Basic education and gender equality

The Issue


Early Childhood Care and Education in South Asia

© UNICEF/India/2012/Abhishek
Leading development and education experts of the world gathered in New Delhi from 27-29 August with an aim to generate dialogue on ECCE in South Asia, from the perspectives of policy formulation, research, and practice.

By Abhishek Srivastava

Global development leaders and policy makers mandate to expand the landscape of Early Childhood Care and Education in South Asia.

UNICEF and UNESCO report a huge Rise in number of children in Asia and Pacific receiving critical Early Childhood Care and Education.

New Delhi, 29 August 2012
: Simah Asir's job as a pre-school teacher is considered redundant by many in her neighbourhood. A resident of a small village in central Malaysia, Simah moves gently between the young children in a class, supervising their art drawings  and ensuring that the children receive formal education, something their parents never had. “Generally, indigenous parents are still not very interested in education,” said Simah. “They see pre-school as a place to send their children to play and eat. But when they see people from outside the community showing interest in their children, they grow more conscious of the need for education. It’s hard. We need to do this regularly”, she added.

Simah's endeavour of imparting early childhood education to children is part of a growing acknowledgement world over that education in the early years of a child’s life is critical for the child’s overall development.  The trends in the Asia Pacific region have been positive. Pre-primary enrolment in South Asia has nearly doubled to 47% in 2009 as against only 25% in 2000, according to a report jointly released by UNICEF and UNESCO.

The report titled Asia-Pacific End of Decade Notes on Education for All - Goal 1: Early Childhood Care and Education was jointly launched by UNICEF and UNESCO during a conference on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) in South Asia.

“Governments in South Asia and partners in education should be congratulated for this significant achievement of providing young children aged 3 to 6 years a chance to enrol in pre-primary programs thus fulfilling their right to an education,” said Ms Van de Wiel, Regional Education Advisor for UNICEF South Asia at the launch of the report.

Regional conference on ECCE

Leading development and education experts of the world gathered in New Delhi from 27-29 August with an aim to generate dialogue on ECCE in South Asia, from the perspectives of policy formulation, research, and practice.
The Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED) of Ambedkar University, in collaboration with the World Bank hosted  the three day long South Asia Regional Conference on ECCE - Towards Evidence Based Policies and Practices Before and Beyond 2015 in the capital. 

With a total of 150 representatives, the attendees included policy makers, practitioners, civil society members and researchers from the South Asia Region.

The experts, in agreement, identified ECCE as an indispensable foundation for lifelong learning and development, with a critical impact on success at the primary stage of education.

Representatives from South Asia including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka initiated and deliberated on various policy level discussions on ECCE.

In an official statement released by India’s Ministry for Women and Child Development, its Minister, Ms. Krishna Tirath expressed the need to strengthen and universalise the Government of India's flagship program on child development, 'Anganwwadi'. Also India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Chairperson Shantha Sinha said that it is essential to decentralise the welfare schemes in order to strengthen the existing mechanism for child care in the country. "The local bodies should play a huge role and we know at that level children are not statistics or numbers, every child can be counted by name and the children are a reality there...They don't become percentages at Gram Panchayat level and it is there that the planning has to be done," she added.

Empowerment with ECCE

Evidence suggests that children who have participated in high quality ECCE demonstrate considerable gains in social, educational, health and intellectual spheres, distinctively different from those who have not participated in ECCE programmes.

ECCE programs cover a wide-range of services such as parenting programs, community-based child care and formal pre-primary education often in schools.

In Indonesia, for example, there are services to improve the health and nutrition of children younger than 5 years. ECCE is administered primarily through community health centres or through the integrated health services centres.

Bilingual programming in ECCE offers an opportunity to empower communities for local as well as global challenges. It identifies mother tongue-based education an important mechanism in building bridges and empowering communities.

Road Ahead

UNICEF and UNESCO hope their report will be used to advocate for more support for quality ECCE; to develop and reform policies to expand ECCE, particularly to the most marginalized children; and to campaign for the inclusion of ECCE in the post 2015 development goals.

The conference sought a comprehensive road map for ECCE and ended with international organisations, governments, and donors most significantly, making strong political and financial commitments. “South Asia has made a huge progress, something that we can be proud of, let us be concrete, and be very clear with the picture we want to achieve. Let us make this moment strategic”, said Ms. Lieke van de Wiel, in her concluding remarks.



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