The Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) was held from 10 to 12 September 2013 in Seoul, Republic of Korea. It was convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education (KICCE) and the Korea Development Institute (KDI). The Policy Forum was organized to provide a platform for high-level policy-makers
in the region to share knowledge and discuss strategies for capacity development, policy formulation, good practice, partnerships and research, with a view to improving young children’s “readiness to learn”, from both children’s and schools’ perspectives, with special attention to the promotion of equity.
A total of 208 participants, including delegates of thirty-one countries in Asia and the Pacific, experts and representatives of UN agencies, research institutes and networks, participated in the Forum. Country delegations were headed by high-level officials, including eleven Ministers and nine Vice-Ministers.
A key message resonating from the Forum, including from all keynote speakers, is that care and education investments in the early years of a child’s life have exponentially greater returns for the child and society at large when compared to investing in the later years of the life cycle. There is solid research evidence from various countries on the high returns and benefits in investing in early childhood, thus all participants were committed to take action and strengthen and expand holistic quality ECCE provision.
A roundtable for participating Ministers and Vice Ministers discussed the main challenges countries face in providing holistic quality ECCE, and the experiences and lessons learnt in these countries. The Roundtable showed that awareness of the importance of ECCE was high across countries; and irrespective of their size, all countries in the region indicated they had initiated efforts towards promoting quality ECCE. Much of the Forum was devoted to the three thematic sessions: 1) Invest in ECCE as a cost-effective approach for human and economic development; 2) Expand quality ECCE with equity; 3) Ensure successful transition to school. Examples from countries in the region were also presented under each theme.
Professor W. Steven Barnett of Rutgers University, USA, in his keynote address at the opening session presented evidence from various research to argue for increased public investment in ECCE given not only the benefits to a child’s learning and development, encompassing efficiencies in health and education, but also the increase in the productivity of the workforce. In addition to improving overall efficiency, ECCE has the potential to decrease social inequalities since it is likely to have the largest effects on the educational and economic success of disadvantaged populations. Increased access to ECCE programmes also can increase gender equality for children and their parents.
Professor Inchul Kim of Sung Kyun Kwan University, Republic of Korea, in his keynote address shared Korea’s experience in ECCE. He argued that since government resources are limited, public investment in ECCE should be utilized in a cost-effective and efficient manner. To this end, projections of the country’s fertility rate and the future growth of national and regional GDP are necessary. He pointed out that as the fertility declines, parental demand for quality ECCE services has increased and the government is required to secure more budget for
ECCE. In this context, he indicated that sharing between central and local governments in financing ECCE expenditure is essential.
Professor Nirmala Rao of the University of Hong Kong in her keynote address noted that early childhood is the most effective and cost-efficient time to ensure that children can benefit from school and later opportunities. She also pointed out that there is substantial evidence indicating that disadvantaged children who attend early childhood programmes have better outcomes than those who do not. She noted the importance of implementing ECCE interventions that are effective and can be easily scaled up. She also recommended how to expand quality ECCE with equity, including investment in research that monitors and evaluates programmes to identify the most effective interventions and the development of sustainable funding mechanisms.
Professor Frank Oberklaid of the University of Melbourne, Australia, in his keynote highlighted key approaches to ensuring successful transition to formal schooling. He noted that ensuring a child’s school readiness involves engaging not only ECCE service providers but also the community and families, as well as providers of other services. The readiness of schools to develop effective strategies for identifying and responding to the individual needs of all children is also important. He asserted that school readiness starts at birth. A strong foundation for learning, behaviour and health can be built by providing a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment for children to develop cognitive, social and emotional skills. He underscored that since brain architecture and skills are built in a hierarchical, bottom-up sequence and the brain plasticity decreases over time, it is biologically and economically more efficient to have the right start in life.
At the end of the Forum, countries committed to intensifying efforts to benefit children during their most important formative years by: ensuring that the ECCE policy is passed and implemented and revising existing
policy to reflect a more integrated approach; improving ECCE teachers and facilitators quality through training, etc.; identifying disadvantaged groups in ECCE (Bangladesh); putting in place mechanisms for the assessment of school readiness; strengthening coordination and cooperation among the key Ministries involved in ECCE; strengthening monitoring and evaluation systems in ECCE; increasing investment in pre-school education; enhancing/expanding parenting education and awareness-raising on ECCE; strengthening the use of mother tongue/multi-lingual education in pre-primary education.
Recommendations were made on specific country-to-country collaboration: for example, study visits, exchange of research findings and policy documents; development of institutional linkages within and beyond the region; development of a regional database/portal on ECCE; exploration of possible engagement with KICCE and other research institutions. Countries also noted specific areas where they have good practices/experiences which they are willing to share with other countries.
It was noted that sustained political will and action are needed to move forward the ECCE agenda in the region, and it is the responsibility of all participants to ensure that the momentum created by the Forum
continues. The importance of linking sectors was further highlighted as well as sharing the Forum outcomes at other events related to ECCE. Finally, in response to the call to maintain a high-level policy forum on ECCE expressed by many participants, the Government of Malaysia announced that it will host the next Asia-Pacific policy forum on ECCE.
Table Of Contents
Executive Summary 2
1. Introduction 4
2. Opening and Setting the Stage. 6
3. Ministerial Roundtable 10
4. Thematic Sessions 12
Invest in ECCE as a cost-effective approach for human and
economic development 12
Expand quality ECCE with equity 16
Ensure successful transition to school 19
5. Outcomes 23
6. Conclusions 24
Annex 1. Final Programme 27
Annex 2. List of Participants 36
Annex 3. Country Follow-Up Actions 47