Learning from World Experience: What Role Should Community Play in Early Childhood Education?
The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) this year has been held under the theme of “UnLearn ReLearn: What it means to be Human” on November 20–21 and celebrated six WISE 2019 projects, selected from 481 projects that were submitted in recognition and encouragement of innovative educational initiatives worldwide. Among the six projects, five of them have attached their ongoing attention to children, including addressing economic and political obstacles to children’s school access, as well as their personal safety education, etc. Amid the boom of early childhood education industry and the increasing attention to kids, WISE 2019 Projects illuminate frontier practices in this field for global education practitioners to learn from.
This October, Chen Wei, the founder of Totally Kids (a Shanghai-based childcare center brand, mentioned in a TED speech at the 2019 Asian Preschool Education Annual Conference(APEAC): “Almost all the governments in different countries have relevant policies to support and even require children aged 3 and above to go to the kindergarten for collective living.” And he gave a comparative analysis of three concepts: early childhood education, childcare and kindergarten education, and the last one is listed as the level of rigid demand.
Since the implementation of the deepening reform of education, challenges including “the lack of the enrollment quota, expensive fees and long-distance from residential areas” have become the priority that Chinese government has to address in terms of the early childhood education sector and the subsequent policies have also proved the determination of the country.
However, the construction and operation of kindergarten always entails multilateral cooperation, among which urban design is a part that cannot be ignored.
During the WISE Summit, JMDedu interviewed Dr. Anita Chandra, the senior policy researcher and director of Social and Economic Well-Being at the RAND Corporation, who is committed to public health, child and adolescent development, and community-based participatory research and evaluation, to discuss the issues like “What role should community play in early childhood education”.
Government and NGO should work together to support early childhood education
On November 15 2018, Chinese government laid out the Opinions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Deepening Reform and Standardization of Early Childhood Education(《中共中央国务院关于学前教育深化改革规范发展的若干意见》), pointing out that by 2020, the coverage rate of universally-benefit kindergartens should reach 80%, and kindergartens around the urban residential areas will also shift their model from profit-seeking to public or universally-benefit.
On January 22, 2019, the “Notice on the Management of Community Kindergartens”(《关于开展城镇小区配套幼儿园治理工作的通知》) once again emphasized that “urban communities should build kindergartens in strict accordance with standards, and community kindergartens shall not be established for profit-seeking.”
It seems that universally-benefit kindergartens and community kindergartens are the best solutions for the challenges that Chinese parents are facing up. Provinces and cities across the country actively unveiled response documents, in which year 2020 is set as the time pivot for assessing the results.
In terms of the governmental measures in China, Anita Chandra believes that only relying on the government’s efforts is not enough for early childhood education, especially kindergarten management. Sectors sometimes work in parallel, so it is a big challenge for the school system and people who run youth organizations to support children in a holistic way, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep and maintain commitment.” Said Anita.
From her perspective, it’s really important that the government and NGOs can work together because “sometimes they understand some of the population in different ways, NGOs know better what young people in communities really need than the government.”
Therefore, Anita Chandra and her team are trying to develop a more integrated strategy so that everybody is working towards a common goal. “We need to promote the cooperation between government, civil society and private sector, pulling financial resources like education funds and early child funds to make sure that there is no gap.” Moreover, she also stated that as people design communities, they usually think more about investment opportunities, “but it is more important to create learning spaces, create opportunities for families to learn together.”
Preschool education should support children to be ready for their future
“What should be taught at the early childhood education stage?” This question seems to be a topic that practitioners have never stopped discussing, and there are also major differences between the supply and demand ends of the market. That is, institutions focus on the mindset of competency-based education while kindergartens insist “happy learning”, and the scientific research in recent years has increased parents’ education investment in the so-called “golden period of children’s brain development.”
According to the 21st Century Business Herald, on October 26th, Qiaowenedu, a subsidiary of Beststudy (Zhuoyue Education) providing the education to help kids transit from early childhood stage to primary school, along with APEAC unveiled the 2019 White Paper on this industry. Nearly 70% of parents are anxious about the problem, improving learning ability and developing good study habits are the issues that parents are most concerned about at this stage.
What parents care exactly resonates with what Anita Chandra advocates: “Preschool education should support children to be ready for their future.” She believes that early investments matter not only during early childhood but also prepare kids for their later life, they can prevent bigger problem happening in terms of education, cognitive development, as well as social and emotional development. However, apart from the efforts made by families and governments, communities should also play an important role in educating kids.
In addition to creating more learning space for kids and opportunities for families learning together that we mentioned above, Anita Chandra proposed that we need to consider how the community can support children to be ready for the learning and work skills they will need, “it is also a crucial part to make sure that the community development and economic development matches what you are educating young people to do.” Emphasized by Anita.
At the end of the last century, “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” as new terms were coined by Western scholars. The Post-00s and Post-10s generations are definitely digital natives as Anita said: “born in digital times, they are facing a more rapidly moving world and need to cope with more complexities.” Information moves faster and how people collaborate moves faster, bringing unprecedented challenges to early childhood education. Meanwhile, stress on early disease caused by many factors such as the climate and the environment has also become an issue that Anita Chandra continues to pay attention to.
World Experience: education practice for special children groups
Currently, with more than 59 million children out of school across the globe, the need for pioneering solutions has never been greater. Refugee children and kids who are separated from their parents have become the focus of attention.
According to the previous report on JMDedu’s Chinese Website, at the gathering of WISE, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, founder and chairperson of the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), highlighted the further plan of Zero Out Of School Children strategy, promoting the cooperation between the government and NGOs.
A number of educational innovations and new efforts were promoted, including launching the first classroom prototype, based on one of the late Dame Zaha Hadid’s final projects. The classroom features a number of innovative design solutions that will allow it to function as both a learning space and community hub for those living through the realities of current day migration and displacement.
Anita Chandra said: “our report done for the Qatar Foundation spots interesting programs in many countries like Jordan and Kuwait, and there are also other countries across the world doing something around this idea of youth well-being. Sometimes it’s nationwide and sometimes there are cities creating more youth strategies, which means they are trying to address all these things together.”
Looking at the world practice, the United Kingdom has a complete modern community system owing to the early achievement of urbanization. The British children can go to kindergartens near their homes and the teaching equipment and living facilities have no big difference.
This August, Anita Chandra was also invited to the “Thriving Communities” event in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. Hoover’s Metropolitan Complex playground, one of the projects supported by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, was designed to be inclusive for all kids including those with hearing impairments and autism. The Community Foundation’s new framework is thinking holistically about supporting and promoting well-being at a community level. It is really exciting and not something to be underestimated”. Said Anita.
Now, Anita Chandra and her team are dedicated to how to support those young refugees from Syria, helping them to use technologies so that they can remain connected to parents. She also told JMDedu that the issues they care about in the Chinese society are more revolved around urban design, life quality and health, “probably we have done less on early childhood development challenges in China, but we think we’ll be open to that and give some of the work we have done over the world into this country. ”