Is the ECD community ready for a rapidly changing education landscape?

Kimberly Josephson

In October, R4D Managing Director Nicholas Burnett traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to deliver a keynote speech at the International Step by Step Association's (ISSA) annual conference. ISSA, a learning community of early childhood development (ECD) experts and practitioners in Europe and Central Asia, is R4D's partner behind the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative.

In a concurrent session entitled, "What is needed to support and promote the early childhood workforce in times of rapid change?" I was able to join representatives from three regional early childhood networks (ISSA, the Africa Early Childhood Network, and the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood) as well as UNICEF to discuss global, regional, and country perspectives on a number of issues including workforce competencies, professional development, how to increase recognition of those working in ECD. 

Burnett's keynote speech "Is our ECD community ready to tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing education landscape?" first reviewed promising attention to ECD globally: its inclusion as a target in the Sustainable Development Goals, the recent Lancet series, a prominent ECD-focused network launched by the World Bank and UNICEF, and a number of country governments investing in and expanding ECD services. Then, drawing on the recent report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (for which Burnett worked), the speech contrasted this progress with a series of grave challenges: 

early childhood education ecd learning international development activity based learning through play africaA learning crisis in which 825 million children and youth will not achieve basic secondary skills by 2030

  • Rising income inequality
  • Worsening unemployment
  • Increasing numbers of international migrants and displaced populations
  • Poor economic growth, and 
  • Weakening political capacity to overcome these issues. 

Burnett offered three key recommendations for the ECD community to strategically position itself to address these challenges and compete for limited funding:

  • Adapt the advocacy. While the science and economics behind the benefits of ECD are enormously helpful, more emphasis is needed on other benefits, such as improving equity and the link between ECD and later life skills. 
  • Adopt multi-sectoral approaches, including integrating parenting and nutrition interventions.
  • Focus on practical implementation, principally national data systems, the workforce, and financing. These are the concrete levers that can lead to enormous gains in access to quality ECD services

The speech proved thought-provoking among audience members, who left a series of comments on the conference's interactive mobile app.

"Great foundation for the conference in offering lots of food for thought and discussion,” noted one attendee.

"Dr. Burnett's presentation is thought provoking - we are grappling with most of these issues in Pakistan" explained another.

Burnett finished his remarks with a mix of hope and urgency. “We’re moving in the right direction” he concluded, “but we still need speed, and specificity.”

To view the slides of Nicholas Burnett’s presentation, click here.

To view a video of his remarks, click here.

Kimberly (Kimby) Josephson is a Program Associate at Results for Development (R4D) where she works across a number of education projects, primarily in early childhood development. She conducts analytical work for the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative and has contributed to the Center for Education Innovation’s Early Learning Toolkit by helping to develop and identify tools, tips, and resources to aid early childhood program managers in their work.

Photo Credits: International Step by Step Association (ISSA) ; The Sabre Trust

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