Understanding the Vital Years for Future Learning

“We all need to work together to unlock the powers of the vital years from 0 to 6. Waiting for our young children to come to school for Grade One at the age of six may be too late!” These were the words of Secretary Teresa Aquino-Oreta, chair of the Philippines Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council during a policy forum involving education ministers of Southeast Asia late in January this year.

The forum, dubbed “Understanding the Vital Years for Future Learning,” served as an eye-opener in the ever growing need to strengthen policies concerning early childhood education. Conducted during the 45th SEAMEO Council Conference in Cebu, Philippines, the forum zeroed in on the importance of tapping the learning potentials of children in their early years. Likewise, it sought to get commitments from education officials to put premium on their ECCD programs, which receive less than 10% of budget allocation in many countries as studies revealed.

Among those present during the forum were Ministers of Education of SEAMEO member countries, as well as education officials and representatives from SEAMEO associate member countries Australia, Spain, and New Zealand.

Secretary Aquino-Oreta, in her paper, recounted the Philippines’ experiences in adopting ECCD as a national priority. She said the country had a “long journey” towards this direction as efforts to promote children’s welfare and enhance their opportunities began as early as 1974 with the passage of the Child and Youth Welfare Code. The Code led to the creation of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) whose mandate was later transferred to the Department of Social Welfare.

In 2009, the CWC was transformed into the Early Childhood Care and Development Council through Executive Order No. 778. The ECCD Council is now mandated to “support the implementation of the full range of health, nutrition, early education, and social services programs that provide for the basic holistic needs of young children from birth to age six and to promote their optimum growth and development.”

In the past decades, many ECCD laws and executive orders were promulgated. However, implementing such laws became a challenge; and this was mainly due to lack of available information, if not for the often inaccurate, dated, and limited data that offer little value. The ECCD Council immediately worked on creating a database that will serve as guide for a more efficient and effective implementation of the national policies on ECCD. Aside from this, the Council is also working with ECCD professionals and experts to design a learning framework for early education programs.

The stories shared by Secretary Aquino-Oreta and best practices presented by Dr. Claire McLachan, Associate Professor of Early Years Education in Massey University, New Zealand, served as springboards for discussion on the topic.

The Education Ministers agreed to pursue several courses of action, including the conduct of a regional policy research on ECCD. The Philippine Department of Education, as a proponent of the discussion, committed an initial funding of US$50,000 for the said project.

Source: SEAMEO INNOTECH, January 2010

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