Thinking differently about the early childhood workforce to deliver quality results


First Early Childhood Workforce Initiative Webinars

by Anaïs Loizillon, International Education Consultant
On July 12 and 13, 2016, the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative hosted its first webinar entitled Diversity and identity: the early childhood workforce. The webinar kicked off the first learning event for the joint learning initiative between the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) and Results for Development (R4D). The Early Childhood Workforce Initiative aims to build learning to empower those who work with young children by bridging the gaps in policy and practice so as to build high quality services for all children under age 8. The initiative seeks to strengthen competences and standards, as well as training and professional development, improve monitoring and mentoring and increase the recognition of the profession. Other webinars will be proposed in 2016.
The focus of the webinar was to reflect upon the diverse identity of the early childhood (EC) workforce and how this diversity needs to be taken into consideration for improving the quality of EC policies and practices. Global evidence from programmes and policies presented during the webinar emphasized the importance of a high-quality workforce for providing a safe, healthy, stimulating and caring environment for children under age 8. Yet, a very diverse workforce – with numerous sectors involved (e.g. health, nutrition, education, care, social protection, welfare) – presents significant challenges in terms of presenting a coherent approach to the service provision for children and their families. How to create common foundational knowledge and values related to the image of the child, how to support early child development (ECD) and learning based on the science of brain development, and what are critical elements for the workforce in facilitating children’s’ healthy development and learning were some of the questions addressed during the webinar. 
I had the honour of moderating the discussions, which included an impressive line-up of seven speakers from various sectors across the world. They presented evidence on how policies and practices in their respective countries and regions can provide learning opportunities for all on how to build upon the strengths of a diverse EC workforce. The webinar was presented over two days to accommodate a global audience, with different panellists on each day. On Tuesday July 12, panellists included Mogana Dhamotharan, Lyentte Okengo, Lydia Foong Yoke Yean and Hirokazu Yoshikawa. July 13’s panellists were Eunice Lumsden, Antonio Rizzoli Córdoba, and Sian Williams.
Lydia Foong and Mogana Dhamotharan from SEGi University in Malaysia presented findings from their 2011 study on the qualification, work conditions and readiness for professional development of the early childhood care and education (ECCE) workforce in the private sector in Malaysia. The study highlighted that ECCE workers are underpaid and nearly half of the educators have little experience teaching. Financial and family constraints limit their ability to further their studies. New national policy development around professional ECCE training qualifications for ECCE educations should consider these findings to provide adequate workforce support, to attract strong candidates to the field, and to recognize the importance of mentoring to reduce turnover. 
Lynette Okengo of the African Early Childhood Network raised several opportunities and challenges in building the capacity of the ECD workforce in a weak enabling environment based on her experiences in a diverse set of countries and environments. The EC workforce needs to be motivated and connected to a network to increase their quality and capacity to learn. Across the region, however, EC service providers – particularly those in home-based programmes – have low motivation to stay in the sector. They are often paid in kind and are motivated to find other employment opportunities which are properly remunerated. These challenges in low-resource settings need to be addressed through better advocacy for the importance of early childhood learning in high-quality settings with properly trained professionals. 
Hirokazu Yoshikawa from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development raised the issue of how to improve the quality of caregiving so as to ensure that child development outcomes are enhanced. He also raised the importance of looking vertically (from assistant child care provider to national supervisors and inspectors) and horizontally (across all sectors) in the EC workforce to increase the quality of ECD outcomes. For example, in Chile, Colombia, Pakistan and the United States, recent evidence suggests that mentoring and coaching based on on-site observations helps build motivation among the EC workforce as well as improve the quality of interactions between children and parents and their caregivers (process quality). Supporting networks of frontline professionals and parents can also improve the quality of the EC workforce, as they can engage in joint learning sessions to develop goals to improve their operations and assess strategies that work.
Eunice Lumsden, with a background in social work, is Head of Early Years at The University of Northampton (United Kingdom). Her presentation focused on the challenges of the professionalization of the English Early Years workforce (working with children below ages 0 to 5 years) since 2001. She emphasized the importance of raising holistic child development as a valid pedagogical field across all sectors working with children and their families (health, education, social care, policy and law). For example, the Early Years training programme (in-service) is taught by an interdisciplinary team to share experiences across all sectors.
Antonio Rizzoli Córdoba, a pediatrician and the Founder and Head of the Neurodevelopmental Research Unit at the Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico, discussed the challenges of developing screening/diagnostic assessment tool (Prueba EDI) that is used primarily by the medical sector to identify developmental delays from a holistic perspective. He also presented various initiatives across Mexico promoting ECD across intersecting workforce fields (health and education) as well as introducing the concept of play and attachment for parents and communities.
Sian Williams, who is an independent consultant in policy and programming for children in Jamaica, working across the Caribbean Community countries since 1993, presented a public policy initiative to develop a national consensus around a common framework outlining caregiver competencies from all providers of services to children and their families (health, education, labour, faith-based and community-based organisations). This development, which occurred in Jamaica and expanded across the region to include 20 countries, presented numerous challenges to increase the qualifications of the current workforce. She also described an innovative pilot training programme to increase the skills in social and emotional learning of ECD workers in Jamaica.
Each webinar session also held thought-provoking discussions between the panellists and the audience on the role of communities and public policy in supporting the EC workforce, on establishing links across different sectors and on the low qualification levels of professionals for children from birth to age 2 years in low-resource areas. Rarely does such a solid group of evidence-based programmes and policies from around the world point towards the need for improved coordination, monitoring and advocacy to improve the quality of the EC workforce. 
The audio transcripts are available to listen on the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative website and the supporting documents including presentations can be downloaded. The conversation in the webinars will continue as an e-discussion on the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative Facebook page. You can sign up to receive more information about the Initiative’s future webinars and other activities and resources at the bottom of the Initiative’s homepage (newsletter sign up).