Evidence on the multiple benefits of quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) is compelling. ECCE improves children’s ability to learn, level and equity of learning outcomes, school completion, social adjustment, individual earnings later in life, productivity, economic growth and more.
Among others, it reduces the risk of school grade repetition, dropping out of school, social delinquency, incarceration, and breaks the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
While ECCE is among the smartest investments governments and donors can make, close to half the world’s children do not have access to quality ECCE. Access is intolerably low in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, West Asia and South Asia.
Both developed and developing countries are unable to provide quality ECCE services for all their children. Services are even weaker for children of age 0 to 3 years.
Seychelles leading the way in ECCE
So, which countries are leading the way? Would you be surprised to learn that the Republic of Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, east of mainland East Africa, is among the world leaders in ECCE? Would you know that both political leaders and experts there are committed to ensure holistic development of children from pre-birth onwards?
How and why has Seychelles made ECCE a priority? Mrs. Choppy is the head of the Institute of Early Childhood Development (IECD) set up in 2013 as the coordinating body for early childhood development in Seychelles to oversee developmental stages from 0-8 years of age.
She explains: “At the time of the UNESCO World Conference on ECCE in 2010, Seychelles was working in silos on ECCE with limited progress. We realized that we needed to work together with the shared commitment of all partners including the ministries of Education, Health and Social Affairs, as well as local governments. As a small country, we were able to synergize our expertise and work collaboratively, and also enjoyed very strong political will. When we finalized the framework on ECCE, the IECD was born to ensure effective implementation. As a country, we realized ECCE had been neglected for 30 years or more. It seems that other countries focus on secondary or upper primary education, but we believe ECCE is the foundation for nation building. We are now in a position to share what we learnedwith other countries, motivate and lead the way.”
Thanks to the clear focus on ECCE, Seychelles has a net pre-primary enrollment rate of about 80% (UIS, 2015).
Sharing good practices beyond borders
The Seychelles’ commitment has gone beyond national boundaries. These great strides have led to the country hosting the First International Biennial Conference on ECCE convening 18 countries to share knowledge, experiences and best practices. The conference was organized by the National High Level ECCE Policy Committee and the IECD (February 16 – 18, 2017) with technical support from the International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO).
Its theme was Building Resilient Early Childhood Care and Education Systems: Lessons of Experience. A total of 350 regional and international delegates converged to Seychelles, including experts from all fields that constitute a holistic ECCE service—neuroscience, health, nutrition, the law, social affairs, education, water, sanitation, women and child rights.
They shared their expertise while different countries shared their best practices. Delegates came from all spheres including the public and private sectors, civil society, academia, research, policy makers and practitioners.
The president’s resolve to lead in ECCE
Seychelles’ President Danny Faure resolved to lead the building of effective ECCE systems nationally and globally. During the conference, I was glad to formally recognized Seychelles as an IBE-UNESCO best practice hub (BPH). The president understands the fundamental importance of early childhood care and education as a foundation for human development, which is a foundation for overall development. Seychelles has acted as a leader on the global stage for ECCE, which would never have been possible without the resolve of President Faure’s very dedicated, committed and unflinching leadership.
Modest about his achievements, the President knows that his country has made strides, but acknowledges that: “we should not remain in the comfort zone, we need to ensure that we have the proper mechanism to consolidate the work we have done and remain vigilant so there is no stagnancy.”
Calling all countries to step up to the ECCE challenge
Which other countries could lead the way in ECCE? We encourage others to step up to the challenge and call on other countries to follow Seychelles’ lead to develop resilient ECCE systems to give each and every child a fair chance at holistic development.