|Early Child Development: Investing in the Future (World Bank, 1996, 112 pages)|
|Part I. The theory|
|Approaches to the development of young children|
In many countries where both funding and infrastructure are too weak to support the provision of basic social services, private organizations-both local and international-step in to take up the slack. These nongovernmental organizations frequently establish the administrative network needed to bring essential services to the poor, and in supplying these services, develop close ties with local people. NGOs have been particularly effective at mobilizing community support, training caregivers, and monitoring projects' progress when working with early child development interventions that target the poor.
Box 8 Aga Khan Foundation brings active learning into the madrasa
Because all societies value their children highly, programs aimed at the very young must be particularly sensitive to the local context In East Africa, as in other areas where there are Muslim communities, young children receive religious education beginning in the preschool years in madrasas, or koranic schools. But with formal primary education increasingly influencing later economic opportunities, parents are seeking ways to ensure that their children gain the knowledge they need to succeed in the broader society as well as in their own cultural and religious environment For nearly a decade, the Aga Khan Foundation has worked with Muslim communities on the coast of Kenya to find an appropriate solution.
Community leaders approached the Aga Khan Foundation because they were concerned about their children's low enrollment and success in the primary schools. Through the foundation's support, a pilot program and later, the Madrasa Resource Center established in Mombasa developed an integrated madrasa preschool curriculum through close consultation with local religious educators, using the Kenyan Institute of Education's preschool guidelines as a basic framework. The curriculum incorporated child-centered activities that strengthened preschoolers' social, physical, and cognitive skills, promoted activity-based learning for both religious and secular subjects, and strongly encouraged the use of local stories, songs, and games. With support from the Madrasa Resource Center, communities have provided classrooms, organized preschool committees, and nominated local women for training at the center.
An extensive review of the integrated madrasa preschool program highlighted important requirements for its success: increasing poor communities' ability to pay for preschool programs, strengthening local school committees' planning and management skills, including more women on school committees, enhancing the skills and capacity of the Madrasa Resource Center staff, and improving the quality of primary school education to consolidate early gains.
These needs will be addressed as the program scales up in the three countries over the next five years (1996-2000). In particular, the use of endowments to local community preschools will be tested to see whether this is a feasible way to achieve long-term financial sustainability for community-based education. Attention will also go to improving the quality of the curriculum and strengthening the training and supervision of teachers in order to improve their skills and their knowledge about working with preschoolers.
Despite these remaining issues, the popularity of the integrated madrasa preschools suggests that programs tailored to and designed and implemented by the community will meet local needs and can gain wide acceptance.
Source. Derived from information supplied by Kathy Bartlett, Aga Khan Foundation, October 1995.
Save the Children is an international NGO that has worked with atrisk children and families since 1932 and is now active in forty countries and twenty U.S. states. In 1991 it initiated the program Strong Beginnings, which seeks funding from governments and donors for large-scale programs in community-based primary education, adult literacy and nonformal education (especially for women), and children's early development. These areas were chosen because they are interrelated (literate mothers, for instance, are more likely to take better care of their children); need relatively little investment to achieve great improvements; are the shared responsibility of government, public and private institutions, communities, and families; and confer their greatest benefit on the poor-particularly poor women and girls.
Save the Children's efforts are paying off. Stand-alone early childhood programs supported by Strong Beginnings are now operating in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Jordan, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States (New York), and the West Bank
Box 9 UNESCO's early childhood activities
In line with the statement in the United Nations' 1990 World Declaration on Education for All that "learning begins at birth," UNESCO supports families and communities as the most influential educators of young children. Active in UN-supported and other international early childhood initiatives, UNESCO encourages governments to include such programs in their social and economic planning, offers technical assistance, and acts as a clearinghouse for information about child care and family education programs, organizations, and policies. In addition to strengthening regional early childhood cooperation centers in individual countries, UNESCO has created a graduate-level degree program in early child development, sponsored workshops for administrators, and inventoried developing countries' resources and potential for early child development.
The United Nations-working with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), major institutes, and NGOs-provides its member states with support for early child development and family education programs in the Middle East, the Pacific, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. It also publishes some of the latest research data available on early childhood topics.
UNESCO seeks to improve children's home environments by giving parents the knowledge and skills they need to raise their children well. Information programs are particularly important where center-based programs are not feasible. Over the past three years UNESCO has supported twenty different parental information projects focusing on the development and education of young children.
Young Child and the Family Environment (YCFE) Project
Established in 1989, this project coordinates UNESCO's efforts under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with research and other activities in early childhood care and family education. Set up in 1990, the YCFE International Database contains information on roughly 1,500 organizations involved in early child development in 146 countries. UNESCO has published this information in its International Directory on the Young Child and the Family Environment (1991) and Directory of Early Childhood Care and Education Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa (1992). Directories covering the Arab states and Asia and the Pacific-as well as a world source book-are in the works.
Documenting early childhood activities
In addition to the YCFE database and publications, UNESCO maintains the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Database, which has information on policies, legislation, institutions, publications, databases, and major activities having to do with child development It covers 116 countries and has been running since 1993. Each country profile contains national policy, coverage and supervision of programs, major actors, issues, problems encountered, successful initiatives, staff training and qualifications, media-based efforts, and parental and community involvement. In addition, UNESCO provides information and financial support to selected professional journals and reviews including the Coordinators' Notebook published by the interagency Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development.
Source: Based on information provided by UNESCO YCFE Project, September 1995.
Gaza, and early childhood components are being included in women's literacy, savings, and health group programs and in community health and nutrition interventions. These early childhood interventions take place in homes, factories, and community centers and use a wide range of activities designed to enhance disadvantaged children's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development putting them on an equal footing with their more prosperous peers when they enter school.
Working together, such influential international NGOs as the Aga Khan Foundation, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Save the Children, and Christian Children's Foundation and the United Nations agencies UNICEF and UNESCO have sponsored workshops on setting up and running child development programs in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. And along with other interested agencies, they are presently cosponsoring an International Child Development Training Initiative.
Kenya's government has been working with a number of NGOs including the Bernard van Leer Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation-in collaboration with such UN agencies as UNICEF, since 1963 in its effort to develop a national early child development program as part of its self-help, or harambee, policy (Bernard van Leer Foundation 1994, pp. 8-9). Together they have set up many community preschool facilities, and Kenya established a National Center for Early Childhood Education to improve preschool teacher training.
Kenya today boasts a network of district training centers to instruct preschool teachers on the importance of play and the manipulation of materials from the environment to young children's learning and development. Teachers also learn how to provide the children with suitable materials, how to identify and help children with special needs, and how to involve parents and communities in stimulating young children's development and growth.
As a result of these efforts, trainers, teachers, parents, and local communities in Kenya routinely cooperate in developing early childhood curriculums and teaching materials. Parents and communities collect stories, riddles, poems, and games, which the child care program then has edited, reproduced, and distributed to other communities. Such joint efforts enhance the quality of teaching materials available and increase community satisfaction with the program. In addition, district training centers hold workshops for primary school children to encourage them to make toys and learning materials they can use in playing with younger children-benefiting children of all ages-and child care centers provide health and nutrition services and information to families.