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Early Childhood Education SHAPING YOUNG MINDS

The second edition of ACIE Early Childhood Education Summit 2018 recently took place in Kathmandu. Offered by the ACEI International Outreach Committee (IOC) and the Alliance for Early Childhood Development Nepal (AECDN) training for early childhood teachers and caregivers were given in the summit doing various training sessions.

Rojina Adhikari talked with the chairs of the International Outreach Committee of ACEI (Association for Childhood Education- International), Sapna Thapa and Deborah Young about the aspects and goals of the ACIE Early Childhood Summit, 2018 including their personal thought on Early Childhood Education itself. Excerpts:

Sapna Thapa is Associate Professor for Early Childhood Teacher Education currently working in the United States. She is involved in a cross-cultural collaborative research and has been studying intercultural competence among pre-service teachers. She is also interested in developing culturally appropriate curriculum for children. In the future, she plans to be involved in advocacy and policy developmental for ECE in Nepal and develop ECE teacher education programs at the University level.

Deborah Young from Boulder Colorado, USA is a mother of six. She is passionate about social and ecological justice. She is involved in the cross-cultural research with Sapna. She is also conducting gender and human rights research in ECE. She works with families living in emergency settings, supporting local and national governments develop sustainable bottom-up multi-sectoral programmes that meet the needs of young children.    

What interested you in becoming an educator?

Sapna: Both my parents were educators and I grew up watching and learning from them. I am passionate about learning. My interest grew as I became aware of how much you can learn from children. One of the best lessons that I have learned is to be mindful, joyful and to live in the present. This has led me to become interested in education and to further my work with children, families and communities.

Deborah: Being a single mom, I needed childcare. There was no quality child care for infants.  So my best friend and I started the first infant center in Colorado, USA. Hence the care and love of my own children was the foundation of becoming an educator. As they grew, I also wanted to leave the world a better place for them.  Education can be used to create social and ecological justice rather than to uphold the status quo.  In other words, education can be a peaceful revolution.

How would you explain Early Childhood Education (ECE)?

Sapna: ECE many times is misunderstood as many think it is only about ‘teaching’ young children academic subjects. Although we do integrate these areas into ECE, it is more about understanding how children holistically develop and learn and what we can do to facilitate this. Learning and development go hand in hand.

Deborah: A child cannot hold a pencil or write if their fine motor skills have not developed. Children (and adults) learn through their senses and interactions with the environment. ECE is about making sure that the child has opportunities for sensory stimulation so that they can discover and make sense of the world around them through the senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing, vestibular, and proprioceptive.

Why is ECE crucial for the overall development of a child?

Sapna and Deborah: ECE is crucial as 90% of the brain is shaped in the early stages. Hence it’s important to set the foundation at an early stage for relationships, learning, and health for the future years of the child.  Therefore ECE impacts the child, family, community, nation and the world. For example, simple tasks such as ‘washing hands’ become a habit if it is introduced during the early years of childhood. ECE brings about behavioral changes which eventually shape character, attitude and define the personality.

What do you think is the situation for ECE in Nepal?

Sapna and Deborah: Nepal has come a long way in terms of ECE and the efforts of Seto Gurans, especially of Agatha Thapa, the founder and pioneer of ECE, should be acknowledged. Besides this, there have been several other initiatives that are working in collaboration with the government to bring change. However, there is still a long way to go as many children are still subjected to ‘entrance exams’ and in many preschools. ECE is transformed into a preparation for entry into grade 1 which devoids them of play and sensory activities. The role of a teacher in ECE is very important but Nepal has not yet developed a comprehensive ECE degree programme at the university level. ECE teachers are only required to have passed grade 8 and a training of about nine months provided by the government. As mentioned earlier, 90% of the brain develops during the early years so adults involved with children during these years should be highly qualified with a sound knowledge regarding the developmental years and theories related to early learning.

What sort of institutions should be involved to make ECE more proficient in Nepal?

Sapna and Deborah: We know that financing is very low as public investment.  So multi-sectoral levels need to collaborate to increase political will, investment, and understand publically and governmentally that this investment is a public good and will enhance the quality of the country in the present and more so in the long term.

How did you get connected with Association for Childhood Education International?

Sapna: I joined ACEI in 2007 as a country liaison for Nepal. My responsibilities were to provide timely updates related to education and early education to ACEI. Since then, I have been actively involved in the initiatives of ACEI.

Deborah: An early childhood advocate, mentor and social activist from Colorado told me that is where I need to put my passion and energy.  So I joined and have been an active member since 2003.

What is ACIE Early Childhood Education Summit 2018’s main agenda?

Sapna and Deborah: The summit’s focus is to provide hands-on learning for classroom teachers.  The teachers are on the ground with little support in terms of finance, professional development, public awareness, and media coverage. Teachers are the day to day people who shape children for families, communities, and nations.  Investment in the teacher, in public awareness, and cross-sectoral understanding at a government level is critical.  The summit is a small way to help support teacher professional development and offer an opportunity for teachers to share with similar hearts and minds so they do not feel so isolated in their work that is crucial in developing the quality of a country.