Documento sin título

Education is a product of human development and a relatively recent result in the history of mankind. In the early times there was no concept of childhood as such and as soon as the child was able to walk and be self sufficient, he was incorporated in the struggle to survive helping out in the casual recollection of food that supported the members of the human group.

As man developed, there were successive divisions of work that led him to settle down and lose his nomadic character. Agriculture, differentiated from hunting, came about and, after some time, the first production surplus that allowed for a further development of the human species. At this time, the child is given tools adapted to his physical possibilities that allow him to take part in the work process, tools that are the same as those of the adults, just smaller. The child is a small being with similar responsibilities to the adults, just in a smaller scale.

With the successive complexity of the work tasks and the complication of the tools it is no longer possible for the child to participate directly in the production process and the tools that he is now given are no longer a reduced version of the adult ones, they just resemble them, so that the child can train for his adult life. There is now a preparatory stage for adulthood in which the child is prepared for his future life. Childhood appears as such, and toys appear as copies of the tools used in the production process. Play appears and in it the child takes on the roles of the adults, doing the actions performed by them, using substitute objects, in short, doing everything that makes childhood a preparation stage for adulthood.

Within childhood and, as a consequence of mankind's progress, several well differentiated stages start to appear; each one of them has a place and a role in the child's development with specific activities, rules, values and peculiarities. One of these stages is early childhood.

Early childhood is very significant in the development that takes place, as the child goes in a few years, from being a totally defenseless individual, without great possibilities for survival, except for the care provided by the adult, who feeds and cares for him, to have all the bases and mental and physical faculties that enable him to function in the world. In a few years after his birth, he becomes a person who talks, feels and acts and, despite his few years of life, is capable of facing, with the means he has, what surrounds him while being intelligent and useful to himself and for others.


When the child is born, he has an ample potential of possibilities. He has within himself, a lot of promises, but these promises will not be fulfilled if they do not receive from the human and physical environment surrounding the child a rich enough set of stimulations of all kinds. Contemporary biological sciences and, especially neurology, tell us that nervous matter cannot reach its full development if there is no outside stimulation to bring about reactions that set these functions in motion, to improve and develop fully. Very precise scientific experiences, conducted with animals, demonstrate that, if a subject does not receive visual stimulation, for example, the corresponding areas of the brain (occipital lobule) will not develop; brain matter will not evolve the same way as in subjects that have received normal visual stimulation.

The research conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Shatz is very clarifying: adults that suffer cataracts for long periods of time, five years, for example, can be operated on to recover eyesight in the affected eye. That is, surgery can reestablish eyesight in adults. However, if children born with cataracts are operated when they are five years old, they do not recover eyesight in the affected eye. Five years of an abnormal visual experience, at the beginning of life, have very different consequences, far more serious than this same abnormal visual experience in later years. Doctors David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, who received the Nobel Prize in 1981, experimented on animals, using cats and monkeys, in an attempt to find out why adults and young children respond in such different ways to surgical treatment of cataracts. Among other things, they found that if cats were deprived of visual stimulation in one eye at the beginning of their development, they would never recover eyesight in that eye. This research, according to Dr. Shatz, underlines the importance of the first experiences for the development of the brain. According to him, for brain sciences there are periods of initial development, some critical periods or “windows” in which experience has a fundamental importance for the conformation of the nervous system.

We can state that the development of the individual is linked, at first, to the biological and neurological condition in which he is born but that, later on, the actions of his environment become fundamental for his further evolution. This does not mean that the actions of the environment can do or undo everything, but that, at the time of birth, there is a whole range of possibilities and that the action of the outside world will make, within the limits set by the biological and neurological condition of the individual, his development more or less ample.

In this sense, it has been said that at birth, a child is just a “candidate for human being” (H. Pieron). This means that the road between birth and human life and participation in mankind is very long. The link between the stages, what allows passing from one to the next, is education.

