Evidence is growing that early childhood development (ECD) services have a strong, positive impact on children’s development. Research from diverse contexts shows that interventions which promote nurturing care in early environments significantly improve childhood development and later adult outcomes. For example, a study of the Hogares Comunitarios de Bienestar program in Colombia, which provides child care and nutrition services to children under age six, found that adolescents ages 13-17 who had participated in the program were almost 20 percent more likely to be in school than those who had not participated.
Despite increasing knowledge on the benefits of ECD, however, we still don’t know as much about one of the most critical parts of ECD programs: the early childhood workforce. Research shows that the workforce is one of the most important factors influencing the quality of ECD services. For example, in the early childhood education and care sector, evidence indicates that caregivers’ level of education and participation in training is a better predictor of program quality than other factors such as child-staff ratios or group size.
While we know that the workforce is important, key questions remain unanswered. What do early childhood professionals and paraprofessionals need to know and be able to do in order to perform effectively and how does this vary across contexts? What types of training and support do staff receive? How is the early childhood workforce recruited, monitored, and evaluated?
Answering these questions requires evidence that is global in nature and deeply textured to reflect the diversity of the early childhood workforce. Assessing and learning from the full breadth of early childhood efforts is no easy task, but it is exactly what we seek to do as part of the multi-stakeholder, multi-country Early Childhood Workforce Initiative (ECWI). Through the ECWI, we are carrying out a series of global landscape analyses on four critical themes: competences and standards, training and professional development, monitoring and mentoring, and recognition of the profession.
These analyses aim to establish the size and scope of the challenges faced by the early childhood workforce, while also highlighting promising practices countries have adopted in response to these challenges. Spanning a range of roles including professionals and paraprofessionals, paid and unpaid workers, and frontline workers and managers, from the education and care, health and nutrition, social protection and child protection sectors, these analyses aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the current status of the workforce worldwide. Such a vast review and synthesis of literature on the early childhood workforce has never been done before and is sure to generate some interesting findings.
What are the keys to the strengthening the workforce?
We are focusing on four themes which are essential to the strengthening and support of the early childhood workforce:
- Competences and Standards – Competences and standards ensure that there are agreed requirements and expectations for what early childhood workers should know and be able to do. They also lay the groundwork for the core principles, regulations, guidelines and procedures guiding their work with young children and their families.
- Training and Professional Development –Since the early childhood workforce is very diverse, including, for example, many volunteers or staff without formal education, training and professional development opportunities support the acquisition of necessary skills and competencies.
- Monitoring and Mentoring – Creating systems for monitoring, evaluation/assessment, and continuous feedback and coaching are important for ensuring that workers receive information that they can use to improve their practice on an ongoing basis and for linking members of the workforce to pathways for career advancement.
- Recognition of the Profession – Currently, the level of remuneration, working conditions, and status of the early childhood workforce are poor, even relative to primary teachers, nurses, social workers, and other similar professions. Recruitment challenges, high turnover, and low morale compromise the quality of provision. There is a need to explore ways to improve the attractiveness and perception of the profession and promote ways to give voice to practitioners in their daily work and in policy discussions, including through collective action.
Where we are now and what’s to come
We are currently working on the first two of four landscape analyses covering competences and standards and training and professional development, two interrelated themes. Clearly articulated competences and standards ideally inform the way that training and professional development programs and curricula are designed. Simultaneously, effective training and professional development programs align with predefined competences and standards to ensure that early childhood professionals are equipped with the skills necessary to perform successfully.
The two landscape analyses will provide an overview of general early childhood workforce trends, explore key themes that emerge from the synthesis of literature, and provide in-depth country reviews to illustrate how systems are tackling key workforce challenges.
Initial findings from our research show that the number of university-level pre-service programs are increasing worldwide. In China, for example, more than 250 university-based programs, including 61 with master’s programs, have been established in the social and child protection field since the late 1980s, when social work was legally recognized as a profession. However, universally, challenges persist regarding quality of educational opportunities and in terms of who has access to them. Additionally, while countries have made efforts to align training and professional development opportunities with nationally and internationally recognized competences and standards, gaps persist between policy and practice. Evidently, despite progress made in raising the status of the early childhood workforce, more work remains to be done. With that said, several countries have made significant efforts to address these gaps. For example, Indonesia has established a set of agreed upon core competences and core subject areas to be applied by all universities and schools of social work, allowing for consistency in the types of competences and skills emphasized in formal training programs for social service workers. Similarly, in the early childhood education and care sector, New Zealand has developed a robust teacher education and course accreditation process that ensures alignment between teacher training programs and predefined quality standards.
Through the ECWI landscape analyses, we plan to highlight promising approaches countries have adopted to address pressing workforce challenges, and also identify areas for further work.
We hope that a diverse group of stakeholders working in ECD can use the findings of these landscape analyses to:
- Generate lessons for countries looking for ways to support and strengthen the early childhood workforce
- Enhance existing programs, policies, research, and advocacy efforts concerning the early childhood workforce
Stay tuned for findings from these two studies, to be shared in the coming months.