UNESCO’s Global Partnership Strategy for early childhood care and education takes off and takes root
Almost a year ago, HRH Princess Laurentien called upon UNESCO to take action to protect the world’s youngest children whose care and education were thrown into crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since her call to action in July 2020, UNESCO has organized four high-level dialogues, bringing together representatives of Ministries, heads of agencies, and experts to strategize the strengthening of early childhood services worldwide. From these meetings, the Global Partnership Strategy (GPS) for Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) was born.
Children have fundamental human rights that are universal, indivisible, and interdependent. They ensure every child’s survival, development, and education. ECCE, which covers the period from birth to eight years of age, is often considered a privilege rather than a right. At the core of the GPS vision is the belief that realizing these rights and services is the foundation for achieving positive child development, family wellbeing, lifelong learning, and sustainable development.
This vision must be shared systemically to become a meaningful movement for young children and their families worldwide. The GPS will catalyze multisectoral and multistakeholder collaboration at the global, regional, national, and local levels to support the rights and protection of the child. The 5 Results Strategies of GPS were created to counter negative trends in education and to overcome the reduction and closure of services for health, nutrition, sanitation, and child protection in all world regions.
Today, half of the world’s children are not in pre-primary education. Physical and financial barriers continue to prevent universal access. On average, only 2% of education budgets in lower-income countries go to ECCE despite ever-growing evidence that what happens in the early years matters to long-term health, development, and learning. Strategy 1 promotes the use of this growing body of evidence to support ECCE investment.
Collecting data on the physical, cognitive, and social emotional development of young children and the services they receive is key to informing policy and programs. New tools, indicators, surveys, and advances in information management systems allow countries to capture a better picture of ECCE. Despite progress, data gaps persist, which Strategy 2 addresses.
Strategy 3 is all about access. It tackles inequality and exclusion by strengthening policy, financing, workforce, pedagogical practices, data, and international reference standards through open resources. Strategy 4 seeks inclusion of at least one year of free and compulsory early childhood education in education plans and budgets. Strategy 5 creates a critical pathway in view of recommending the establishment of the United Nations Decade for Early Childhood Education, Care and Development to the UN General Assembly.
The finalized GPS will be published in August 2021, after which a Results Team will be formed to spearhead its implementation in full partnership with around 100 organizations including UNICEF, GPE, WHO, ILO, the World Bank, OECD, ECDAN, OMEP, regional development banks, regional, national networks and associations to serve all nations. Countries like France, Canada, Cuba, Italia, Mauritius, Sweden, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Benin have already started championing for the GPS.
The team will also align its activities and evolving education policies to achieve Education 2030/SDG4. In addition to coordinating the efforts of the partners, the Results Team will release progress reports to keep everyone up to date with the GPS initiatives and activities.
In the words of Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, “We must give children a fair, caring, and healthy start in school and life. GPS’s holistic approach can genuinely take off and take root in education systems.”