Early Childhood in Time of Rapid Change
In Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius, over 300 early childhood experts, practitioners and policy makers met during ISSA Conference 2016-October 11-13. The conference was organized by ISSA.
ISSA- the International Step by Step Association serves as learning community and a champion for quality and equity for all children and their families, especially the most vulnerable. It is a successful learning community where members share their knowledge and work in order to develop best practices in Early Childhood Development (ECD). ISSA members are the leading experts in Early Childhood primarily from Europe and Central Asia and strive to remain the best informed and the most innovative specialists in the field.
Over the two and half days in Vilnius, the Conference heard from Keynote speakers including Dr. Nicolas Burnett from the Results for Development Institute, Dr. Lizbeth Goodman, of University College Dublin and representative of the Steering Committee involved in the newly released The Lancet series on Early Childhood Development. Alongside these esteemed professionals, ran an incredible 100 concurrent session based on the four conference themes:
- Meaningful Learning for Children
- Meaningful Preparation of the Workforce
- Meaningful Support for Families and
- Meaningful Use of Technologies
The primary focus of the conference were the emerging trends in Early Childhood Development and how practitioners can be prepared, and prepare the children and families they work with, for a rapidly changing world.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) received significant attention with the focus being drawn to what has been achieved in the field of ECD and recognition of the challenges ahead, which Dr. Nicolas Burnett summed by saying “although we go in the right direction, we need speed and specificity”.
Bernadette Daelmans from World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health in Geneva, Switzerland illustrated how The Lancet series emphasizes the multi-sectoral care of 0-3-year-old children how these years are critically important in terms of nurturing, nutrition, health and welfare.
The concurrent sessions were varied, insightful and educational. Presented by colleagues from some of the 48 countries attending the Conference they dealt with matters such as:
- Growing up Together”: a workshops about parents of children with disabilities;
- Live fast vs. Grow deep –How to support teachers effectively so they can independently respond to the changes taking place around us
- Assistive technology for reading interventions for learners with autism and intellectual disability
ISSA’s member from Pakistan, Children's Global Network, which was represented by its Chief Executive and Founding Director Mehnaz Aziz, made a meaningful contribution to the event. Her level of engagement, through succinct questions and enthusiastic networking was exemplary to everyone involved. During her presentation, “Equipping Youth to become a Boom in ECED, rather than a Bust for the Nation” she unpacked how Parwaan’s Preschool -School Readiness Program is supporting the government of Pakistan in achieving SDG target 4.2. The Program provides quality ECD opportunities to about 72,000 children from the neglected 3–5 years age group, increasing the likelihood that they stay at school and succeed in the all-important first few years of primary education.
For the first time, ISSA’s 2016 Conference embraced new technology by delivering the Conference content on a smart phone App. This not only minimized the daily burden for participants, as the weighty amount of literature was minimized, but it also allowed the participants to connect and share their opinions and meet up in a convenient and relaxed fashion. Of the over 8,700 messages sent on the App during the conference, Children's Global Network, Mehnaz Aziz was by far the technologies’ busiest user!
Two-week training of Entrepreneurs in Cycle 2 concludes
Cycle 2 of the 8-week rigorous training offered to the entrepreneurs of the Parwaan Preschool – A School Readiness Programme concluded last month. This was a continuation of the 6-week long training that was conducted in Cycle 1, after which the entrepreneurs were given time to establish ECD centres in their local communities. The purpose of the training, in Cycle 1, was to familiarize the entrepreneurs to various entrepreneurial and pedagogical skills and, in Cycle 2, to address themes similar to those of Cycle 1 but in light of the various problems and queries the entrepreneurs faced after they were given a chance to practically apply the knowledge they had acquired. The training was undertaken simultaneously in Bahawalpur, Khushab, Charsadda, Kohat and Islamabad Capital Territory.
A major focus of the training was centre management, as entrepreneurs faced particular difficulty in this regard once the centre had been established. The entrepreneurs were also introduced to additional techniques to manage children. These included engaging children in various activities as well as introducing a routine for the time they spend at the centre. With the help of volunteers from the entrepreneurs, the master trainers were able to demonstrate how to employ the aforementioned techniques in a classroom.
Other points of concern for the entrepreneurs included the issues of marketing the centres in their communities, insufficient student enrolment, and convincing parents to pay the fees. To rectify these problems, the entrepreneurs were familiarized with various people skills and marketing techniques that would allow them to advocate their centres better than before.
In Cycle 2, master trainers worked assiduously to make sure all problems of the entrepreneurs were addressed, in order to ensure the entrepreneurs were sufficiently equipped to tackle the myriad of hurdles that they may face while running their ECD centres.
Bahawalpur has enjoyed an invigorating experience since the conclusion of the training. In effect of the immense hard work put in by the Bahawalpur team, 17 ECD centers have been opened throughout the district since 1st September, 2016. Among the 17 centers, 10 have met the required ECD centers while 7 are working hard to achieve the criteria in order to receive the ECD school readiness kits.
On 25th September, 2016, the Bahawalpur team held its kit distribution ceremony where Federal Minister for Education & Training Eng. Muhammad Baligue Ur Rehman distributed kits among those Entrepreneurs. The Minister appreciated the CGN Bahawalpur District Team for creating a quality learning environment and encouraged them to continue their work with the same zest and zeal. He also reviewed the monthly lesson plan and kit item and appreciated CGN-P’s efforts.
As any other social entrepreneur embarking on an innovative and risky journey, the entrepreneurs initially faced some obstacles from their families. However, after the initiation of the centers, their families are now in full support of their dreams as they can see the results for themselves.
Entrepreneurs initially faced quite a challenge in convincing parents in their communites to send their children to home based ECD centers. They had to go door to door and carry out marketing campaigns in order to receive admissions. However, after a month of the inception of the ECD centers, parents are more than pleased with the performance of their children. A father gleefully said that his son has now follows basic hygiene blindly without any pestering from the parents and his confidence has increased exceptionally. Many other parents share similar stories of improvements among their children since inception of the ECD centers.
CGN-P facilitator’s Comments
District Coordinator Bahawalpur Shaheer is more than excited about the progress of the entrepreneurs.
“During the entire process I have observed that Entrepreneurs of Bahawalpur are energetic, handworkers, and ready to prove themselves. The story of entrepreneur Hafiz Kaleem is inspirational. Kaleem who studied conventional religious studies had to fight a personal conflict when he decided to join the innovative Parwaan Preschool – A School Readiness Programme. However after completing the robust 6 week entrepreneurial training, Kaleem opened a unique ECD center at Masjid of Uch Sharif. And also constructing proper building for ECD center.