Preparing the Youngest Ones for School and Life

Early Childhood February 03, 2015

Panelists at the 2014 WISE Summit examined approaches and indicators that must be kept in mind to provide high-quality early-learning programs.

Early childhood education is critically important for a child yet there is much controversy about how and what our youngest should be learning. Is the priority to give young children a head start and make them school-ready? Or should we take a more holistic approach that integrates softer skills, creativity, play and other non-formal activities? 

Early childhood care and education is becoming a policy priority in many countries as it brings a wide range of benefits – including social and economic benefits – better child well-being and improved learning outcomes. According to Dr. Amita Gupta, Professor of Early Childhood Education, The City College, New York, early childhood education is beginning to get more attention in education circles. For example, in Asia, a slew of new policies has been launched to develop the field of early childhood education. According to Dr. Gupta, these policies are not just about creating learning centers for children but also preparing teachers to be able to teach young ones.

Despite global efforts to improve access to basic primary education, only 46 percent of children around the world have access to pre-school education and nearly a third of these places are privately provided. According to Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan, “children who can benefit most from early childhood education are the ones who are the least likely to get it, i.e. the underprivileged and vulnerable.”

Quality matters and so does parenting!

Access alone is not enough. Access to poor-quality education does nothing for children, according to Prof. Samms-Vaughan: “You can actually harm children because poor-quality early childhood settings have been shown to lead to higher toxic levels of cortisol which damage the developing brain.”

Quality matters in pre-school education, as it’s a crucial period for a child’s brain development. Children need support for their physical development, intellectual growth, school readiness and social and emotional growth. “Acknowledging that each child requires a different level of support for his or her development is where quality lies,” says Dr. Gupta. “It is important to recognize where children are when they enter a program and give them the support they need to grow holistically.

To ensure quality education, Cristina Gutierrez, Executive Director of Genesis Foundation, says: “It’s important to adopt a comprehensive approach, one with greater parental and community involvement.” Dr. Gupta agrees: “In early childhood education, you have to look at parents and children as a whole. It’s important to look at not just learning within the classroom walls but also what goes on at home.”

Prof. Samms-Vaughan adds: “While it’s easy to measure the quality of education in schools, how are we measuring the quality of parenting? How are we measuring the ability of parents to stimulate and provide that really important first step?”

More play for better learning
Panelists agree that children must be given more time for play to help inculcate softer skills and creativity. For Cristina Gutierrez, project-based learning is an effective way to boost a child’s imagination. “Children learn so much through free play – it helps them to learn all about problem-solving.” The panelists also shared their views on how teachers can integrate play in the curriculum. Watch the full session video to find out more.