By Taleen Vartan
NEW YORK, USA, 12 December 2011 – The earliest years of a child’s life are pivotal, both for the child’s immediate well-being and for his or her future dev. Effective investments in early childhood development (ECD) have the potential to reduce disparities exacerbated by poverty, poor nutrition and limited learning opportunities.
Through UNICEF’s Back on Track programme on education in emergencies and post-crisis transition, children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are benefiting from the establishment of ECD centres, where preschool-aged children have access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate services and psychosocial support.
EEPCT_ECDinDRCcasestudy_Dec2011This case study is part of a series supported by the Back on Track programme in an effort to highlight innovative and substantial programming through hallmark interventions.
Early childhood development in the DRC
Despite protracted conflict, increased poverty and deteriorating living conditions, basic education in the DRC has improved in recent years. According to the Ministry of Education, the gross enrolment rate in primary education increased from 83.4 per cent in 2006/07 to 90.8 per cent in 2009/10. However, only about half of preschool aged children in the country are on a good developmental track in terms of literacy and numeracy, learning, physical growth and socio-emotional dev.
UNICEF has worked with communities and the government to raise awareness among parents about the importance of supporting and encouraging children in their formative years. UNICEF’s ECD centres provide hygiene, health and nutrition services. These programmes aim to achieve gender parity and reach out to vulnerable groups.
The centres help prepare children for primary school, leading to better performance and higher enrolment. Moreover, in a country still healing from decades of conflict, young children feel protected and safe in these early learning spaces – helping remove long-lasting obstacles to their cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as contributing to overall stabilization and the promotion of peace.
Since the project began in 2008, nearly 77,500 children have benefited from preparation for primary school in the ECD centres. UNICEF has established more than 500 centres and trained 1,900 preschool teachers and 1,900 primary school teachers on the ECD approach. In Équateur Province alone, the number of ECD centres doubled from 29 in 2007/08 to 60 in 2010/11.
While challenges remain in continuing, reproducing and scaling up the ECD project – from the high cost of infrastructure to difficulties in securing financial support for teacher trainings, food for children and first aid kits – UNICEF is committed to working with partners to provide better early learning opportunities for all.
For these war-torn boys and girls in the DRC, the ECD centres provide hope. In doing so, they ensure that children are healthy, developmentally ready for learning and better placed to thrive in their communities and in life.