Let us talk about Early Childhood Care and Education with UNESCO's Regional Education Program Coordinator for Arab States and Education Lead for Lebanon, Ms Maysoun Chehab
الرعاية والتربية في مرحلة الطفولة المبكرة
2022 - 11 - 17
“Learning should start at the earliest stages of life. Universal access to early childhood education offers governments and families a critical tool to prevent and reverse intergenerational inequalities. It is one of the most important investments to improve educational outcomes.” - United Nations. 2022. Transforming Education: An Urgent Political Imperative for our Collective Future. Vision Statement of the Secretary-General on Transforming Education. United Nations. un.org
On the occasion of the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education (WCECCE) held on 14-16 November 2022 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we sat with the Regional Education Program Coordinator for Arab States and Education Lead for Lebanon at UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States, Ms Maysoun Chehab, for a quick overview of the situation of Early Childhood Care and Education ECCE in the Arab world, and related opportunities, challenges, and recommendations.
The Arab region has registered a remarkable advancement in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), achieved a more equitable access to quality early childhood education, and developed innovative programmes in the past 10 years. However, the overall advances in ECCE have masked striking disparities among Arab countries. “In low-income countries affected by protracted crises and conflicts, the available early childhood services are not sufficient to attain the intended learning outcomes, as opposed to high-income countries, where ECCE receives government support, attention and investment,” stated Chehab.
She then stated, “Arab countries made good progress in developing national policies and strategies, which is very important. This alone is an achievement. However, some countries faced three major challenges hindering the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, namely political instability, population movements and marginalization of women”.
She explained that the uncertainty associated with an unstable political environment and prolonged crises determined some countries in the region to reduce investment in education and slowed the pace of education plans. As for population movement, they also pose a challenge because education strategies are developed based on the population situation in each country. When the demographics change because of refugee influx or conflict/war-related displacement, national strategies are affected, and their impact reduced. Chehab pointed out that women’s marginalisation and lack of representation in the workforce is another challenge facing ECCE, and that higher female employment rates could improve child welfare and enrollment in preschools.
Chehab announced that UNESCO organized two national consultations, a regional consultation on ECCE curriculum in collaboration with UNESCO IBE, conducted a number of studies and prepared a regional report on ECCE. She announced that there will be a regional conference in the Arab world to launch the report and discuss the outcomes and recommendations of the WCECCE. “The regional report is finalised and will be launched soon. We will start supporting Member States and providing them with technical support to develop ECCE interventions as per the report recommendations. Most importantly, we will encourage countries that have not yet drafted a national ECCE policy to start working on it”.
The upcoming report encompasses good practices related to promoting early childhood education in disadvantaged communities, as well as inclusive ECCE and parenting education. It also offers recommendations and suggests two general guidelines to be considered by Arab States to move forward with ECCE: 1) to make ECCE a political priority, and 2) to reimagine learning and benefit from the lessons learnt from COVID-19 to invest in new learning modalities and transform the education system. The report categorized the recommendations according to the WCECCE cluster of topics: inclusion, quality ECCE, innovation and resilience, and governance.
Under the inclusion topic, the report mainly recommends diversifying ECCE modalities, rather than focusing on one standard mode of delivery. It also suggests establishing new mechanisms to ensure access to education through complementary and alternative programmes (such as parent awareness, mobile services, campaigns in the media, etc.).
As for quality, the report suggests the definition, development, and implementation of regional minimum standards for ECCE delivery based on international best practices that are culturally relevant to the values of the region. It also recommends developing new flexible programmes for professional development for administrators, teachers, and staff members to address student learning loss, focusing on assessment, remediation and catch-up to narrow or close existing achievement gaps.
On innovation and resilience, the report recommends developing emergency education plans to respond to conflicts and disasters and transforming the curricula to include the needs of all those previously excluded.
Regarding governance, the report stresses the need to provide holistic ECCE programmes and establish effective partnerships to mobilize required resources and accelerate high-quality ECCE provision to all children between the ages of 0-8 years. Other recommendations include establishing a pipeline of investments in quality childcare to transform the opportunities available to children, women, and families, and using local and global evidence to come up with scalable, innovative interventions.
Chehab concluded, “we should use the momentum of the WCECCE in the Arab region and the window of opportunity that it brings for national governments, development partners, and other relevant stakeholders, to establish effective partnerships and mobilize resources to provide inclusive, high-quality ECCE and provide the best possible conditions for children to thrive and reach their full potential.”
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