Education in early childhood

Promoting play and stimulation in developing the youngest minds.

pre-school child dancing
UNICEF/SriLanka/S Noorani

The Challenge

Early childhood education is the first stage of a holistic model that creates supportive and constructive learning for children of all ages. Young children, especially those under 5, need exposure to early stimulation and need to learn life skills that will prepare them for school and day-to-day life. 

 Like Public Health Midwives, caregivers and families play an important role in monitoring and maintaining health. However, due to a lack of understanding of the type of stimulation that children under 3 really need, many of them do not pay enough attention to cognitive development and early stimulation.  These stakeholders, fathers  included, need more education and training to:

  • pass on useful life skills effectively
  • play an active role in the physical and mental development of the child; and
  • provide the affectionate and secure caregiving that growing children need.

From the age of 3 onwards, children benefit from the organized learning provided in preschools. However, a large majority of preschools in Sri Lanka are privately owned and managed, which many parents simply cannot afford. The schools themselves are largely unregulated and not standardized. With a lack of resources and technical guidance, they are unable to provide consistency in content or quality across different parts of the country. Some other important issues of preschool education are:

  • Only around 39 per cent of all preschool teachers have received at least one year of professional training, and their working conditions are not on a par with their counterparts who work in primary or secondary education.
  • Preschool curricula are not comprehensive and tend to be lacking when it comes to promoting positive behaviors (such as drinking safe water or washing hands).
  • There is insufficient focus on the stimulation of fine motoric, socio-emotional or cognitive competencies.

Sri Lanka’s patchwork of preschool education standards, curricula and administration systems has resulted in poor or mediocre learning that fail  many children and prevent them from realizing their full potential. A coordinated effort is therefore needed to ensure that the Early Learning Development Standards (ECDS) are implemented nationwide so that all young children have an equal opportunity to develop the skills and competencies that will prepare them for school life and beyond.

More programs that are inclusive of and sensitive to young children with developmental delays and difficulties should be supported through infrastructure improvements and better access to learning services and support.

National policies and regulatory frameworks should be strengthened so that consistent standards are applied in preschools across the board. A lack of designated national leadership coupled with competing and overlapping mandates often confuse and confound well-meaning educators. Here too, a coordinated, holistic, multi-sectoral approach is critical in achieving quality, inclusive, affordable, accessible and integrated services for young children.

The Solution

UNICEF is working with the ministries of Planning, Health, Women and Child Affairs and Education to advance education policy. Our goal is to enhance strategies, policies, regulations and action plans within an integrated, multi-sector model. To achieve this at a national and provincial level, we are working towards:

  • Rolling out the Early Learning Development Standards (ECDS), which define competencies for young children, across pre-schools to improve academic and socio-emotional development in preparation for formal schooling.
  • Strengthening formal and non-formal pre-school education models by addressing gaps in pre-school curricula, learning materials, teacher development and more.
  • Advocating for an increased public role in the provision of pre-school education, especially for children in the most disadvantaged settings and, where appropriate, promoting public-private partnerships in this area.

UNICEF is working to educate families and caregivers on the importance of their roles in ECD. Steps will be taken to expand the reach of quality early stimulation and learning by working with the government and community level educators to ensure that children are building key competencies and life skills at an early age, using play as an important medium.

UNICEF is also taking the lead in facilitating coordination between important stakeholders across sectors so as to increase joint action and ensure effective collaboration.   

Resources

Everything we do at UNICEF, from planning to execution, is grounded in empirical data, independent evaluation, rigorous research and thoughtful analysis. This information is gathered with the help of our own staff and the help of our network of partners in communities around the country.

UNICEF supports research and uses it to inform every decision we make. We rely on hard evidence to assess any situation on the ground, and we use these findings to drive programs, policies and initiatives.