The brains of young children are amazing. In their first few years, children’s brains can make up to a thousand new connections every second, a rate that is never repeated in life.
However, to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we need to provide children with holistic and integrated care and support.
This means stimulation, through playing, talking, singing and interacting from the earliest possible moment.
It means nutrition. In the first years of life, brains can consume between 50-75% of all the energy absorbed from food and good nutrition.
And it means protection. We must protect children from violence and from prolonged exposure to cortisol or other stress hormones that can cause toxic stress, and limit brain connectivity and development.
All these things are crucial for what we call early childhood development (ECD) services. In Indonesia, the Government has recognized the importance of quality ECD services. But there is a significant need for further expansion and improvement.
My job at UNICEF is to support the Government in developing a model for ECD in universal pre-primary education. With funding from the IKEA Foundation, ourinvolves developing and implementing quality ECD services in 100 kindergartens in the District of Bogor, West Java Province.
Right now, the district has 2,936 ECD centres/kindergartens serving more than 600,000 children under six years old. However, the participation rate of children in pre-primary education is only 60% in 2018 compared to the national rate of 74%.
Based on the good practice and evidence generated from this model, UNICEF is helping to make policy changes and assisting the Government of Indonesia to replicate the model with its own resources. The model includes:
- convincing communities of the value of universal access to quality ECD services
- training ECD workers
- parenting education
- cross-sector co-ordination at district level to make sure ECD services are high quality and to improve the policy framework.
Already, there have been so many positive changes. The teachers now have lesson plans and manage their ECD centres better than before. Parents and children are more motivated.
Thanks to the support of UNICEF and the IKEA Foundation, we are thinking about sustainability after the programme is completed. Mr Wembi Syarief Chan, Head of Facilities and Infrastructure for the Bogor Education District Department, says: “We hope to be able to replicate a similar model, using a holistic and integrated approach with ECD centres in our district.”
We are now urgently expanding the model to other districts in Indonesia to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.2. This target is to ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
The Government of Indonesia has committed to achieving this target. So, with support from the IKEA Foundation, we are proud to be generating evidence on the universal pre-primary model and ensuring that children in other districts can reach their full potential.
We look forward to hosting you in Indonesia to show you the value of the three core elements of early childhood development: eat, play and love!