To help children aged three to five get ready for school, the Department of Education (DepEd) recently joined forces with two government agencies in offering an innovative project called “Early Learning for Life.”
The program which will be held in close coordination with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council, aims to reach out to the most disadvantaged children who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities as a result of armed conflict, disaster, and urban challenges.
ECCD Council Chairperson Teresita Inciong said the project also aims to respond to the urgent need for children to get the right start to learning and development and, eventually, complete their education.
“This program is very important because the vital years of the child from zero to six (0-6) years old should be a collective aspiration,” she said.
A CRITICAL FOUNDATION
Inciong cited significant studies indicating that 50 percent of a person’s ability to learn is developed in the first few years of life.
“However, national statistics indicate that only 78 out of 100 Grade 1 entrants have kindergarten experience,” she added.
Early Childhood Care and Development or ECCD, Inciong explained, is a critical foundation for lifelong learning. “It paves the way for children to be ready, to stay, to participate more, and to learn better in school,” she said. “Rich early learning experiences have a strong, positive impact that reaches well into adulthood.”
Inciong said that based on a number of studies internationally, ECCD is known to have a wide range of significantly positive impact that reaches well into adulthood such as better academic performance and higher educational attainment.
“ECCD also affects a person’s attainment of higher socio-economic status, helps them get higher job skills, exhibits better health related behaviors, and lowers the rates of crime commitment and incarceration,” she revealed.
The program will be implemented in 36 disadvantaged areas in the country until 2016. It was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) with US$18 million in collaboration with the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tidwell said that improving the quality of basic education is a priority for Australia’s development program in the Philippines.
“We understand that access to quality education improves one’s opportunities in life to help people overcome poverty,” he said.
Tidwell added that Australia is investing in early childhood education in recognition of the significant role ECCD plays in improving the quality of learning outcomes, retention and completion rates of school children.
According to DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, the program is a result of a synergy of efforts that builds on the work of local and national government and links with the government’s flagship poverty alleviation projects such as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. “This is a not a dole-out but a wise investment that consequently translates to a strengthened platform for poverty reduction and economic growth,” she added.
BUILDING MODELS OF CHILDHOOD CARE
UNICEF Philippines representative Tomoo Hozumi said that the “Early Learning for Life” program seeks to build models of quality childhood care and development programs and mainstream innovations and quality standards at the national level.
He underscored that ECCD is a child’s right and a responsibility not just of parents but of the community and the government.
“We should continue to build on the work of the government and understand the many challenges that keep children from getting the right start to learning,” Hozumi stressed. He revealed that the beneficiaries of the program were found to perform much lower than the national average when it comes to school readiness.
“If we are able to address the challenges facing children who are most deprived, we will be in a better position to ensure their growth and success,” he said.
Hozumi said that the “Early Learning for Life” project aims to help the country achieve the Millennium Development Goals on quality basic education. This is by creating improved ECCD programs that empower local government units (LGUs) to undertake doable actions using their own resources.
The program will be implemented by 2,500 kindergarten teachers and day care workers and 200 day care service accreditors in 36 areas. But first, there will be training of the concerned teachers and workers; provision of educational materials and supplies; improvement of water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions; and improvement of the concerned policies and systems.
“Through this project, we in UNICEF commit ourselves to work together with the concerned partners in helping children realize their fullest potential in life,” Hozumi said.
DepEd, through Bureau of Elementary Education (BEE) officer-in-charge Marilette Almayda, expressed full support to the program saying that it is aligned with the Department’s thrust to provide holistic growth for the children.
Republic Act 8980, the ECCD Act, is the national policy of the Philippines that institutionalizes an integrated and comprehensive system for early childhood care and development. The ECCD Act recognizes the first six years to be the most crucial period in a child’s life because the foundation for later development is laid during these years.