Early Childhood Care and Education conference-How experts sought to improve child development


 A friendly word from VP Faure for the young lovely guests who in return pay him their full attention

Their aim is to help the children get a strong start in life that will positively impact on their development.
The forum was jointly organised by the national high level policy committee and the Institute of Early Childhood Development (IECD) under the theme ‘From Policy to Action.’

The organisers said that increasing evidence confirms that early experiences greatly influence the overall development of the child and have considerable impact on later learning and human development.

Governments worldwide are placing strong emphasis on ECCE, they said.
In Seychelles a High Level Early Childhood Care and Education Committee has been set up, a Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education has been designed and was endorsed in 2011 and a National Action Plan has been produced and was validated this year.

The second biennial conference was organised as a follow-up to celebrate ECCE and give more information on early childhood development. Stakeholders, partners and individuals with strong interest in the wellbeing of children were invited to share achievements in ECCE, to respond to the challenges in the implementation of the National Action Plan, and to anticipate and support projected action. Presentations were on global issues, local and international projects, and national plans.

A choir entertaining the guests and delegates during the opening ceremony

Some of the experts who gave presentations were the chief executive of the IECD Shirley Choppy, director for basic learning and skills development of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, and senior lecturer from Singapore’s Seed Institute Mona Tan.

Others who shared their knowledge were Dr André Leste, a consultant at the Ministry of Education and principal education officer Egbert Benstrong who is based in the office of the principal secretary at the Ministry of Education.
Following are summaries of their presentations:

Mrs Choppy talked about the National Action Plan (2013 – 2014) for ECCE saying it was guided by the High Level ECCE Policy Committee chaired by Vice-President Danny Faure – who launched the conference – and it involved all the major sectors concerned with early childhood, namely; health, education, social affairs and community development.

She said technical teams from each of these sectors were set up in 2012 to prioritise the strategies proposed in the ECCE framework, and to develop action plans for the ones selected.

“The plan gives an overview of the ECCE framework, its values, principles and vision as well as the key priorities/goals and strategies that lead to the action plans,” she said.

“It outlines the methodology used in the action planning process and provides detailed action plans for selected strategies under each of the nine key priorities of the ECCE The ECCE logoframework. It provides an implementation strategy, including monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that will need to be put in place. Finally it outlines the critical success factors that will ensure the successful implementation of the plan.”

She said it is expected that the plan will lead the way to developing medium and longer term plans in the future and one of the main activities to be tackled by all sectors in the first action plan is the harmonisation of laws, regulations, policies and guidelines so that all sectors may cater more effectively for the needs of the age group 0 to 7+ years.

“This should enable a more coherent approach to ECCE in the longer term. Moreover, the plan proposes to undertake a number of activities under the nine goals/ priorities of the ECCE framework. However, while the action plans are presented at the level of sectors, the activities proposed are to a large extent collaborative and often cross cutting. They also include activities that engage with non-governmental organisations, the local and wider communities.

“The implementation of the plan is the responsibility of all partners involved so far, together with all other stakeholders specified in the action plans. The lead bodies are the High Level ECCE Policy Committee, the IECD, the ECCE advisory council in consultation with the coordinating committee.

“Nevertheless, the multi-sectoral nature of the National Action Plan for ECCE implies that monitoring and evaluation has to take place at different levels and across a wide range of groups and institutions.

Mrs Choppy presents Mr Faure with a copy of the plan of action

“Robust mechanisms therefore need to be established to ensure the Plan is effectively implemented and results evaluated,” said Mrs Choppy.

Dr Leste’s presentation was entitled: Saber-Early Childhood Development: Seychelles.
The local consultant for the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (Saber) -ECD World Bank project said it collects, analyses, and disseminates comparable international data on national and sub-national ECD systems, including both policies and programmes.

“The Saber-ECD analytical framework was used to prepare the Seychelles country report and primary government and secondary world organisational data sources were used,” he said, listing the results for ECD in Seychelles have been presented in terms of achievement and recommendations thus:

With regard to achievements, he said two years of free preschool have contributed to universal preprimary enrollment while free public healthcare gives essential services for young children and pregnant women and there is a range of child protection services and support for vulnerable young children and families.  

The implementation plan of the multisectoral ECD strategy is currently being elaborated, The IECD logowhile an ECD institutional anchor and coordination mechanisms – which is the newly created IECD – have been established.

He outlined policy recommendations based on analysis of findings stressing the need to ensure the ECD strategy – which is currently primarily focused on education – adequately addresses health, nutrition, and social and child protection.

The need has been identified to establish a system to track ECD spending in all ministries and agencies, he said, adding the recommendations urge the use of explicit criteria and formula to allocate ECD funding to promote efficient and equitable use of resources.

