Education International has reiterated the need for universal access to quality early childhood education services at an international conference on policy guidelines of the International Labour Organisation.
The event, organised on 23 April in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, was attended by 300 participants, mainly early childhood education (ECE) personnel, as well as National Teachers’ Association (NTA) leaders. The participation of officials from local governments and the Ministry of Education kicked off the bilateral dialogue on ECE-related issues between the government and the NTA.
EI: Promoting decent work for ECE personnel
Education International (EI) Senior Coordinator of Education and Employment Dennis Sinyolo gave apresentation about EI’s perspective on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) policy guidelines on the promotion of decent work for ECE personnel. He also outlined EI’s policy on ECE and ways to promote the ILO policy guidelines.
The 2015 EI Congress Resolution on ECE mandated EI to establish a working group to support ongoing ECE work (research, advocacy, information sharing), and to promote the ILO policy guidelines.
Stressing that ECE is a public good, a fundamental right and service of general interest, Sinyolo said that the guidelines set out principles for the promotion of decent work for ECE personnel to ensure universal access to high quality ECE services.
Appropriate ECE financing is key for quality, equity and sustainability, he said, adding, however, that the guidelines allow for private investment in ECE to complement public funding. Sinyolo argued that private provision is not sustainable and a serious threat to equitable access to quality ECE. He went on to highlight EI’s efforts to challenge the trend through its Global Response to Privatisation and Commercialisation of and in Education.
When questions turned to the ECE objectives and whether they align with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 target 4.2, EI assured that they would if, by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary education.
The Conference also addressed existing challenges such as poor salaries and conditions of service and low union participation of ECE personnel in the private sector, as well as low government funding of ECE, i.e. less than five per cent of education funding goes to ECE where students represent nine per cent ofthe school population.
NTA’s fight for quality ECE
According to Ministry of Education statistics, private preschools make up 70 per cent of Taiwan’s preschools. The tuition for private preschools per year ranges from US$3,200-US$10,000 per child, a heavy burden for most parents with young children. Yet, preschool educators in the private sector, who have long working hours, receive less than US$9,300 as their annual salary.
With the huge quality disparity among private preschools, promoting public preschools is the only way to ensure quality ECE in the country, the NTA President, Hsu-cheng Chang, underlined.
Chang expressed the NTA's determination to relentlessly advocate for:
- Public ECE to ensure quality and equity in Taiwan's ECE
- Improved working conditions in private preschools, fighting low wages and overtime work without extra pay
- Reduced preschool class sizes, to ease the preschool educators’ workload
In 2015, legislators proposed amendments to the Early Childhood Education and Care Act, resulting in the tuition of private preschools in Taiwan no longer being under government supervision in the future. It also madeit easier for private preschools to acquire funds from tuition vouchers. Also, according to the NTA, by allowing private preschools in Taiwan not to hire licensed preschool teachers, the amendments were detrimental to the quality of Taiwan's ECE.
The NTA organised a large-scale demonstration against the proposals on 7 March 2015, in which more than 10,000 people, including NTA members, parents and preschool children, marched towards the Ministry of Education, calling for theimprovement of the ECE environment prior to the act’s legislative review. In response to the demonstration, the government promised to increase the percentage of public preschools and improve the ECE educators’ working conditions in the private sector. Furthermore, the amendment proposals were cancelled and tuition rates of private preschools are still under government supervision.