Universal Education: Where to start?

In Vietnam, World Vision provides nutritious meals to students at ECCDC and even serves them milk after nap time.

50 years ago, an Indian boy named Kailash Satyarthi saw a little boy shining shoes at his school gate. Kailash then went up to the boy’s father and asked, “Why don’t you send your son to school like me?” “We are born to work,” answered the father. That answer shaped the future path of Kailash.

Kailash has devoted his life to helping child labourers return to school, and, in 2014, was rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication. Kailash was delighted to see more attention drawn to the exploitation of child labour and the deprivation of their rights to education.

Kids from the ECCDC in Bolivia show the crafts they learnt in class.

In Hong Kong, many parents spend a lot of time and effort on planning for their children’s education. However, not all parents can do that for various reasons. For example, cases of child labour, like the little boy Kailash met, are still common.

There are many different stories behind the children who are unable to attend school. Although with the Millennium Development Goals, the number of primary school-aged children who are unable to attend school has dropped from over 100 million in 2000 to 25 million in 2014, not all children who do attend school are able to complete their schooling and some do not even acquire basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills.

According to the 2014 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), around 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them spend at least four years in school. How then, is that different from no schooling?

Most people assume that if children go to school, they will know how to read and write. Different countries, however, have different definitions of literacy. Generally speaking, a person should have attained a certain level of reading and writing skills at a certain age. But according to UNESCO, the definition of literary is broader. “Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.”

International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide on September 8 each year. Let’s take this chance to reflect on how we can help all children to learn, regardless of their backgrounds!

At the ECCDC in Bangladesh, activity-based learning makes classes more interesting!

Education is essential to child growth. World Vision’s aspiration for all girls and boys is that they are “educated for life.” This requires that children attain the core cognitive, emotional, social and essential life skills they need in order to reach their full potential to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Education is therefore listed as one of the four child well-being aspirations of World Vision.

Throughout the years, World Vision has strived to help millions of children attend school through a number of area development programmes (ADPs) across the globe, supported by child sponsorship. Until recently, much of the support went to helping communities build schools, helping parents afford school uniforms and fees, and providing school supplies. 

Since 2012, World Vision has piloted new methods to improve education outcomes for children through education projects in 25 countries, a shift of focus toward being able to learn, rather than just attend school.

World Vision uses a life-cycle approach in our programmes that focuses on the needs of children at all stages of development: early childhood, adolescence, and youth.

We work with children, families, teachers, community members and local partners so that:

  • Children can read, write and use numeracy skills
  • Children can access and complete education
  • Children make good judgements, can protect themselves, manage their emotions and communicate ideas
  • Adolescents are ready to grasp economic opportunities
  • Teachers know how to make learning effective and fun
  • Parents are equipped to help their children learn at home
  • Community volunteers are trained to host after-school activities

Life without education is a life without opportunity. We help children, especially the most vulnerable, to access quality education and attain functional levels of literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. When children can read, they can better advocate for their rights and help provide for their families.

Early Childhood Education and Development

Among the various categories of education, early childhood education is often neglected. According to the 2016 GEM Report, the admission rate for early childhood education has always been uncertain due to the significant variance in admission age and programme length across different countries.

Almost half of the world’s countries have a three-year pre-primary education age group, with children expected to first enrol at the age of three. Among 207 countries and territories, pre-primary education was compulsory in 50, and free and compulsory for at least one year in 38.

Among three- to four-year-olds, the richest children are almost six times more likely to attend an early childhood education programme than the poorest. This indicates the urgent and important need to promote early childhood education in impoverished countries.

In early childhood, children develop basic skills including communication and emotion management. There has been some misconceptions of brain development and learning stages of children, let’s take a look at some of them:

Old Thinking:

  • How the brain develops depends on the genes a child is born with
  • The experiences of children before 3 have limited impact on later development
  • A toddler’s brain is much less active than the brain of a college student

New Thinking:

  • How the brain develops depends on the interplay between the genes a child is born with and the child’s experiences
  • Early experiences have a decisive impact on the architecture of the brain, and on the nature and extent of adult capacities
  • By the time children reach 3, their brains are twice as active as those of adults. Activity levels drop during adolescence

With the teaching resources provided by World Vision, these children in Myanmar are enjoying their learning at the ECCDC.