This is confirmed over and over, without us being aware of it. Undoubtedly, the recent declarations made by Dr. Venter, director of one of the two companies that have researched the human genome, are fundamental: “ The idea that the characteristics of personality are closely linked to the human genome can be considered false. Men are not necessarily prisoners of their genes and the life circumstances of each individual are crucial in his personality”.

It is clear that the first years of life are the most significant for the development of the human being. This stage of an individual's formation has been called by different names: first childhood, preschool, initial, among them, but, whatever the name used, what all professionals of psychology agree on is that during this stage the foundation is set for the development of personality, that will be improved and consolidated in the following stages of life.

This is why this age is so important for the future of man as an individual and as a person and why we need to know all of his attributes: the causes and conditions of his development, the passing of his biological, maturation, physiological, functional, psychological and social processes, to exert a positive influence in those mechanisms and structures as they are being formed and maturing , to reach the maximum potential in this development, to make possible a healthy, and apt individual, capable of transforming the world and himself with his endeavors.

The social environment and its stimulation help these processes and formations to get structured and allow for a certain level of development in all children, determined by a system of influences that works spontaneously and without an exact direction. However, the social and family setting, acting on their own, and without a scientifically conceived direction of stimulation, may not be adequate, and may not help children to achieve all their development potential.

Parents at home generally lack the possibilities and knowledge to conduct these actions in a conscientious and technical manner; therefore, the aid of other education agents is needed to carry them out.

It is necessary to create an organized system of influences that, based on the development features of the first years, leads the stimulation actions in an appropriate manner, which will allow the child to reach higher levels of development.

For example, it is known that the first six years of life make up the sensitive period for perception, that is, the time when the most favorable conditions for the formation of this cognitive process, foundation of all human knowledge, are present. In a child, within the conditions of his social and family setting, perceptual actions are formed but this formation is influenced by the eventualities of the stimulation of his setting, that does not reach the level known as analytical perception. Through spontaneous stimulation a certain level will be reached but it is very likely that this level may not be adequate. The setting enables only a certain degree of development.

This means that by creating a scientifically conceived and consciously organized system of influences, levels of development can be reached that cannot be reached just by spontaneous stimulation.

Even, and as Jean Piaget pointed out, insufficient stimulation, or the total lack of it, can provoke that, in the staging of psychological development, where a certain sequence is always followed in the surging and change of evolution stages, in its culmination, that is in the formation of the stage of formal operations of thought, that allows for high reasoning and quality logical abstract operations, this is never reached, as a consequence of that insufficient or consciously directed stimulation action.

On the other hand, the fact that this system of influences can exert its action at a stage of development when the biological, physiological and psychological structures are being formed and maturing has a special signification. In this sense, Lev Vigotski, well known researcher of childhood, pointed out that the fact that this action takes place in a moment of development when the structures are being formed, allows to exert an even more significant effect on the same processes and qualities that depend on these structures and on development as such. If organization and direction of a scientifically conceived system of influences is important at any stage of an individual's development, it is in the first childhood when this stimulation is more important and significant for the rest of the life of that human being, because they are influencing on bio physiological and psychological formations that are taking place at that time and not on already formed structures, as is the case of most that are present in other ages of the individual.

This is why this stage is considered crucial for development and the need to organize a well thought out and scientifically conceived system of educational influences that aims at enabling the maximum formation and expression of all the physical and psychological potential of the child in these early years.

Education of early childhood can, by its social function and technical level, take on this system of educational influences that, along with family education, can reach higher goals of development for all children.

This system of educational influences is materialized in a curriculum that, in a planned and methodologically organized manner, structures and leads all the actions to be done with each child in his evolutionary process to reach the objective of a higher quality level of development. This curriculum can take very different forms depending on its theoretical and conceptual foundation. Their design is not important as they all lead to an identical purpose: to reach the maximum levels of development for all children.

Why early childhood education?

Early childhood is a fundamental stage in the development and formation process of personality. This statement is generally accepted and shared by psychologists and educators, regardless of the trends, theories and schools they follow. It is essentially based on the great pliability of the brain at this age. While it is not a blank slate that can be written on in any way, it does offer ample possibilities to establish connections that will serve as the base for the register and attachment of the most varied stimulations.

