All children have the right to education - a right that is expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and defended by EI within the framework of its global action campaign for accessible, free quality public education for all. Early childhood education (ECE) must be seen as an integral part of this right.
Essentially, early childhood education might be considered to be education which takes place before compulsory education, whether it is an integrated part of the education system or wholly independent of it. This includes childcare centres, nurseries, pre-school education, kindergartens and other similar institutions. It goes beyond what some refer to as pre-school education as it is an education in its own right, having not only the purpose of preparing children for school, but for life in the same way as all other parts of the education systems contribute to this process. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) of 2011, used by all major providers of international educational statistics, early childhood education is referred to as ISCED level 0 and primary education as ISCED level 1.
In low-income countries, where education for all is still far from becoming a reality, the provision of early childhood education is still very limited and, more often than not, organised on a private basis, and therefore only available to children from the wealthiest of families. In other words, there is flagrant inequality which is detrimental to those who are most disadvantaged. In high-income countries, where demand for such education services is on the increase, two different concepts continue to exist side-by-side: on the one hand, structures which are mainly social in character, and whose main objective remains the provision of child-care services for the parents of young children, especially women, thereby enabling them to be gainfully-employed; at the other extreme, we find structures with a more educational focus, also offering a social service but whose primary aim is the promotion of a child's development. The educational nature of these establishments is currently being intensified, responding as it does to children's needs, needs which are now recognised by teachers, families and society in general.
EI’s main policy on ECE is shaped by the resolution passed at the 2nd World Congress of EI in 1998. EI believes that early childhood education is of great value to all children and should be available to all. ECE is an education in its own right and an essential part of life-long learning. It provides a sound basis for learning and helps to develop skills, knowledge, personal competencies and confidence and a sense of social responsibility. By providing a protected environment for young children it also helps to prevent child labour.
The EI Education Policy Paper and the ECE Strategy, both adopted by the 6th World Congress of EI in 2011, re-assert EI’s policy position that quality education, including ECE, is a human right and a public good which should be available and accessible to all-including girls and boys from poor families, indigenous children, children of ethnic minorities and migrant children.
As is the case with the Higher Education and Research sector, ECE is one of the primary targets for initiatives aimed at the privatisation of education. While the situation differs in different countries, it is clear that there is an upward trend in the enrolment of children in private early childhood establishments. Apart from that, many ECE establishments in a lot of countries, although regarded as public, are in fact financed through the payment of fees by parents. It should also be noted that the proportion of children enrolled in private establishments is higher in ECE than in primary education.
In order for ECE to be accessible to the largest possible number of children, it needs to be organised within the framework of a free publicly-funded education service.
The work of Education International in the field of early childhood education includes promoting ECE that is publicly funded and universally accessible, advocating integration of ECE into education systems under the auspices of the Ministries of Education, seeking continuous professional development for teachers and other professionals and ensuring that ECE is high on the union’s agenda and part of its overall policy and strategy on education.
EI promotes ECE through contacts and discussions/dialogue with relevant international institutions as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other relevant intergovernmental organizations.
In 2008, EI set up a Task Force on ECE with the aim to advise EI on various aspects of early childhood education, including strategies for the effective implementation of the 1998 Washington Resolution on ECE, ECE policy, practice, programmes and activities. Furthermore, the Task Force is mandated to create an opportunity for EI member organisations to learn from one another and from other stakeholders participating in the field of early education.
Since its formation, the Global Task Force has held a number of meetings (Malta in 2008, Accra/Ghana in September 2009, Copenhagen/Denmark in July 2010 and Washington, D.C/USA in October 2011). Each Task Force meeting was followed by a regional ECE seminar. Each of these seminars came up with specific recommendations on how to improve access and the quality of ECE services in the respective regions of EI.
In Europe, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) - EI European Region established a Task Force on ECE, which developed an ECE policy. The policy was ratified by the Pan–European Conference in 2006, the region and its member organizations commit themselves to advocate for ECE to be a priority on the policy agendas of local authorities, governments and intergovernmental bodies and to promote ECE that is publicly funded and universally accessible. The ETUCE also organises seminars and conferences on the subject and meets regularly to monitor its evolution so as to develop policies and appropriate responses.
In Africa, following one of the key recommendations from the Accra seminar in 2009 was to develop a Pan-African ECE policy. A working group to spearhead this important initiative was set up by the region. Furthermore, within the next few years, EI is aiming to establish an ECE Task Force or working group in other EI regions such as Asia-Pacific, North America and Caribbean and Latin America.
The Global Task Force conducted a mapping study of ECE systems in various countries, and published the findings in June 2010. The study provides useful data and recommendations to support EI Member Organization’s advocacy efforts. .
For further information, please contact EI Secretariat.
World Congress documents: