The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on early childhood services across the globe. Evidence shows that an estimated 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year, adding to the estimated 386 million children already in extreme poverty in 2019 (United Nations 2020). To address this issue, countries have been exploring different ways of strengthening the early childhood workforce in their countries to ensure that they are able to continue supporting young children and their families during the pandemic. Philippines’ Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council for example, the primary agency responsible for supporting the Government’s ECCD programs that cover health, nutrition, early education, and social services for children ages 0-4, has been exploring different ways of ensuring that childcare workers are supported in carrying out their duties during lockdown, and prepared to continue their work once restrictions are eased and services start to reopen.
To gain insight into these efforts, Denise Bonsu, Senior Program Associate at R4D, chats with Dr. Teresita Inciong, Executive Director and Vice Chairperson at the ECCD Council, to learn more about the challenges that have been faced, the solutions that have been implemented to mitigate these challenges, and the overall lessons learned while supporting the workforce during the pandemic.
Q: I am curious to know more about how the pandemic has impacted the ECCD Council’s childcare programming and childcare workers. What is the status of childcare programs? How have they been impacted?
A: On March 16th, the Agency Task Force on COVID-19 started closing down schools that provide early childhood education services, and stipulated that no child (between the ages of 0 – 4) could attend these centres. This decision presented a number of health and economic issues (particularly for public childcare centres) since it left children and the early childhood workforce with no place to go.
To minimize the impacts of COVID-19 on young children and their families, the ECCD Council started broadcasting Radyo Bulilit (Kid’s Radio), a radio program, that provides parents with insights on how to cope with COVID-19 to ensure that children are stable and well cared for while at home. After the first season of Radyo Bulilit, we administered a survey which found that the radio program was helping parents and children bond with one another. Additionally, local government units are providing families with monetary and food assistance, and the ECCD Council is providing families with learning support materials (e.g. activity cards, video clips) in order to create an environment where the child is prepared to go back to school again.
The Department of Education announced that the reopening date of classes for basic education and ECCE services will be October 5, 2020, although Government guidelines stipulate that there will be no face-to-face sessions for all children (e.g. secondary) until the COVID-19 health situation improves. In preparation for the reopening of classes, child development teachers and workers have started developing learning support materials, and the ECCD Council is exploring alternate service-delivery models, such as home-based programs with parents acting as a learning coach or home teacher. As a result of the pandemic, we found that it is very important for Center-Based ECCD programs to be conducted in alternative venues (CBPAV), such as the home, to ensure that children continue to receive ECCD services during emergency situations. Through the CBPAV, the early childhood workforce can continue to plan and modify weekly learning plans and implement them at home, with the help of the adults that live with the child.
Q: How have childcare workers had to adapt to the new situation?
A: The lockdown has been very difficult for teachers and their students. Teachers miss interacting with students and children miss seeing their teachers and spending face-to-face time with their friends. Teachers have been facilitating virtual graduation ceremonies (in lieu of the usual graduation ceremonies) so that children do not feel like they are missing out in the process.
Currently, some childcare centres are used as isolation facilities for people who have been in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive. To ensure that this does not pose a future health risk, the ECCD Council issued an advisory requesting that these centres be sanitized and disinfected before reopening. Childcare workers have been leading this deep cleaning process, with support from parents.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced in supporting childcare workers during the pandemic? How is the ECCD Council addressing those challenges?
A: Some members of the early childhood workforce (e.g. child development teachers and workers) do not have permanent job contracts. As such, many workers have already lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and those who have not, are afraid that they will soon.
The ECCD Council created a set of guidelines that outline several activities workers can continue to carry out during the pandemic, such as home visits, community mapping, and surveying parents on the impact of COVID-19. These activities increase their likelihood of having their 6-month contracts extended since a lot of workers are still willing to work during the pandemic.
As mandated by law, the ECCD Council is also continuing to professionalize workers and teachers by offering scholarship grants to early childhood educators and providing online courses. This will allow educators to update their knowledge and hone their expertise in handling early childhood education. For educators living in areas with limited internet connectivity, the Council provides a hard copy of the modules that will be covered in class, and includes an electronic copy stored in a USB that is sent to workers via courier.
Q: Now that countries have slowly started to reopen their services, many ECCD centres are starting to explore different ways of safely bringing early childhood workers and children back into their centers. With this in mind, I would like to know what plans the ECCD Council has in place to support frontline workers as day care and child development centers begin to reopen?
A: The Council will use health guidelines stipulated by the government to assess the situation before reopening services. Over the last few months, members of the workforce have been conducting home visits (while strictly observing health protocols) and administering surveys to assess parents’ expectations on early learning post COVID-19. So far, the results from the assessments show that parents (in private centers) are afraid to have their children go back to school.
Until families feel safe sending their children back to these centers, a small number of parents will be invited to the center (following social distancing guidelines), and teachers will provide guidance on how to help children study at home during COVID-19 using the learning support materials that have been prepared. After a week, parents will report back to the center to discuss how everything is going at home. If parents live far away from the centres, teachers can meet them in their barangay (village). Teachers can also provide parents with internet access with a USB that allows them to access an electronic copy of learning support materials at home.
Q: What are some of the key lessons you have learned while supporting childcare workforce during the pandemic? What are the long-term implications that COVID-19 will have on supporting the workforce?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, no one in the Philippines (and the world) was prepared for this crisis. Moving forward, we need to ensure that childcare centres are prepared to handle similar situations in the future. This can be done by preparing learning support materials that can be sent out to families in the event of unexpected school closures and training the early childhood workforce on first aid and emergency response management.
We also need to make considerations for parents of children with disabilities who are especially struggling during this time (e.g. unable to send their children to therapy). We need to ensure that the early childhood workforce has training on how to support these children, as well as provide counseling and emotional support to help parents in distress. Finally, to ensure constant communication with parents and provide them with periodic updates on the status of childcare centres and plans to reopen.
To learn more about the different ways programs are supporting and strengthening workers during COVID-19, keep watching the ECWI website.