In all human activity, to satisfy biological, social and cultural, productive or spiritual needs, different and highly complex physiological, psychological and social systems are articulated. This implies that each person has a particular way of being in the world, or relating with reality, other people, space and objects. This scheme is built and developed specially during the first six years of life. It can be said that the child learns from the time of his conception, providing feedback to his internal world on everything he receives from the outside.

Scientific data obtained in innumerable studies and research work has evidenced that in this stage the foundation is laid for all later development, as well as the existence of great possibilities for the development and shaping of the most varied personal capabilities and qualities.

There are many reasons to develop early childhood education . Among them we highlight the following:

The first years of life of a child, from birth to the age of six or seven, lay the foundation for a healthy and harmonious growth of the child. This is a period marked by rapid growth and by changes brought about by the setting. These influences can be positive or negative, determining how the child will be as an adult.

Research demonstrates that intellectual of physical deficits are cumulative. A child with deficits due to deprivation will have fewer possibilities to evolve and reach higher levels of development, even if stimulation is provided later in life. Early identification and treatment or correction of problems related to physical and mental handicaps, malnutrition, social, cognitive or emotional underdevelopment, can provide the child with better opportunities in life, and reduce the costs incurred in solving these lacks later in his life.

Education and care of young children by means of an adequately integrated action, provide the means to remedy the evident problem of inequality of opportunities. We agree with the notion that all children are born equal and should have equal access to knowledge and culture in all the countries, and should grow as equal citizens of their country and the world in general. Despite this being a universally acknowledged truth, unfortunately, there are many children who cannot exercise this right. Every child is born in a family whose social, economic and cultural situation exerts great influence on his physical, intellectual and emotional growth. It is unavoidable, therefore, that differences in the family settings will have fundamental repercussions in education and early childhood education should compensate for them.

Early childhood education supplements the home, providing adequate assistance and education for the promotion of the global development of the child . It should be the place to educate not only the child but also, the family.

Equal opportunities for women, that have to fit in with the needs and rights of the children. The fact that more and more women are working outside the home brings about a problem for the education and care of the young child. Policies should integrate and encompass these two dimensions. They should balance the social roles of the couple by offering services that prevent taking the woman away from work to take care for the children, while supporting her role as a mother.

Early childhood education provides valuable experience and preparation for the transition into primary school. The advances made in neuroscience demonstrate that the nervous system, foundation and support of adult personality are shaped in the first years of life.

There is no second chance for childhood. Therefore, with all the information obtained through research work conducted on the first years of life, it is fundamental to do everything possible for the well being of each child, his health and nutrition, growth, learning, development and happiness.

On the other hand, there are many advantages in a child's attendance to an early childhood center, as all professionals in this field know:

The center becomes the main element for the socialization of the child. He will learn to share, wait and respect, fact that becomes very relevant, as the center is the intermediary structure between his family and the child's integration in the rest of the social structure.

The center allows us to follow each step of the child's development and maturation. Thus, we can detect any imbalances, disadjustments or deficits that come about. This possibility for preventive action will be fundamental and determining for the development of the children.

The structure of the center is conceived in terms of the needs of children, offering greater possibilities for the manipulation and exploration of objects and space. In the family framework, space tends to be limited, with continuous prohibitions, to prevent them from touching specific objects, reaching for, or going into, specific places, all of which limit the possibilities of the children to experiment and learn.

To see, observe and admire other peers is a great motivation in certain activities and learning. In this sense, we are all aware of the possibilities offered by imitation (sphincter control, meals, motor development, etc.) at this age.

Through play, educators will provide the means to foster the development of the child, generating in him feelings of affection, friendship, camaraderie, tenderness and, in general, contributing to a greater sensibility towards others which, in turn, enables other activities such as observation, grasping and understanding stimulation, that create in children greater independence and autonomy.