“Criteria could include children’s socio-economic or special needs status,” he said, noting the call to examine the reasons for the gender disparity in pre-primary enrollment.
The recommendations also say ECD services for special needs children should be strengthened by developing a clear policy and plan for action.

“Expand nutrition programmes to include supplements and nutrition therapy for young children.
“The anemia rates among pregnant women and young children suggest a need for more access to nutrition programmes and a food fortification policy,” he said reporting the call to expand the survey and administrative data collected and talking of the need to gauge access to and equity in health and education by taking part in the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey.

“Consider developing a mechanism to track individual development in all domains from birth to childhood and develop recommendations for learning goals, activities and materials for use by staff at daycare centres,” he said, echoing the need for the call to develop standards and training curriculum for childminding services to ensure children’s safety and development.

Mr Benstrong’s presentation was called ‘Mother-language reading project: establishing standards in early childhood education’.
He said there have been concerns in the Seychelles education system about the level of reading in the mother tongue.

“Results of tests and examiners’ reports suggest that the basics of language acquisition and reading skills were deficient in a significant part of the population of early learners. As a result of this information the Ministry of Education decided to build a team of educators to develop a complete and comprehensive reading programme for early childhood classrooms and the Learn to read with the butterfly ‘Aprann Lir Avek Papiyon’ (Alap) project was born.

“The new and innovative Alap reading project – the first of its kind – is being implemented in all primary schools in Seychelles since 2009 as part of the reform of early childhood education. The main focus of the project is to increase the level of literacy thus enhancing the economic and social advantage of having three national languages – English, French and Creole,” he said, noting the project aims at strengthening the early learning and readiness, enable each child to develop his or her full learning potential, improve the quality of teaching and reading in the early years, use locally produced reading materials and boost efficiency of reading development in the mother tongue (Creole).

“The project had four phases ranging from development of illustrative and audio-visual curriculum materials, piloting of these materials, sensitisation and training of teachers, full implementation and monitoring in schools and evaluating overall effectiveness,” he said.

“It is based on a collaborative research model as an effective approach to bring about and sustain effective educational practice.”

He said Alap was home grown, hands on and experientially based and has produced outstanding results and positive impacts on the intended group – children at early childhood stage in school.
He said findings that were highlighted included one that showed substantial increase in the pupils’ mean score on the pre-post evaluation study, over 90% of the learners were on or above the expected level in the post test and a consistent pattern of improvement in instructional practices was measured by the classroom observation schedule.

“Over 75% of the teachers found the curriculum materials very good and very effective

 And parents were impressed by the teacher-centred approach and motivational dynamism of the programme.

The project has had overwhelming impact throughout the education system. This was linked to capacity building to develop curriculum materials and to train teachers. Also a model to monitor good practices, set up structures at ministerial level to manage and sustain developmental educational project has been established. Moreover, international literacy benchmarks (particularly SACMEQ – Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality) has been used to set local standards.

Dr Marope in an address named: ‘From Moscow to 2015 and beyond: so where does ECCE stand? said Unesco member states made a promise to children regarding the facilitation of their holistic development through the instrument of the ‘Moscow Framework For Action and Collaboration: Harnessing the Wealth of Nations’.

She outlined what she called critical elements of 'the promise' and gave a progress report saying whenever possible, the example of Seychelles will be used as a concrete one showing gains made and the few remaining challenges.

In a presentation titled ‘Strengthening the monitoring of holistic early childhood development’,
she echoed Mr Faure’s closing remarks of the first ever World Congress on ECCE noting she reiterated his call to lead by example.

She shared the set of indicators that have so far been identified as potential building blocks of the Holistic Early Childhood Development Index and the process which was followed.

Ms Tan’s presentation was entitled ‘Early childhood education in Singapore’ and gave an overview of early childhood education in her country saying it has undergone rapid changes in the recent years.

“The government of Singapore has allocated much of its resources to raise the quality of early childhood development and education through a series of initiatives such as forming the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) in April 2013, an autonomous agency.

She said all childcare centres are licensed by the ECDA with which kindergartens are registered.
“In addition to licensing and registration, childcare centres and kindergartens are encouraged to seek accreditation under the Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework, a quality assurance framework to raise the quality of pre-schools in Singapore,” she said.

Talking about mathematics, Ms Tan said children constantly and continually construct mathematical ideas as they explore the environment and they take these experiences including interaction with adults and other children, and their daily observation.

“Mathematics belongs in any part of the day and connects with all other areas of learning such as language and literacy, discovery of the world, motor skills development, social emotion development and creativity and aesthetics.
“The more you observe children doing mathematics and becoming aware of mathematics content and processes, the more connections you will see and the more mathematics ‘fits into’ your day,” she said.

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