedicates their time and energy on a voluntary basis, we can foresee a real success, because the desire to contribute to a positive change, each contributing with what they can, is by far the strongest motivation.
"The fact that UNICEF helps children and communities, made me contribute, as a volunteer, in my spare time, alongside these people who are doing these wonderful things.”
The communities embraced smoothly this program because they understood from the beginning its philosophy and objectives, and most of all the main benefits it brings. And this is only the beginning.