Early Childhood Education and Care

The importance of the early childhood for the cognitive, emotional, physical and social child development has been well proven. Early years are shown to be crucial for laying foundations of the psychological, personality and intellectual development. UNESCO defines early childhood as the period from birth to one year before primary school entry, emphasizing the importance of those early years for the later developmental outcomes.[1]

New discoveries in brain research indicate that children learn from birth, and that their first years of life affect their later success in school and life. [2] The early learning opportunities hence plays an important role in building social cohesion, as well as in the development of collective spirit and cooperation. Accessible and quality preschool programs, promoting equity and equality, as well as engaged home based learning, have a key impact on the realization of the rights of the child, the reduction of inequalities in society, and are of strategic importance in development of human capital.

High quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings can have profoundly positive impacts during the most sensitive early phase of children’s development and learning as these provide for

1) safe and stimulating environment for each child;

2) teachers/parents/caregivers who empower the child in line with his/her particular learning style and needs;

3) opportunities for social interaction; and

4) experiences that contribute to the proper cognitive and physical development of a child.

In addition, access to high quality ECEC settings reduces social inequities enhancing women’s opportunities for employment, and thereby improving gender equity and reducing social risk and family poverty. The unhealthy conditions and the stress associated with poverty bring about disparities during early development and learning. These inequalities contribute to maintaining or multiplying the existing social and economic differences. Moving around in a vicious circle, children from low-income families quickly and progressively lag behind their more advanced peers in terms of mental development and readiness for school. This gap then becomes ever more difficult to narrow down.

Looking into global sector approaches and child well-being aspirations, the access to early education is the right of every child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) acknowledges that the countries should achieve fulfillment of this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Ensuring access to general compulsory education is also one of the Sustainable Developmental Goals 2030 (SDG).

SDG 4: Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education; By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations; Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. 

[1] Planning policies for early childhood development: Guidelines for action (2005), UNESCO

[2] Institute of Medicine. 2000. From Neurons to Neighbourhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press