Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Early Childhood Development : A Fair Chance for All

By Sun Wook Jung, Education Officer

Meeting teachers at the Puspa Hati ECD Centre, Surabaya. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015

I was a ‘drop-out’ of my kindergarten in Korea many years ago. I would always fight with the boys and one day just decided to stop going. But I did well in my education so went on to underestimate the value of Early Childhood Development (ECD).

However, I realise now that I was so lucky to have a mother who read me books and taught me how to count. So, even though I dropped out of the Kindergarten, I did get appropriate early childhood education at home.  This is not the case for many children around the world, especially children who are in marginalised and poor families in Indonesia.

Early childhood will determine a child’s intellectual and physical capacity. Children need someone to help their development during the time their brain grows. It should not be left to an individual’s luck – whether they have a parent who can spend time to provide sufficient care and teach how to read, write and count.

Teachers are key to a child’s development. I often think of a famous quote in McKinsey Report:  “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. Children need teachers who have not only teaching skills but also patient mind and a caring heart for children, who can truly support their holistic development.

So I was very happy to meet ECD pioneer Ibu Sri Emy during my recent monitoring visit to Surabaya. Ibu Sri Emy is the founder and the head teacher of Puspa Hati Centre – an ECD centre located in the market area of the city. This is one of the 32 centers supported by UNICEF with financial contribution from Alfamart and Alfamidi.

Ibu Sri Emy raised three children but then started to notice that many other children in her area were missing out on important development opportunities. “Children born in rich families are given timely development opportunities while poor children are neglected. We need to provide a fair chance for all children,” she told me.

So Ibu Sri Emy took action in her own hands. She attended training to gain relevant knowledge and skills then established an ECD centre in her own house.

Students at the Puspa Hati ECD Centre, Surabaya. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Sun Wook Jung.

Students in her ECD centre are the children of market sellers or becak drivers. Before the centre was established, those children used to hang around the market while their parents were working. Now they began to have access to ECD services.

But challenges remained. More and more poor children wanted to register, but the government subsidy was limited. Ibu Sri Emy decided to remove this barrier herself. If parents were not able to pay costs, they did not have to withdraw their children from the centre.

Teachers at the centre are very motivated to further develop their skills in order to provide better ECD services. This strong commitment from teachers is a distinctive strength of this centre. Among the eight teachers, six have been at this ECD centre since it was established. Following Ibu Sri Emy, some teachers are now pursuing a university degree in ECD to further develop their knowledge and skills.

Ibu Sri Emy emphasised that the primary responsibility of early childhood development is on parents. The centre has been conducting parenting sessions focusing on changing parents’ attitude towards children’s rights. In a poorer village, child rights are easily neglected, which leads to frequent domestic violence and child abuse cases.

“Parents are the role models of their children,” Ibu Sri Emy said. “Children learn violent habits and behaviours from their parents. This is why behaviour change of parents are one of main ECD activities”

Giving a fair chance to all children starts with the timely provision of quality ECD services. I was privileged to meet an ECD champion, who is impacting the lives of so many children. This monitoring visit to Surabaya was one of my most memorable experiences during my time with UNICEF. This kindergarten ‘drop out’ now has even more of an appreciation for ECD.