Why early childhood education is essential


Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

There’s no doubt that acquiring a good education is dependent on a person’s ability to learn, and such ability can be formed by experiences in early childhood.

During the formative years in one’s life, the ability to “learn how to learn” can be shaped which would be of tremendous help toward lifelong learning.

Learning how to learn is certainly developed by early childhood education (ECE) that, as the UNICEF said, “offers a vital foundation for lifelong learning by nurturing children’s foundational and transferable skills that prepare them to participate in primary education and beyond, while reducing the risk of school failure.”

The importance of ECE has become compelling amid a recently published report that our country’s ranking in Southeast Asia is “second to worst” in Grade 5 students’ reading and math skills.

Results of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) 2019 indicated that “only 10 percent of students in the Philippines met the minimum reading standard and 17 percent met the minimum mathematical standard expected at the end of primary education.”

The report said Filipino Grade 5 students got an average score of 288 in reading assessment, behind Vietnam (336), Malaysia (319), Myanmar (292) and Cambodia (290). The Philippines was ahead only of Laos, where students had an average score of 275.

“The findings of the first cycle of the SEA-PLM in the country suggests the existence of alarming trends of low quality of learning. The average scores of Philippines in reading, math and writing are all below the average scores of the other five participating countries,” according to Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines representative.

The SEA-PLM findings ought to be a wake-up call to strengthen our early education system focusing on very young Filipinos aged three to five.

“Starting education at the right age is a head start in learning and predicts higher success in school. Data suggest that children who received ECE are more likely to attend primary education at age six, which is the official primary school starting age in the Philippines, compared to those who did not attend ECE,” the UNICEF revealed.

“More specifically, 46 percent of children who attended a two-year ECE program and 40 percent of those with one year of ECE experience entered primary education at age six, compared to 14 percent of peers with no ECE attendance. It is also noteworthy that students who entered primary education at a later age perform significantly worse in reading, writing, and mathematics than peers who joined at the right age,” UNICEF said.

“Children who received ECE are less likely to repeat grades than those who did not attend an ECE program,” the UNICEF explained. “A relatively higher share of children with no ECE attendance (44 percent) have repeated grades, compared to those with one year of ECE experience (30 percent) and two years of ECE experience (31 percent).”

Thus, early education — also known as pre-primary or nursery education – is undoubtedly of prime importance. It can certainly improve a child’s learning ability and enable the kid to cope better with education challenges up ahead in grade school.

When I was senator, I authored RA 6972, also known as the “Barangay-Level Total Development and Protection of Children Act” which also has its concept of early education for pre-school children up to six years of age. The law provides for a program making use of “materials and network of surrogate mothers-teachers who will provide intellectual and mental stimulation to the children, as well as supervised wholesome recreation, with a balanced program of supervised play, mental stimulation activities, and group activities with peers.”

Other subsequent laws on early education have also been enacted. RA 10410 or the Early Years Act of 2013 “mandated the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council to coordinate the various ECCD programs offered by the Department of Education (DepEd), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Health (DOH), and the National Nutrition Council (NNC), as well as monitor the delivery of services by the local government units (LGU) to beneficiaries nationwide.”

Yet, despite enactment of RA 10410 “recognizing the age from zero to eight years as the first crucial stage of educational development and strengthening the early childhood care and development system,” the aggressive pursuit of ECE in the Philippines leaves much to be desired. The UNICEF said only “47 percent of three to four year old children were in pre-school in School Year 2020–2021.”

Clearly, all stakeholders need to do a lot more to ensure that most of our very young Filipinos avail of early education before entering kindergarten and grade school.

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