(OECS) — Equity and Inclusion in Early Childhood Development were high on the education agenda at the 8th Annual Regional Meeting of Early Childhood Development (ECD) Leaders held on October 23-24, 2023. The meeting was convened by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission in collaboration with the UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Office at the Courtyard by Marriot in Bridgetown. It was the first time ECD leaders throughout the region met in person since May 2019, following the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of developing a multisectoral approach to ECD in the region. The meeting was attended by officials within the Health, Special Education Needs (SEN), Child Protection and Social Services sectors and provided regional ECD leaders with a forum to assess the impact of the pandemic on the accessibility of quality early childhood education services in the region.
Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, guided by its five strategic priorities, the OECS Commission has maintained its work to strengthen education in the region. At the Eighth OECS Council of Ministers: Education held earlier this year, Early Childhood Education to enhance student learning was given priority during the high-level discussions. Additionally, through the Program for Educational Advancement and Relevant Learning (OECS PEARL) the Commission has been advancing progress towards the goals of the OECS Education Sector Strategy (OESS) through increased access and improved student learning in basic education. For the past two years (i.e., in 2022 and 2023), the OECS PEARL has convened an Early Childhood Education Leaders Forum to provide professional development support to ECE Leaders in key areas and collectively develop strategies for enhancing early childhood education in the four member states participating in the OECS PEARL.
In her prepared welcome remarks, Head of the Human and Social Division at the OECS Commission, Mrs. Sisera Simon set the tone for the meeting with the following statements:
“In the tender years of early childhood, every child’s potential is a seed waiting to sprout. Our duty, as educators and advocates, is to ensure that this potential is nurtured and cultivated regardless of background, ability, or circumstance,” she remarked.
Elaborating further, she stated:
“Equity and inclusion stand as the cornerstones of this meeting, guiding us to create an environment where every child feels valued, respected, and empowered to explore the world……Let us champion the cause of every child, providing them with equal opportunities to thrive and succeed. Together, through our collective efforts and unwavering commitment, we can sculpt a future where every child’s dreams are valid and attainable.”
UNICEF Deputy Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area, Tanya Radosavljevic, said the Eighth Annual Meeting of ECD leaders and the emphasis on multi-sectoral approaches to ECD was a critical step in ensuring that every child in the sub-region receives the love, support and “nurturing care” necessary to flourish.
“This approach emphasises the very importance of positive experiences in the very early years of a child’s life, not only because it determines the capacity to learn and to earn, but because it determines the impact on the health, longevity and personal and social adjustment,” said Radosavljevic.
“If these foundations are strong, children are more likely to survive, they are more likely to thrive, and they are more likely to reach their full potential,” she added.
The meeting addressed pertinent issues such as improving the quality of service delivery at the ECD level, enabling factors such as the convergence in policy and practice within the ECD sector, and adopting a more holistic or multi-sectoral approach to ECD. Additionally, the agenda for the 8th annual meeting included the presentation of the regional ECD report for 2021-22, discussions on equity of access to ECD services, a review of the routine monitoring checklists for ECD and a panel discussion featuring parents of young children. Participants in the meeting also toured a model ECD centres in Barbados during Day Two of the meeting.
The 8th Annual Regional Meeting of ECD Leaders has been the result of collaborative planning among staff at the OECS Commission and UNICEF, ECD Leaders from Ministries of Education of OECS Member States and from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos. Key Development Partners who were present and contributed to this meeting include CARICOM, CDB, Hands Across the Sea and USAID. Furthermore, special mention must be made of the Ministry of Education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines which played a significant role in the preparations for this meeting.