GPE 2020, GPE’s strategic plan for 2016 – 2020, commits to improving the quality and availability of early childhood care and education (ECCE) for children ages 3-8, especially for marginalized children and those living in countries affected by conflict and fragility.
There is growing interest in the role of ECCE programs in promoting peacebuilding. The foundations of development and learning are laid in the first five years of life – including behavior traits, the ability to manage conflicts, and cultural norms and identities.
Research demonstrates that children can identify racial cues in adult faces as early as 9 months and can begin forming stereotypes and prejudices around the age of 3 to 4 years.
Consequently, the early years provide an important window of opportunity for establishing pro-social and peace-promoting behaviors and attitudes.
The links between ECCE and peacebuilding are especially crucial in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Children in these contexts face a multitude of risks including: psychosocial difficulties, loss of caregivers and lack of opportunities for early learning, play and positive social interaction.
Salient features of investments in the early years to promote peace
Most early childhood development curriculum cover socio-emotional development and many programs have early reading materials that promote diversity and pro-social development, but promoting peacebuilding and security is also crucial to the long-term vision and policy priorities of fragile and conflict-affected countries.
The salient features of investments to ensure children, parents and teachers receive and provide socio-emotional and peace-promoting learning in well-designed ECCE programs are the following:
1. Include mother tongue and ensure local sensitivity
Research shows that mother tongue education right from the early years increases a child’s success and attendance in school. It can also help to bridge the cultures at home and school, build inclusive societies and foster a respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.
Using mother tongue in the early grades makes parents more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning.
It also increases the chances of girls and rural children with less exposure to a dominant language to stay in school longer and repeat grades less often.
When the curriculum is delivered in a medium with which learners are familiar and through which they can receive support from their parents and caregivers, the potential to achieve learning outcomes increases.
In Eritrea for example, the Ministry of Education is determined to ensure that all children in the country receive their elementary education in their mother tongue. The ministry is engaged in sustained efforts to train teachers, conduct refresher courses, and develop instructional materials for mother tongue education, especially through a nomadic education program.
It is important to mention though that while mother tongue instruction and materials are preferred over second or third languages for the first grades, there are practicality issues and nuances in cases where there are many prominent languages.
In these cases, pedagogy can be developed to supports a child’s language transition (i.e. first mastering basic oral vocabulary before moving to traditional literacy instruction) when full mother tongue is not possible.
2. Work with communities and hire locally
Using early learning materials in local languages requires having teachers who are fluent with the local languages. This stresses the importance of hiring local teachers, which also brings benefits of greater communication and accountability between the teacher and the community.
In South Sudan, the community was used as an entry point to reach an integrated approach on the learning/teaching environment, and as a way to integrate key issues such as education for peace, emergency preparedness and basic life skills in children in the lower grades of primary. The GPE grant provides support to school development committees to train their key members in rights and protection of children, duties of parents, conducts of teachers, and basic principles of child-friendly schools. Teachers in these schools receive continuous training and count with parent-teacher associations.
3. Reach disadvantaged/conflict-affected areas
The third key investment that contributes to peacemaking in fragile and conflict-affected contexts is reaching disadvantaged and conflict-affected areas.
In Mongolia, a GPE grant, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the World Bank and UNICEF, supported the development and implementation of mobile kindergartens housed in yurts that travel with nomadic families each summer and were equipped with furniture, teaching materials and toys. This approach provided access to preschool for more than 3,700 nomadic children who might not otherwise have had access to ECCE.
In Nigeria, children in the northern states have little or no access to pre-primary education, and insurgent activities and attacks on schools are a direct threat to schooling, especially for girls. In response, GPE is providing technical support and US$7.65 million—in partnership with ministries of education, USAID and the World Bank—to improve teaching and learning materials in pre-primary schools and promote parent and guardian engagement in early childhood development.
GPE will continue to work with partners in all countries, particularly in those affected by fragility and conflict, to reach the most vulnerable children and give them the chance to receive a quality education.
While the link between investing in inclusive quality ECCE programs and promoting peace may not be an obvious one, it is a link that all education partners should not undermine if the goal is to ensure sustained peace and security for nations.