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The argument: To build sustainable and resilient ECCE systems, countries and partners should focus on how ECCE services help reducing the early learning gaps.
The evidence: Research evidence shows that investment in ECCE is one of the most efficient investments in human capital (Heckman 2003). Holistic child development by providing nutrition, care, health, protection and early learning, is the pathway to quality ECCE services (Lancet 2017) promising quality ECCE interventions, and providing opportunities to start early in addressing poverty, inequality, and social exclusion (Lancet 2017). Cognitive sciences findings also show that early stimulation and early learning opportunities are crucial for brain and cognitive development to reach full brain development. A key proxy indicator impacting early learning is language development because it impacts all other domains of ECD, especially for children (Snow 2012). Good quality ECCE results in cost-savings and increased efficiency in primary education: higher attendance and achievement, lower repetition and drop-out rates, less remedial and special education (GEM 2016).
The learning crisis and the learning gap: Despite the need for early stimulation, development, and early learning opportunities ‘250 million children worldwide cannot read, write or do basic math, 130 million of whom are in school’ (UNESCO GMR 2014; GEM 2016). And how many children do not have access to ECCE services and to early learning opportunities? Only half of all three to six-year-olds have access to pre-primary education. Developed countries’ student achievement surveys (PISA and PIRLS) clearly show, on average, in participating EU-28 countries, that students who attended ECCE outperformed those who did not by 35 points – the equivalent of almost one full year of formal schooling (Eurydice 2014).
In addition, socio-economic challenges, demographics trends, emigration and refugee movements, as well as public expenditure constraints are further stressing the expansion of the quality and resilience of ECCE systems as it is known.
There is a clear human capital crisis regarding Early Childhood Development.
The way forward: In fact, ECCE could play a crucial role in addressing the learning crisis and early learning gap, and support more sustainable and resilient ECCE systems by focusing on:
a. Sustainable, flexible and equitable investment and policies for quality inclusive ECCE reaching all young children and the most disadvantaged and at risk of adversities.
b. Continuously applying quality assurance mechanisms for holistic, equitable, inclusive ECCE and early learning opportunities for all children, using a quality framework (access, workforce, curricula, M&E, governance and funding).
c. Enhancing ECCE curricula to meet the well-being and educational needs of all children, reduce the early learning gap. Well-designed curricula supporting development, social, emotional, learning and linguistic competences of children. Language development may be an excellent entry point to help countries to stabilize and even reduce the early learning gap for all populations, and especially for children at risk of adversity.