Achieving equality through early childhood education and care – a global goal

8 October 2015

By Louise Billman

Last week, the United Nations formally adopted new Sustainable Development Goals, outlining a comprehensive framework to tackle extreme poverty and inequality by 2030. The goals, endorsed at the New York Summit, focus on four key themes: People, Planet, Prosperity and Peace.girl and boy - close up

While the global development agenda was established a quarter of a century ago, the new education targets place early childhood education in the limelight for the first time. Target 4.2 states that “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

YWCA Canberra has been providing services to young women and children in the Canberra community since 1929. Recently we broke the mould in early childhood education and care, opening the first and largest mixed-age service to Canberra children and families. This innovative service, in Gungahlin, uses early childhood development research to deliver learning in a way that is natural to children, preparing them for life not just for the formal school years.

The generation of children we’re currently teaching will need unique skills to be successful in future Australia. Research suggests that they will need to be flexible, innovative, and think ‘outside the box’ to develop and maintain intergenerational relationships, using every form of media as well as face-to-face communication. These skills are what we need to seed through early childhood services.

We welcome the recent decision by the Federal Government to move early childhood education and care to the Education Department. We firmly believe this is where it belongs and are hopeful that it will result in a seamless transition through education for Australians from infants to adults.

It is significant to note that the UN’s Target 4.2 not only states the right of all children to  access early childhood education, but it specifically highlights the  importance of quality early childhood education. For the first time on a global scale, someone is articulating what early childhood educators have known for the last 20 years.

Early childhood development is the key to combating social and economic challenges globally, with evidence suggesting that investment in early childhood is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve sustainable development.

Quality early childhood services are dependent on a strong and supported early childhood work force.  A recent World Education Blog by Michelle Neuman (UN Program Director, Results for Development Institute) reflected on the value of quality early childhood services.

“…Simply making poorly performing preschools bigger is not enough.” Neuman said. Addressing inequality will not be possible “…without improving the capacity of the early child care workforce”.

Neuman went on to suggest that in order for early childhood services to have the global impact we need,  early childhood professionals need “better training, support and working conditions”.

YWCA Canberra has long seen the link between quality early childhood services and supporting early childhood educators. We established our own Registered Training Organisation in order to be able to provide the best quality training for our educators, and have employment policies in place that demonstrate our ongoing commitment to training and support.

Following the establishment of Target 4.2, the UN will collect global data to monitor and evaluate how each country ensures that these promises turn into realities for young children around the world.

The question is, how will Australia stack up?

Louise Billman is YWCA Canberra’s Early Childhood Services Manager

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