All children have the right to education as called for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This right is defended by EI within the framework of its global action campaign for accessible, free quality public education for all. Early childhood education must be seen as an integral part of this right.
Early childhood education is considered as 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 centers, nurseries, pre-school education, kindergartens and other similar institutions. It goes beyond what some refer to as pre-school education as an education in its own right, with the purpose of preparing children for school but also for life in the same way that other parts of the education system 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 far from becoming a reality, the provision of early childhood education is still very limited. More often than not, it is organized on a private basis and is therefore only available to children from the wealthiest families. This inequality is detrimental to those who are most disadvantaged. In high-income countries, where the demand for early childhood education services is increasing, two different concepts exist side by side. On the one hand, there are structures which are mainly social in character and their objective remains the provision of child-care services for the parents of young children, especially women. This enables them to be gainfully employed. On the other extreme, there are structures with a more educational focus, whose primary aim is the promotion of a child’s development.
EI believes that early childhood education is of great value to all children and should be available to everyone. ECE is an education in its own right and an essential part of life-long learning. It provides the basis for learning and helps to develop skills, personal competencies, confidence, and a sense of social responsibility. It also helps to prevent child labor by providing a protected environment for young children.
The EI Education Policy Paper and the ECE Strategy adopted by the 6th EI World Congress in 2011 re-assert EI’s position that quality education is a human right and public good which should be available and accessibly to all-including girls and boys from poor families, indigenous children, children of ethnic minorities and migrant children.
As with Higher Education, ECE is one of the primary targets of the privatization of education. While the situation varies across countries, it is clear that there is an upward trend in the enrollment of children in private early childhood establishments. Many ECE establishments, although regarded as public, are actually financed through the payment of fees by parents. In order for ECE to be accessible to as many children as possible, it needs to be organized within the framework of a free, publicly-funded education service.
EI policy on early childhood education is shaped by various resolutions passed by the World Congress. The EI World Congresses have passed the following resolutions with regard to Early Childhood Education: “Resolution on Early Childhood Education” (1998) and “Resolution on Early Childhood Education” (2015). For more information on these resolutions, click here.
The work of EI 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 jurisdiction of the Ministry 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 on education.
EI promotes ECE through contacts and discussions with relevant international institutions such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the OECD and other relevant organizations.
In 2008, EI set up a Task Force on ECE in 2008 with the aim of advising EI on various aspects of early childhood education including strategies for the effective implementation of the 1998 resolution on ECE, ECE policy, practice, programs and activities. Furthermore, the Task Force is required to create an opportunity for EI member organizations to learn from one another and from other participants in the field.
Recognition of early childhood education as a form of education has implications for the training, continuous development, salaries and conditions of teachers. Teachers in ECE are often poorly compensated and precarious. This marginalization is reflected in the fact that women are over-represented in the sector.
Fortunately, experts at the ILO have developed important guidance for this important education sector; the Policy Guidelines on the Promotion of Decent Work for Early Childhood Education Personnel (http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_dialogue/---sector/documents/normativeinstrument/wcms_236528.pdf) prepared by a group of experts. Education International actively participated in the preparation of those Guidelines.