Regional ECDE conference will focus on quality
OSISA & OSF ECP to host major southern African meeting
While the focus of many actors engaged in Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) in southern Africa is on advocating for, and developing initiatives to ensure that, more children have access to ECDE services, there is mounting concern that a number of these programmes will not be of adequate quality to guarantee good outcomes for children.
In fact, poor quality programmes, which are limited to focusing on early learning and not informed by an understanding of child development, may do more harm than good, particularly for the most vulnerable – which is why the upcoming Southern Africa Regional Conference on ECDE from 3-5 December will focus on the theme of ‘Quality Matters’.
Bringing together around 150 participants – including representatives from government, civil society, regional and international bodies, research institutions and academia, and donors as well as regional and international ECDE practitioners and specialists from Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – the conference will provide a unique opportunity for knowledge exchange and sharing of good practices with a focus on how to increase and accelerate the availability of quality holistic ECDE programmes in southern Africa, particularly for marginalised and vulnerable children and families living in conditions of poverty or with special needs.
Guaranteeing quality ECDE services is a priority concern – and one that is repeatedly highlighted in global debates on early childhood development, which needs to be placed firmly on the post-2015 development agenda. Indeed, the global early childhood development community has already proposed a clear global goal to ensure that all children under the age of 5 reach their developmental potential through access to quality ECDE programmes and policies.
There is a wealth of empirical evidence to support the view that when children are not healthy, have compromised brain functionality due to chronic malnutrition, are not provided with appropriate developmental learning opportunities, do not receive a quality education, and do not feel safe in their home, school or community – all elements of quality ECDE programmes – they will not be able to fulfil their developmental potential with negative consequences that will last into their adult lives.
This not only denies the individual child his or her rights, but also deprives the entire human family of the intellectual, social, economic and moral benefits that derive from the fulfilment of these rights.
Although it is very challenging to create quality programmes with limited resources and untrained (or minimally) trained staff, it is, nonetheless, possible. Multiple examples can be found in countries throughout the world, including in southern Africa. And given the on-going global discussion, the southern African region now has an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the wider debate – not by passively accepting external definitions of quality, but instead by exploring and defining a regional perspective in relation to quality ECDE.
And this is why OSISA and the Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Program (OSF ECP) have decided to host a major conference on quality in relation to ECDE in southern Africa.
With its unprecedented wealth of practitioners, activists, experts and government officials, the conference could make a real difference to the future of ECDE in the region. Its specific objectives include:
- Facilitating a debate about what constitutes quality in ECDE services in southern Africa;
- Promoting commitment and action to implement and sustain quality throughout all aspects of ECDE systems in southern Africa;
- Invigorating an effective multi-country and multi-stakeholder regional ECDE network; and
- Influencing research on quality ECDE and sustainable development in the southern Africa region.
The conference is also expected to achieve the following results:
- Harnessing partnerships that can advance an agreed ECDE quality assurance framework, network and research agenda for the region;
- Producing a publication that provides an updated country-by-country and regional understanding of the ECDE sector (outlining challenges, inspirational practices);
- Developing an agreed framework for action on quality assurance at various levels and across various sectors in the region (including country level action plans);
- Formulating a plan of action for the creation of an effective regional ECDE Network; and
- Exploring an ECDE research agenda for southern Africa.
It cannot be overemphasised that policy makers, administrators and practitioners need to agree on, and recognise, the elements of quality programmes that lead to positive outcomes for children and families, as well as strategies for effectively implementing and sustaining them in southern Africa. This is particularly important in the context of recent advances in ECDE provision in the region, including greater investment, improved readiness of governments to act and an increase in national guidelines and policies.
And this is why this conference is so important and so timely.
It is also a critical part of broader efforts by OSISA and OSF ECP to enhance ECDE in the region, through their 2010-2013 ECDE Strategy, ‘Getting it Right’, which seeks to make significant quality-orientated improvements in the early childhood sector in southern Africa. Indeed, the promotion of high quality services for children and their families is at the heart of the OSISA mission to create democratic and tolerant societies in southern Africa.
Such ambitions cannot start too young. If children are to be active citizens they need effective services that promote their holistic development, with trained and informed staff working in partnership with families and communities – and they need effective and quality services from an early age.