From the above, we can see that it is critical for children to learn well during the golden period of development and learning. In the first eight years, a child’s needs and capabilities change more rapidly than at any other period, establishing essential brain architecture and behavioural patterns that contribute to all subsequent individual and societal outcomes.

In light of this, World Vision has launched the “Early Childhood and Development Programme” (EDC) that is suitable for nurseries, pre-schools and home- or community-based schools, aiming to enhance young children’s well-being and their acquisition of critical education and life skills.

As young children actively develop, a continuum of actors – including parents, caregivers, teachers, schools, community members, and policy makers – hold influence. Therefore, we also strive to empower all stakeholders to create progressive changes that establish the strongest foundation for children’s futures through the below two approaches:

The Go Baby Go! Parenting Programme targets the first 1,000 days of life and aims to build knowledge, skills and resilience-promoting techniques to improve parenting practices at the household level. Using an integrated approach, it helps caregivers understand the interrelatedness of health, nutrition, protection and development. It also provides caregivers with planning and self-care strategies so they can better fulfil their roles as first teachers and first protectors.

Learning Roots
are designed to meet the development and learning needs of children from ages three through to six, preparing them for a successful transition to primary school. First, it aims to raise parents and caregivers’ awareness on the importance of early childhood education. Second, it aims to enhance their competencies to support the social and emotional development of their young children and early reading and numeracy skills. Third, it strengthens local ECD centres by training teachers on effective nurturing, and inclusive practices for child development.

Education is essential to the development of every person and society as a whole. Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, once said, “One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. Education is the only answer.”

Although many impoverished children are still at a starting line different from ours, let us strive to promote early childhood education, so that more children can benefit from real learning that will enable them to meet their daily needs and dream a different future.

School is starting again, we wish all children a happy “learning” year!

ECD Case Study: Afghanistan

The sound of children can be heard repeating the alphabet “Alef, B, T, Se, Jim, H, Kh, Dal, Zal....”

A room full of colourful and well-designed educational materials provides children many opportunities to challenge themselves through seeing, touching, feeling and moving. This room enables a group of children to enjoy their childhood together.

At World Vision’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) spaces in Afghanistan, children between the ages of five and six come together to participate in preschool learning opportunities that give them a chance to socialise and learn the basics they need to succeed when they enter formal education.

At each ECCD space, 30 children attend classes six days a week and are involved in age-appropriate educational and play activities, based on a specific learning curriculum. Eight-year-old Nazifa is one of the girls who was able to participate in ECCD classes two years ago. Today, she is one of the best students in her second grade class at the local public school.

ECCD Classes Help Mothers Learn Too

Mothers in Afghanistan are busy. Women are responsible for washing, cooking and taking care of small babies in an area where the lack of electricity means almost everything has to be done manually. Although they may want to, mothers don’t have time to play with their children who are often sent outside to play with other children.

“I had noticed that Nazifa was a little bit rude and used impolite words while arguing with her sisters and brother,” adds Najiba. “Sometimes she didn’t listen to my advice [and I would react angrily],” she recalled.

“In the ECCD sessions, I learned that [to discipline Nazifa] I should first calm myself if I was angry, and then think of an alternative punishment, like 'you can't watch TV tonight.’ I've noticed a big improvement in Nazifa’s behaviour,” she says.

In addition to preparing children for school, the ECCD spaces also aim to improve health and childcare knowledge and skills among caregivers. Thirty mothers attend the health education sessions on a weekly basis. The sessions, which focus on topics like cooking nutritious food, vaccinations, early initiation of breast-feeding and proper hygiene among other topics, are designed to help women better care for their children.

During the ECCD sessions, women also receive training on first aid, women's, and child rights, and health and hygiene. Women who attend the ECCD sessions then share their knowledge with their neighbours and relatives.

“One day Nazifa asked me to buy her toothpaste and a toothbrush,” remembers Najiba. “I was surprised and asked her who told her to use a toothbrush. I even tried to convince her that it wasn’t good for children to use toothbrushes,” she recalls. “The next day, I went to the kindergarten and discovered about the importance of brushing children’s teeth.”

"I am very proud to be a parent of a child who attended and completed the ECCD programme,” says Najiba. “The programme prepared my daughter for school with indispensable educational knowledge. It also taught her everyday skills essential to surviving in today’s society such as good manners, the importance of good hygiene, health, feelings and compassion.”

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