UNESCO webinar paints ECEC as ‘the forgotten child’ in society, calls for more attention

A recent UNESCO webinar, focusing on education in the time of COVID-19, shed light on the importance of early childhood education and care (ECEC) to ensure that the learning and wellbeing of young children is given due consideration when educational and care services are disrupted, with a special attention given to vulnerable young children.

Held on 15 July 2020, under the high patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development, the webinar noted that more than 1.5 billion students in over 180 countries, of whom 155 million children at preschool level, have been affected by the largest disruption to education since the creation of the United Nations.

More than 1,000 participants joined the session, which included global leaders, country policymakers, ECEC practitioners and education partners.

Global impact of COVID-19 on early childhood education

The closure of schools and other institutions that provide social protection, health, nutrition, learning and socio-emotional nurturing to young children represents “an immense threat to their development potential,” the participants heard. 

In response, UNESCO, together with a number of partner organisations, will be launching the #SaveOurFuture campaign this month to protect and prioritise education as the key to the recovery – and the best investment for our future.

Central to this campaign is a shift in public awareness, Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education said, viewing ECEC as “an equaliser and a changer” and calling for a paradigm shift in education.

Mr Gwang-Chol Chang, Chief of Education Policy Section at UNESCO presented an overview of the global impact of COVID-19 on early childhood education, which showed the findings of global surveys and consultations that UNESCO conducted, in collaboration with UNICEF and the World Bank, regarding the impact of COVID-19 on education systems and more particularly on early childhood education.

Although some countries have been taking measures to support families, caregivers and children, such as financial support, psychological counselling, and emergency childcare service available to frontline volunteers, the general observation is that during school closures, “pre-primary education was relatively neglected compared to other levels of education”.

His comments mirror those made by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands who said “early childhood development has always been a blind spot in our pre-COVID societies and the pandemic has shown how vulnerable young children are.”

“Why is ECEC the forgotten child in our societies?” the Princess asked. 

Country experiences

A ministerial round-table gave an opportunity for Ministers of Education and their representatives from the different regions of the world to present their experiences and priority actions in this area.

In Seychelles, for example, the Minister presented an  effective communication plan implemented and strong commitment of ECEC leaders which contributed to  mobilise and engage all stakeholders, while the Minister of  Cambodia explained how public-private partnership was built  to ensure learning continuity, in the  use of online platforms, social medial and TV and Radio channels for children with no access to the internet, and even paper-based material for those who did not have access to any distance learning solution with particular attention to children from vulnerable groups.

From the Arab region, the representative of the Minister of Qatar explained that the State has invested in ECEC, by turning to distance education, focusing on support to parents and children and support to children with additional needs, through special channels of communication. 

Saudi  Arabia, as chair of G20 which has ECEC as a theme in its agenda, shared the initiative of virtual kindergarten for children three to six years of age, initiated  before and amplified during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Source:Thesector