|Children participate in various learning exercises at Preschool No. 11, a UNICEF-supported child-friendly school, in Gijduvan District in Bukhara Region, Uzbekistan. Teachers focus on children’s educational growth as well as their health and safety in the class.|
In the first years of life, children establish the cognitive, emotional and social foundation upon which they can build their futures. Early childhood is the most significant developmental period of life. A baby who is visually stimulated, continuously engaged in interactive activities, hugged, cooed to and comforted is more likely to fully develop cognitive, language, emotional and social skills, all of which are vital for success in school, in the community and subsequently in life.
Yet, nearly half the world’s children – especially girls from marginalized populations – are likely to miss out on programmes that can develop these skills in early childhood.
Studies in developing countries show that early childhood development (ECD) programmes lead to higher levels of primary school enrolment and educational performance, which in turn positively affect employment opportunities later in life. On the contrary, children who start school late and lack the necessary skills to be able to learn constructively are more likely to fall behind or drop out completely, often perpetuating a cycle of poverty.
UNICEF strives to improve young children’s capacity to develop and learn, and to ensure that educational environments provide the tools they need to flourish. We want to ensure that no child is at a disadvantage and that all girls and boys can realize their fullest potential, both inside and outside the classroom.
Our work on behalf of school readiness rests on three pillars: children’s readiness for school; schools’ readiness for children; and the readiness of families and communities to help children make the transition to school. Together, these pillars bolster the likelihood of a child being able to succeed in school.
Children’s readiness for school helps them make a smooth transition from home/pre-school to school in terms of their preparedness to learn and to the new learning environment. Schools’ readiness for children ensures that learning environments are child-friendly and adapted to the diverse needs of families and young learners as they enter school. In turn, families’/communities’ readiness for school connotes a positive and supportive environment at home, which facilitates children’s learning and the transition from home/pre-school to school.
With this in mind, UNICEF’s efforts towards school readiness include work at policy and programme levels on formal pre-school programmes, community-based ECD programmes, along with parenting education programmes and peer-led learning initiatives. In many countries, parenting education initiatives integrate adult literacy with parenting and life skills education.
In countries with a tradition of community childcare, UNICEF promotes community-based early childhood care and development programmes, as well as linking formal preschool programmes to primary schools, and using national standards for school readiness. This approach may also entail training traditional caregivers on the latest ECD practices.
UNICEF has partnered with the Child-to-Child Trust to develop Getting Ready for School: A child-to-child approach, which provides supplemental cost-effective and efficient interventions in developing countries that have inadequate formal early learning opportunities. Through this approach, older children are empowered to help younger peers gain linguistic, social and emotional tools for successful learning and to make a smooth transition to school.
Recognizing that ECD can be a great equalizer for the most disadvantaged, UNICEF’s flexible policy initiatives aim to reach children who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized.
In addition, UNICEF calls upon societies to address gender discrimination from birth. By the time they enter pre-school, most children have adopted socially-accepted gender roles and models of behaviour, which have an enormous impact on their education and their lives.
By ensuring that children achieve school readiness, UNICEF also works toward the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3: achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality and empowering women.
ECD programmes represent a cost-effective investment in the future of children and yield tangible returns for society as a whole.