Working Group on Early Childhood Development (WGECD)

Background

Making early childhood development a priority for Africa Early childhood development (ECD) focuses on young children’s physical well-being, cognitive and language skills, and social and emotional development. Their skills and learning abilities are nurtured by the creation of an enabling environment during the first years of their life, including appropriate nutrition, medical care and stimulation at all times. Thus ECD programmes that promote the optimal development of children, from the time they are conceived to the age of eight, have a lasting and significant impact on their lives.

Nevertheless, ECD initiatives are limited, unevenly distributed, and can vary widely in quality. Most ECD programmes are developed and maintained by the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations. They suffer from inadequate funding and a lack of coherence, coordination, sustainability and long-term policies. This is particularly true in Africa, where scarce resources, especially for education, suggest that investment in ECD could endanger the commitment to other education sectors.

It is high time for first of the six EFA goals, on ECD, to be fully integrated into national development, anti-poverty and wealth creation processes as part of an effective strategy to promote sustainable development and equity.

What is WGECD?

The Working Group on Early Childhood Development (WGECD) was created in 1997 to influence policy supporting integrated approaches to the development of the young child. It provides an informal platform to enhance cooperation and collaboration among organisations that are actively engaged in ECD promotion in Africa, such as national governments, sub-regional networks, and multilateral and bilateral organisations and education authorities.

Since 2007, WGECD has been coordinated by UNESCO BREDA. It is guided by a Steering Committee comprising representatives of African ministers and international agencies, including UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, Save the Children, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Consultative Group on ECD. The following principles underpin all WGECD initiatives:

  • The critical phase of ECD begins before birth and continues into the early years of formal schooling.
  • All aspects of a child’s development – emotional, social, cognitive, physical, and spiritual – are interdependent and equally important.
  • To maximise child development, parents, caregivers and families must receive as much attention and support as the child;
  • Involving parents and communities is crucial to the development of ECD policy and services.
  • ECD interventions should respect the practices and cultural beliefs intrinsic to child development in each society.
  • National government commitment is essential to develop and expand ECD policies.
  • Distinctive and cross-sectoral policies supporting holistic ECD are likely to be the most effective.

What does the working group do?

Acting as a facilitator and catalyst, WGECD champions the development and implementation of an integrated and holistic approach to ECD and encourages decision-makers to acted in an enlightened manner when dealing with children’s rights, from when they are born until the age of eight: Its task is to:

  • raise awareness and mobilise political and public support for ECD in Africa;
  • stimulate policy review, development, implementation, and monitoring at the national level;
  • motivate partnership building and networking among all the stakeholders on major ECD-related issues;
  • facilitate capacity building and the production, management and dissemination of knowledge on ECD issues.

Advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns

The WGECD uses various platforms, including regional conferences, to continuously advocate and raise awareness of the critical need to invest in ECD. In November 2009, WGECD, chaired by UNESCO, and the Government of Senegal, with the technical and financial support of the World Bank, UNICEF and Save the Children, organised the Fourth African International Conference on Early Childhood Development (ECD) on the theme “From Policy to Action: Increasing Investment in ECD for Sustainable Development.” In their final communiqué, the 700 delegates appealed to African nations, development partners, and the African Union to give greater priority to ECD and make measurable advancements in child-responsive public policies and budgeting by 2015. Following this event, the African Union listed ECD as the eighth priority in its Plan of Action for the Second Decade of Education in Africa.

In 2013, to ensure that ECD is included among the top priorities after 2015, WGECD organised a campaign in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, a blog).

In addition, the Inter-Country Quality Node on ECD based in Mauritius is boosting WGECD’s efforts. Covering 13 countries, it aims to build countries’ capacity for political dialogue, promote cooperation between countries and optimise ECD resources.

Policy support

WGECD initiated a policy-studies project that documented and analysed the processes involved to formulate and implement ECD policies in Ghana, Mauritius, and Namibia, three countries that had made significant progress in the development of a cross-sectoral ECD policy. Then WGECD was asked to support the national policy development process in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal.

WGECD has identified good practices in Africa and produced a guide that has been disseminated throughout the continent to influence decision makers and help scale up ECD efforts. An ECD policy-planning guide has also been produced to serve as a reference in the field. WGECD above all advocates integrating ECD policies within on-going national development processes, such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Sector-Wide approaches (SWAPs).

WGECD and ADEA are currently producing a research paper entitled “Community Approach: an imperative for ECD in Africa: analysis and benchmarks for action”. This publication aims to help governments and partners to expand community ECD centres.

African leadership and partnership development

WGECD aims to contribute to capacity building and African leadership in the field of ECD by supporting the network of the Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU), which was created due to strong demand for capacity building via distance learning. It is now run by the University of Victoria, Canada, and two African universities (Ghana and Nigeria). The Inter-Country Quality Node based in Mauritius adds to these efforts through the Mauritius-Africa Initiative.

WGECD, with support from UNESCO, has formed a strategic partnership with the private sector, namely the publishing house Michel Lafon. A collection of 12 Bouba and Zaza “Childhood Cultures” books has been published. They are available in French, English, Portuguese and Kiswahili. The experiences of these characters are intended to help young children develop life and social skills outside the environment of their family. The books are also aimed at older children, parents and teachers.

WGECD supports networking and partnership building at both the regional and national level. A regional network of national ECD focal points was created following the Third African International Conference on ECD held in Ghana in 2005, and all countries have a national coordination unit. WGECD also works with the other ADEA Working Groups.

Research and knowledge development

Studies focusing on Africa far outnumber those conducted by Africa itself, and they are wider in scope. This underlines the importance of WGECD’s research activities, which aim to enhance ECD knowledge and demonstrate clearly that ECD can and should be afforded.

Specific attention is given to HIV/AIDS. The effects of HIV/AIDS are devastating for very small children and the ever-growing group of children who are infected through mother-to-child transmission. WGECD provides help by encouraging and assisting countries to develop strategies to help young children affected by HIV/AIDS.