Representatives of EI member organisations meeting in Accra last week called upon their governments to invest in early childhood education. This call was made at a seminar organised by Education International in Accra, Ghana, from 29 -30 September.
The seminar, entitled “Quality Early Childhood Education: Every Child’s Right”, was attended by representatives of EI member organisations from 14 countries in Africa, members of the EI’s Early Childhood Education Task Force and representatives of teacher unions in Europe, and UN agencies and partners from civil society. The seminar was hosted by the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and supported by the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (BUPL) of Denmark, Lararforbundet of Sweden, Union of Education, Norway and the National Education Association of the United States. The seminar started with opening remarks from Portia Anafo, GNAT Vice President, and a welcome address by EI Vice President and President of EI Africa Region, Irene Duncan Adanusa. In her welcome address, Duncan Adanusa, highlighted EI’s commitment to early childhood education, as stated in the 1998 Congress Resolution. The event was officially opened by the Minister of Education in Ghana, Honourable Alex Tettey-Enyo. In his opening address, the Minister highlighted Ghana’s early childhood education policy and programmes, particularly the comprehensive and multi-sectoral nature of the programme. The Minister urged governments in Africa and elsewhere to prioritise early childhood education in their planning and budgeting. Statements and solidarity messages were also received from the Ministry of Women and Children, other government departments, the Chairperson of the EI Task Force, Haldis Holst, UNICEF and other stakeholders. Holst also briefed the meeting about the work of the Task Force. Dennis Sinyolo, EI Senior Coordinator for Education and Employment, highlighted EI’s policy on education and early childhood education, which stresses that education, including early childhood education, is a basic human right and a public good, secured by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He went on to summarise the main provisions of the 1998 Congress Resolution some of which are that: 1) early childhood education should be part of basic education 2) be provided free of charge to all children and 3) early childhood education staff should have the same status and conditions of service as other teachers. Assibi Napoe, EI’s Chief Regional Coordinator for Africa, talked about the role of educators and teachers in promoting and delivering quality education. Napoe said, to promote ECE effectively, teacher unions need to have a vision, a mission and a strategic plan and to forge alliances with other stakeholders, particularly with civil society organisations, parents and the media. She stressed that teachers should engage in continuous professional development and be guided by a code of conduct. Cyril Dalais, Special Advisor to the Ministry of Education in Mauritius and former Early childhood education Consultant with UNICEF, delivered a keynote address in which he stressed the importance of providing holistic and child-centred services. Dalais also shared her experiences from the North-South and South-South collaborative programme. The programme promotes collaboration in various aspects of early childhood education, particularly the training of teachers through teacher exchange programmes and short courses. He challenged the participants to know the provisions of international instruments governing children’s rights, in particular, to revisit the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The participants noted that early childhood education was becoming a priority in many African countries and that the services provided were usually comprehensive. However, a lot still remained to be done. Access was still very low in many African countries and most services remained in the hands of private providers and funders, with little funding provided by public authorities. There is generally a serious shortage of qualified teachers in this sector and under representation of male teaching staff. The seminar was preceded by a meeting of the Early Childhood Education Task Force on 28 September. The Task Force reviewed a mapping exercise they have conducted and discussed strategies for continuing to promote the 1998 Congress Resolution and early childhood education across the globe. The mapping survey seeks to identify and document common regional and international trends in early education, particularly in terms of policy, access, quality and staff and to collect examples of good practice and case studies to facilitate information exchange among EI member organisations and other stakeholders. The seminar came up with the following recommendations:
- Public authorities should provide integrated and holistic services for young children, services that meet their health, nutritional, developmental and educational needs.
- Governments should prioritise ECE in their policy-making, planning and budgeting, with a view to increasing access and improving the quality of ECE services for young children.
- Public authorities should regulate and coordinate ECE programmes in order to ensure that services provided by various stakeholders, including private providers, meet national standards.
- Teacher unions and their members should be conversant with the provisions of international instruments governing child rights, education and early childhood education, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- EI and its member organisations should continue to engage in advocacy activities with governments, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, the African Union, Sub-Regional institutions and other stakeholders using various strategies and media, including workshops, publications and the print and electronic media.
- Teacher unions should collaborate with government, UN agencies (UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank etc), civil society organisations, parents and other stakeholders to promote ECE.
- There is an urgent need to professionalise the ECE sector and the teaching force, by ensuring that all teachers receive pre- and in-service training, as well as continuous professional development.
- More men should be recruited into the ECE sector in order to provide both female and male role models to young children.
- Teacher unions should consider unionising staff in the ECE sector.
- Teacher unions should use relevant existing structures and opportunities, in particular, international days such as the World Teachers’ Day, Global Action Week, and World AIDS Day (etc), to address ECE issues.
- EI and teacher unions should engage in (further) research and come up with documented evidence (reports) they can use for advocacy purposes and to share information and experiences with others.
- Education International should provide information on early childhood education to its member organisations and continue to facilitate information sharing and exchange between its affiliates.
- The African Regional Committee and Regional Conference should consider establishing a Working Group and developing a Regional Policy on ECE.