The future of a nation lies with its children. Providing quality education to children is vital to the goal of shaping a responsible and enlightened nation. In this article, Sara Piracha makes the case for adequate investment in the Pre-Primary sector which is crucial to achieving this goal.
A great deal of recent research has revealed that children’s experiences from birth to age five have a lasting effect on their future lives. The human brain starts to prepare for learning even before birth, and this learning comes from the child?s early experiences at home and school. Children?s ability to learn, to acquire skills and to develop appropriate attitudes is greatly influenced by how the adults (parents, caregivers or teachers) around them behave and treat them. They also depend on whether the adults accept that each child is unique, with distinctive needs and rights that must be respected and protected.
Teachers or parents, alone, cannot be held responsible for providing an environment that supports the holistic development of a child. Such opportunities arise from the learning environment provided to a child by the parents, as well as by the teachers. A positive environment for children is one that provides on-going opportunities for learning and for making choices that respect diversity and that provides security and creates a sense of belonging in the child. It is through on-going interaction with such an environment that children acquire the skills and attitudes necessary for life long learning and a productive future.
In order to build a nation that is socially responsible, progressive, disciplined, honest and respectful of diversity, adults (i.e. parents, caregivers and teachers) need to play an active role. Early Childhood Education (ECE) professionals should recognise the importance and influence of their actions on the minds of the young. Children learn best through imitation, therefore early years? educators need to become the best possible role models for them, providing support and encouraging them to be fair and kind to others. Thus, knowledge of the three elements of pro-social behaviour: be safe, be kind, be neat is critical. To build an empathetic and non-violent nation, which respects diversity and fairness, early years? educators must be able to imbibe and demonstrate their knowledge of pro-social behaviour.
ECE professionals should be specialists. Children learn best and are able to achieve their potential with ECE trained professionals, because they have extensive knowledge of child development. These educators are qualified to use observational techniques and tools, which are an integral part of a quality childhood programme. Training helps ECE professionals to plan, keeping individual needs and differences in mind. ECE professional are able to plan the environment and the school day in a manner that enhances the physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth of a child.
The role of the family and a healthy home environment also plays a crucial part in the development of a child. Through the initial interaction between a mother (or the primary caregiver) and her child, a child learns to develop trust, a sense of right and wrong, and other qualities, which further her learning at school. The National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education in Pakistan emphasises the importance of the connection between the home and the school. It seeks to bridge the gap between the two settings, envisioning a smooth transition with the support of well-trained, sensitive and knowledgeable ECE professionals.
Thus an effective ECE programme in the country depends not only on the government and policy makers, but also on the participation of other stakeholders such as parents (or caregivers), teachers, and children. Such a programme would not hold any single party responsible for the on-going learning and development of young children (0-8 years), but would recognise that every stakeholder is important to the process. However, it is important to understand that the success of all the stakeholders remains highly dependent upon the role of the government.
Currently, Early Childhood Education is not receiving adequate attention in Pakistan. According to educational statistics for the year 2007-2008 (provided by the Ministry of Education), only 854 specialised Pre-Primary institutes exist in the country, all of which are run by the private sector. To complicate matters many of these do not always use developmentally appropriate practices. In the public sector Pre-Primary institutes are not classified separately, nor is there any separate allocation of ECE teachers. This reflects the government?s indifference towards ECE.
The total Pre-Primary enrolment in the country stands at 7 million, out of which only 38% of the children receive specialised ECE in institutes classified as Pre-Primary. On the other hand, primary school enrolment stands at over 17 million, which means that only a small fraction of children commencing school education have received ECE. Therefore a large proportion of children who begin formal schooling in Pakistan are not exposed to the benefits of quality Early Childhood Education.
Source: Pakistan Education Statistics 07-08
If more children are exposed to early learning settings under the care of well-trained staff, they stand a greater chance of developing to their potential and help build a nation that is enlightened, socially united and responsible. Therefore, the Government of Pakistan needs to invest in ECE, provide for training programs and open more Pre-Primary classes in order to make quality education accessible to everyone.
Bridging the student achievement gap
Another important benefit of providing equal ECE opportunities to all segments of society is the reduction of the student achievement gap. This gap results because students from high-income families have better knowledge and greater readiness for school learning compared to those from low-income backgrounds. By providing ECE, the government can lessen this disparity. Furthermore through greater attention and investment in ECE, society will be able to achieve better returns on its investment in Primary, Secondary and Higher education. This is mainly because by fully preparing children at the Pre-Primary level, they would be better able to derive the maximum benefit from their subsequent educational experience. Therefore ECE needs to be recognised as vital to the nation?s pursuit of human capital and its development of a responsible citizenry. ECE needs to be seen as an important and specialised stage of education that requires separate investment not just by the private sector, but also by the government.
Sara Piracha is an early years? teacher and a recent graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE.