Early Childhood Education: Challenge of the Third Millennium

Morelia Declaration[1]


Early childhood, the period from conception to around the age of 7 years, is a decisive phase in the human life cycle. Evidence from physiology, biology, nutrition, sociology, psychology, the neurosciences, and other fields show that these years are critical for the well-being and physical development of children; for the growth of intelligence and personality; and for the development of positive social attitudes. During the period, young children absorb fundamental human and social values, primarily through their concrete experience of living and from the behaviour of parents, educators and communities.

For these reasons, programmes[2] in support of early childhood development, care and education continue to experience strong policy interest in all countries. From a practical angle, policy makers recognise that high quality programmes strengthen the foundations of lifelong learning for all children and support the broad educational needs of families and societies. The provision of early childhood services also enables parents to continue in the workforce while their children are young. Salaried work allows women to participate in social and economic life and significantly contributes to family budgets. In turn, maternity and parental leave policies, and early childhood provision funded by governments facilitate choice and equality for women.

Families and parents continue to be the first and most important educators of young children. This basic right is recognised in national constitutions and the international legal covenants: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State... Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 16 and 26, United Nations, 1948). In certain instances, support networks may have to take the place of parents, and we include them in the following. Through centre-based and other forms of early childhood provision (home-based, media, family day care…), the state facilitates parents in their child-rearing tasks and will seek to support nurturing family environments.

A responsibility of the state is to provide effective support to families through comprehensive social and educational policies. Where young children are concerned, governmental support can include:

oNational legislation or, at least, the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.[3] Among other recommendations, the Convention requires State Parties to protect young children and provide them with participatory rights in all activities, decisions and institutions in which they are involved.

oEnergetic and equitable social polices that support families with young children and contribute to the eradication of child poverty:

oNational early childhood policy and strong government investment in provision in order to guarantee a high quality early childhood service in every community.

The following seven principles summarise the reflections of the international group:[4]

Principle I.       To attend to the social context of early childhood

-Social equity: Social equity is a pre-condition for successful education systems. If early childhood services are to be effective, the perverse effects of poverty should be eradicated, in particular, the lack of access of families to basic services and the denial of social participation. Early childhood services and education systems can do much to alleviate the effects of disadvantage, but a high level of child poverty greatly impedes the task of raising the national educational level. For this reason, it seems more efficient if poverty alleviation, social and health support to families, and early childhood provision are conducted hand simultaneously.

-Equality of opportunity for women: The CEDAW convention (UN Convention against All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ONU-1979/1981) and other equity agreements at international and national levels require that women should have equal opportunities to work and in work, in particular, with regard to formal work contracts, equal pay, the right to full-time work and equal promotion opportunities. Flexible work hours and the provision of early childhood services facilitate the reconciliation of work schedules and child-rearing responsibilities. In the critical first year of life, maternity and parental leave allow parents to be with their infants, without penalising women’s careers and family budgets. In couple-based families, a more equitable division of household work also facilitates women to take on full-time salaried employment.

-An early childhood system founded on democratic values: The spirit and articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child offers a common values basis to guide the development of early childhood services in most cultures. Governments will provide services to all children within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind (Art. 2). They will direct early childhood education and care toward the fullest development of each child’s personality and abilities; towards peace, tolerance and solidarity with others; toward knowledge and respect for the natural environment: and toward the preparation of children for a responsible life in a free society (Art. 29)

Principle II      To establish effective policy-making, funding and regulation of EC services

-Substantial government investment, policy-making and service mapping can ensure that all communities have their own early childhood service. Much could be done for the health and education of nations if all children from birth to six years were able to count on early childhood services according to their need, including health, nutrition and developmental programmes.

-Every child should have access to at least a one-year free pre-school class in her own community. Because of the need for lowerchild:staff ratios, investment per child in the pre-school year should be at least equal to investment per child in primary school.

-Accountability and transparency are part of effective systems. Clear responsibility for children’s services should be assigned at central and local levels. We propose for the consideration of governments that health or care services for young children from birth to six years should be integrated as much as possible with early development and education, and form together one structure.

-Governance of the early childhood field should be systemic and integrated in order to achieve service efficiency and the full development of each child. This will mean moving toward an organised provision structure, reaching into every community. Governments will also need to provide for the organisation of necessary sub-systems:

oA specific policy unit dedicated to the development of the early childhood system, and to preparing legislation governing the operation of early childhood services;

oIndependent monitoring and evaluation bodies at national level. These bodies have the responsibility of publishing data and analyses covering significant policy areas;

oA minimal national regulation for the recruitment and training of early childhood staff, and the funding and accreditation of high quality training courses;

oA supervisory or co-ordination corps to support the pedagogical and developmental work of the educators;

oA body to support both national and local professional research networks which can promote quality improvement at local level.[5]

Principle III     To formulate a national curriculum framework, in which goals and outcomes for young children are identified across a range of developmental domains

-A curriculum framework for young children 0-6 years is best formulated in consultation with all stakeholders, including parent associations and children themselves. An important aim will be to identify and agree on the central goals a country wishes to set for its young children. The formulation of goals and outcomes is important: they help to maintain a more holistic approach to early childhood curricula, structure the work of educators and provide a measure for the evaluation of services. The developmental goals of younger children should not be overlooked in the identification of goals. In the early years, for example, psycho-motor development, language development and the social-emotional developmental tasks that children may be expected to achieve as they mature can be privileged.

-The design of early childhood programmes should match local preferences and respond to the specific needs of the children they serve. Educators will take into account parental and cultural expectations but they should not require individual children to reach a standard at a given age. They will take an unhurried approach to human development, which is a long process reaching into adolescence and beyond. Learning will be experiential and cover broad areas , as recommended by the NEGP[6] or in the 1998Delors Report: learning to be, learning do, learning to learn and learning to live together. In their approach to children, educators will identify the natural learning strategies of young children (curiosity, play, exchange with other children, modelling adult behaviour…) and encourage team project work to match the children’s interests. The well-being and involvement of young children are important daily goals.

Principle IV     To provide freedom, funding and support to early childhood services to allow them to succeed in their work for children

-Once broad goals and outcomes for young children have been selected in the national curriculum, educators and services should have the autonomy to plan, to choose or create a curriculum that they find appropriate for the children in their care. Freedom to achieve the national outcomes for children in their own way is important for services. It focuses attention on internal quality initiatives and on the importance of the professional development of staff. In many countries, well-trained staff are fully capable of taking responsibility for the programmes and pedagogical choices that appropriately serve the children in their care.

-Because the path of child development is highly individual, assessing child outcomes should not be undertaken by educators through testing or grading.[7] A more supportive approach to children’s progress and development is necessary, for example, through observation, documentation of children’s activities, portfolios, parent-child-educator contracts... Assessment should be unobtrusive as anxiety in young children inhibits learning. Programmes should provide a positive learning environment so that children can develop their natural curiosity and pleasure in learning.

-As every child has a right to access formal education in the best possible conditions, educators will ensure readiness for school as children approach school age. Several elements combine to provide a smooth transition for children from an early childhood service to school. The first of these is to ensure free access to a kindergarten or pre-school class for every child from at least one year before obligatory education begins. The second is to prepare children for school through appropriate social and cognitive development programmes, including exposure to literacy and numeracy environments. A third important strategy is to prepare schools for young children. Government regulation should encourage schools to engage in dialogue and partnership with local early childhood programmes. The aim is to secure a positive transition for each child. The holistic goals and active pedagogies of early childhood should be carried into primary school, as well as appropriate outreach to parents. 

Principle V       Through the early childhood services, to organise and encourage parents to support their children’s development and learning

-As the first educators of children, parents would like to support their child’s development and learning. Many are prevented, however, by lack of time, by underestimating the importance of the responsibility or by not knowing how they can effectively support their children’s learning. It is important, however, that they invest in their children’s socialisation and learning, especially in the early childhood period. Early childhood programmes should be assigned the responsibility of encouraging, organising and showing parents how to help their children. Home reading to young children is particularly important.

-When necessary, parent involvement should be reinforced by adult education, if possible at the early childhood centre. Research suggests that if parents become involved in early childhood programmes, they are more likely to continue to support their children’s learning throughout the whole education process. Early childhood programmes will encourage all parents to understand the values on which early childhood services are based: friendship, mutual help and positive attitudes toward diversity.

Principle VI – To monitor and evaluate programme results with regularity, including their success in involving parents

-Evaluation in early childhood is not a question of testing children, but the evaluation of early childhood policies, programmes, and results. Comprehensive data collection allows governments to monitor enrolments in early childhood services, and to gauge whether important policy goals are being met, such as, the early enrolment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Without ongoing data collection, children who are most in need of services will easily be sidelined or ignored. Programme evaluation will focus on the well-being of children, on the formation of educators and on whether curricular goals are being met. In particular, they enable governments to know whether centres are adequately supporting young children to achieve their goals.

-Programme evaluation can be greatly reinforced, firstly, by participatory and formative approaches to evaluation that include the perspectives and knowledge of the working staff. A second evaluation strategy is to form and support local research networks that bring together tertiary institutions, local administrators and educators. A primary purpose of these networks is to investigate and resolve local challenges and to raise awareness among educators about the importance of gathering evidence and of team reflection on practice.

Principle VII – To attend to the recruitment and education of early childhood staff

-Education is the key to development, and educators are the key to successful early childhood programmes. The realisation is growing that the work of early childhood professional staff is complex, and that sound training is required. Whatever the qualification provided, professional training should include knowledge of child development and an awareness of the rights and potentialities of young children.

-Close attention should be paid to the level of recruitment of early childhood workers, their initial and ongoing training. Depending on the economic situation, programmes may be taken in charge bypara-professionals, who, in turn, need training, and integration into professional early childhood teams. Care should be taken that dead-end jobs are eliminated from early childhood systems, and that in-service training is linked to career progression and to obtaining further qualifications.

-The working conditions of early childhood staff is often a matter of concern. In some countries, there is tendency to consider early childhood services as ‘women’s work’, not requiring either training or proper salary levels. In order to enhance the status and quality of early childhood work, governments should introduce equal working conditions (salaries, benefits and professional development opportunities) for equivalent qualifications across the early childhood and primary education fields.


-In these principles, we have spoken about the social context; and about the challenge of eradicating the perverse effects of child poverty.

-In parallel, governments will also take in hand early childhood policy; fund, organise and regulate early childhood services; and put into place the necessary subsystems that compose an effective early childhood system. Countries with a positive perspective on young children will seek to ensure a fitting part of state budgets for their young citizens, and regard expenditure as a sound investment in lifelong learning and in the well-being of families and societies.

-The ministry responsible for young children will formulate, in consultation with all stakeholders, a national guideline for early childhood services with clear outcomes in different developmental domains. Governments will monitor regularly how well programmes are achieving these goals.

-Early childhood programmes will view children – even the youngest - as natural, competent learners who can benefit from appropriate learning and play environments.  Services will be afforded the funding and support necessary to reach for important country goals, in response to the particular needs of the children they serve. In addition, programmes will encourage parents and guardians to become involved in children’s development and learning from the earliest age.

-A key to achieving positive outcomes for young children is the dedication and education of early childhood staff. Close attention should be paid to the level of recruitment of early childhood workers, their initial and ongoing training and their work conditions. Whatever the level of qualification received, all training should include knowledge of child development and pedagogy, and an appreciation of the rights and potentialities of young children.

-As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified in almost all countries, democratic and co-operative citizenship should be regarded across all countries as a fundamental value in early childhood services. In the 3rd millennium, early childhood care and education – learning to be, learning to do, learning to learn and learning to live together - should be considered as a critical stage in the journey of each child toward human and social development. 

[1]. The seven-pointMorelia Declaration is based on the AMEI compendium: Early Childhood Education: Challenge of the Third Millennium (AMEI, 2004), guided by contributions from the members of the international Working Group, which met in Morelia in 2005 and 2006. The Declaration proposes 7 key principles to ensure equitable access for children to early childhood services that consistently strive for high quality.

[2]. In the document, ‘programmes’ refers to all forms of early childhood provision, either centre-based or other modalities (media, family day care…), that contribute to the development, care and education of young children.

[3]. In interpreting this text, special attention should be given to the General Commentary  of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2005)

[4]. The International Group was composed of:Gaby Fujimoto (Organisation of American States); LeonardoYanez (Bernard van Leer Foundation),Teruhisa Horio (University of Tokyo) and John Bennett (formerly UNESCO and OECD), aided by Aurora Montes (AMEI), Maria Eugenia NicolauParedes (UNADENI); Franklin Martinez (Centro deReferencia Latinamericanopara le EducaciónPreescolar, Cuba) and Robert Myers (Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development). The group was presided by John Bennett.

[5]. Local research-and-quality networks provide opportunities for participation, exchange and evidence-based research. Such networks help greatly to improve knowledge about quality and to ensure that all centres in a region or district can improve their performance, thus achieving greater equity in outcomes for children.

[6] The American National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) – dissolved in 2002 – was a bipartisan and intergovernmental body of federal and state officials created in July 1990 to assess and report state and national progress toward achieving the National Education Goals. In 1997, the NEGP identified 5 goals as contributing to the young child’s overall development and later success in school, viz. health and physical development; emotional well-being and social competence; positive approaches to learning; communication skills; and cognition and general knowledge.

[7]. Bowman et al. (2000) explain that though there is overlap in the use of the words “test” and “assessment”, the former refers to a standardised instrument, formally administered and designed to minimize all differences in the conditions of testing. Assessments tend on the contrary to use multiple instruments (observations, performance measures, interviews, portfolios and examples of children’s work…) and take place over a longer period of time.