Start 'em young with 'Early Learning for Life'

By Maria Aleta Nieva-Nishimori,

Posted at Feb 20 2013 10:19 AM | Updated as of Feb 21 2013 01:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Early childhood education could be the answer to the growing problem of the so-called "batang hamog", children selling sampaguita and begging for alms on the streets.

“What happens in early childhood influences the entire life of people,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.

UNICEF, together with the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Department of Education (DepED), launched on Tuesday an innovative program that aims to prepare children, three to five years old, for school.

The project, “Early Learning for Life”, provides the chance for children to get a head start at learning and development.

“Successful intervention during early childhood can mitigate inter-generational transmission of poverty and inequality,” Hozumi said.

36 vulnerable areas

Funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the project will be implemented in 36 priority vulnerable areas in the Philippines until 2016.

Hozumi said the project targets the provinces of Camarines Norte, North Cotabato, Masbate, Northern Samar, Sulu, Sultan Kudarat, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, Maguindanao, Sarangani and in six major cities namely Quezon City, Davao City, Cotabato City, Puerto Princesa City, Zamboanga City and Pasay City.

“First of all, they were selected based on the mapping of vulnerable LGUs (Local Government Units) made by NAPC (National Anti-Poverty Commission) with that we also added other indicators like access to water, sanitation.”

“As you know, very rapid urbanization is one challenge that [the] Philippines and other countries are facing. We also made a decision to include at least 6 major cities,” he said.

The Early Learning for Life program will reach out to the most disadvantageous children who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities as a result of armed conflict, disaster and urban challenges.

“We aim to provide the best start to learning under the circumstances and help achieve the MDF on quality basic education by creating ECCD programs that empower LGUs to undertake doable actions using their own resources,” he said.

Ma. Lourdes De Vera-Mateo, chief of UNICEF’s Education Section, explained some of the program’s envisioned outputs.

“The program basically covers the training of teachers, day care workers in 2,500 sites (day care or kindergarten within elementary schools). It will also provide orientation of parents because we know parents still have relatively low appreciation for the importance of early childhood. Also, the strengthening of the local ECCD council because they will help in the coordination and management of ECCD services; and, of course, provision of developmentally-appropriate learning materials for the ECCD early learning,” Mateo said.

As to the number of children who will benefit from the program, Mateo said, “We’re trying to cover 2,500 sites more or less times (multiply) 60,that would be approximately the number of children. Were looking at 2 sessions, morning and afternoon but it would be more depends on the site.”

She added that the program will also cover improvement of water and sanitation and the integrated approach to not just learning but also hygiene education and elements of child protection.

The program also recognized the fact that many children in remote communities do not have access to day care centers.

“So part of the program also is to help create, Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP). This is an alternative delivery mode to ECCD. Its not center or school based but community based,” Mateo said.

Dr. Teresita Inciong, Chairperson of the ECCD Council Board, said they are working closely with government in the hopes of improving the way children are being cared for.

Inciong clarified that part of the commitment of the ECCD Council is to build 100 child development centers which would also serve as resource centers.

The program, Inciong said, will also focus on children with disabilities and those belonging to the minority and ethnic groups.

“Pati yung mga batang nasa kalye, yung mga batang nagkalat, bago sila maging batang hamog, kailangan natin silang pangalagaan. Kasi sila, ang prinsipyo nito, if we catch them early then may partida sila for early learning for life,” she said.

For her part, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said the program which will provide early access to education in vulnerable areas in the Philippines, will also help reduce poverty in the long run.

“It’s important that we cross all borders and focus on the child. For as long as there’s a child selling sampaguita on the street, begging for alms, we cannot rest,” she said.