EARLY CHILDHOOD Care and Education or ECCE refers to the intentional provision of education and care services for children in the early childhood years.
Typically, when people think about ECCE services, they equate it to pre-school education. However, it must be noted that the early childhood period represents the period of development from birth to age eight.
Therefore, we can identify three distinct periods within this range – birth to three years (our infants and toddlers), three-five years (our preschoolers) and five-eight years (our early primary school-aged children). Today’s article will focus on the preschool years – three-five years.
Although for many placing your child in a preschool setting means a relatively safe space for them during the day, in terms of the importance of this period of education this is what we know:
* Research has shown that half of a person’s intelligence potential is developed by age four.
* Early childhood intervention, therefore, can have a lasting effect on intellectual capacity, personality and social behaviours.
What this means is that we cannot leave the provision of early childhood education to chance. We must be intentional in our actions starting with how we regulate the sector, to the personnel with which we staff our settings, as well as the curriculum we implement. We need to always be cognisant of the impact of the early years on lifelong learning and development in order to ensure we make the right quality inputs into the sector.
One of the calls in Sustainable Development Goal 4 of Agenda 2030 for global development is for access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education to support readiness for primary education. One of the questions society must ask is, “Where do you think we stand in this regard?”
While in Trinidad and Tobago we have made some strides, we still have a long way to go. Arising out of the Education for All agenda, we have been able to improve access through the construction of government and government assisted centres; there has been the standardisation of a curriculum framework (though we need some more work to be done here), and an attempt at adopting quality standards through a policy framework. However, there are two critical areas that need to be addressed:
* First, the development and implementation of a regulatory framework that will help ensure the right quality inputs go into the systems and the expected outcomes are realised.
* Secondly, creation of early childhood teacher positions on the teaching establishment. Currently, these teachers work on contract and are subject to the whims and fancy of political expediency. This can negatively impact on the quality of service provided in this sector.
In terms of providing the quality service that will ensure as a society we benefit from our investments in early childhood education, the existing provisions are insufficient. There is a need for us to be more intentional in developing a comprehensive quality framework with clear policies, guidelines and regulations that outline what is required of the sector and the ways in which these outcomes can be measured.
The bottom line is this. It is not sufficient to provide spaces and declare we have universal access to early childhood care and education. We must do more.
The research on early childhood care and education and its benefit is clear. This foundational sector is not a privilege; it is fundamental to an ideology of lifelong learning and development that supports the fulfilment of human potential.
The roots of critical thinking and innovation that we desire of our citizens are laid and nurtured in the early childhood years. These are the developmental years within which children’s curiosity drives them to explore and find creative solution. The early childhood education sector therefore needs to be developed in an intentional and purposeful manner, and workers within the sector need to be treated with respect and dignity.
The quality service provided in this sector will to a large extent depend on the quality of the personnel engaged to provide said service. However, the conditions must be conducive to recruiting and maintaining appropriate staff to address the needs of the sector.
In recognition of this, the International Labour Organisation has developed policy guidelines on the promotion of decent work for early childhood education personnel. The State will be well guided in considering these proposals as it advances early childhood care and education in Trinidad and Tobago.