Education starts early: Highlights from the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education

Levels of Learning - Early Childhood Development

The World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education (WCECCE) took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from 14 to 16 November 2022. Ministers, heads and members of delegations, representatives of United Nations (UN) agencies, development cooperation agencies, civil society organizations, and education agents and experts gathered to renew and expand their commitment and investment to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and education. 

The WCECCE focused on four themes: inclusion, quality and wellbeing; ECCE workforce; programme innovations; and financing, policy, and governance. As part of the inclusion, quality, and wellbeing, the INEE Early Childhood Development Working Group, in partnership with the Moving Minds Alliance (MMA), UNESCO, International Rescue Committee (IRC), World Vision International (WVI), BRAC, LEGO Foundation, Sesame Workshop, Yale Child Study Center, and Plan International, hosted a parallel session on “Nurturing care and early learning for all: supporting young children affected by emergencies and humanitarian settings”. 

Panelists at the session "Nurturing care and learning for all"
Figure 1: Panelists for the parallel session on "Nurturing care and learning for all" at the WCECCE. 

The session sought to highlight the key role of holistic ECCE in contexts of emergencies and humanitarian crises as a powerful mechanism to support all young children to build resilience, overcome the impacts of adversity, and reach their full potential. The delegations of Nauru and Lebanon, Amna and the Comenius Foundation for Child Development shared their experiences in implementing ECCE in emergencies, highlighting the results that demonstrate its success in meeting the needs of the affected young children and caregivers. Some of the key practices discussed include: 

  • Developing policies that encourage enrollment and attendance, such as providing free meals and transport to school and other child-friendly spaces. 
  • Expanding the scope of education policies, in particular curriculum, to include early learning targeting children 0-3 years old and their caregivers. 
  • Championing  multi-sectoral approaches to early learning in emergencies, including all relevant stakeholders with clear tasks and workflows. 
  • Developing partnerships with local and national governments to make early learning programming and policies sustainable in the long term. 
  • Integrating affected communities, such as refugees, into policy and programme design and implementation.
  • Making available a set of tools and mechanisms for affected children and families to process and cope with stress, trauma and feelings that come with living through an emergency or crisis. 

Ultimately, it is imperative that governments establish policies and associated funding as fundamental drivers for providing quality, holistic, and equitable early childhood care and education during emergencies and humanitarian crises. This means investing in supporting children with the core components of nurturing care: good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning. Conveners of the WCECCE urge member states to allocate a minimum of 10% percent of their education budget to early childhood education and commit to guaranteeing at least one year of high-quality pre-primary education for all children.

Crises can serve as catalysts for systems change and provide an opportunity for addressing other issues. Early investments deliver outsized impact and return on investment, not only for individual children and families but for societies at-large; from reducing poverty and inequality to promoting gender equity and lifelong learning to fostering more peaceful and inclusive societies. 

WCECCE resulted in the Tashkent Declaration and Commitments to Action for Transforming Early Childhood Care and Education, which urge member states to “Protect and guarantee the right to ECCE in and after emergencies and protracted crises: Children and ECCE services are hugely vulnerable to crises, including conflicts and natural disasters. All efforts should be made to protect them. Programmes should support psycho-social and emotional well-being as well as education and care, and trauma-informed pedagogy. All programmes should help children and their families to build resilience to navigate future crises.”

To learn more, read the thematic report “Early Childhood Care and Education in Emergenciesdeveloped by UNESCO’s Education Section for Migration, Displacement, and Emergencies, in close collaboration with the INEE Early Childhood Development Working Group.