Besides these arguments, we find strong sociological reasons that point out to a generalization of early childhood education. The social change observed in the world, as a consequence of industrialization, incorporation of women into the labor market, increase of life expectancy and quality, social demands for a more qualified and specialized training for work, have produced a break in the traditional model of values, attitudes and behaviors that has had a bearing on the family structure in various senses:

The decrease of the birth rate, that makes children become a scarce commodity.

The incorporation of women into the labor force, freeing them from the attention and care of the family.

The replacement of the traditional extensive family model by the nuclear family with only one or two children.

The demands of current life styles have affected all social levels, making it difficult to educate children within the family for lack of time.

The rupture of the family model has eliminated most reference points in the education of young children (both in terms of information and of care habits for children) and new ones, as a consequence of the uprooting and isolation of nuclear families, have not replaced them.

According to this viewpoint there is a new social model thought out exclusively for and by the adult in which the child goes from being a desirable social good to an obstacle that needs to be faced or sorted out.

This new situation demands a response from society and the institutions to provide care and attention for young children.

The creation of services for the care, attention and education of early childhood leads us to reflect and analyze which is the best model to cover the needs and demands in this current situation.

Centers or families

One of the great- unsolved dilemmas is if early childhood education should take place in the family setting or in the centers. There are important trends that support each side.

The reality is that both institutions should be entrusted with early childhood education.

Unfortunately, there are many family situations that make optimal and desirable development of children within the family setting impossible if there is no supplementary help and support, making it necessary for children to attend specialized centers that work in close collaboration with the family, having to act, often enough, as schools for parents.

On the other hand, international organizations support the option of centers, since they provide parents with options for the distribution of their time between professional and family lives.

It is evident that the centers should be the meeting points between parents and children and professionals dedicated to early childhood education.

The child lives with, grows and communicates with his family and they have the right and duty of educating their children. Judgments or actions formulated in the family setting should be within current social frameworks to avoid double standards and duplicity in the formation of the child's basic criteria.

On the other hand, society and public authorities should oversee and facilitate, by the necessary means, that each individual has the necessary elements for the systematic development of his personal capabilities. It is within educational institutions that socialization should be fostered and where the learning process starts.

The common objective of the family and the educational institution is, without any doubt, to achieve global and harmonious development of the child. Both ways of action have to follow the same direction to ensure stability and balance, indispensable factors for an adequate education.

Of course, societies do not have a separate life from that of the individuals who make them up. The lengthening of the school years in the recent times is not only an answer to the social needs mentioned before but, also, to the demands of the individuals. Why should parents send their children to early childhood education centers?

First, because education is one of the main ways to prepare children as competent and well-integrated members of society. That is, for their own personal development.

Second, education is the main means to improve social condition. More prolonged studies certify an individual's capacity for a more stimulating, better paid, more prestigious and less fatiguing job than those available to people that have attended school for less time


In all human activity, in order to satisfy biological, social, cultural, productive or spiritual needs, there are different, highly complex, physiological, psychological and social systems. This means that each person has a particular way of being in this world, of relating with reality, with other people, space and objects.

This scheme is built and developed especially during the first six years of life. It can be said that the child learns from the time of his conception, providing his internal world with feedback about everything he receives from the outside.

It is evident that all human activity is supported by the nervous system and, the better built it is, the more developed his capacities will be. When the child is born his brain, except for a series of reflexes that enable his survival (unconditional reflexes) is completely clean of genetic or inherited behaviors and what he has is the infinite possibility and capacity to assimilate all the social experience of mankind accumulated during hundreds of generations and that is transmitted to him by the adults caring for him. This capacity of assimilating the stimulation of the world around him is what is called pliability of the human brain.

The human nervous system as a whole is an extraordinarily sophisticated machine that regulates all the body functions; its building process is long and takes place in several stages, from the moment of conception until the sixth or seventh year of postnatal life.

Newborns have, upon birth, millions of millions of brain cells, or neurons; the connections between them are called synapses, and these multiply rapidly when the newborn baby comes into contact with outside stimulation. These synapses give place to functional structures in the brain that make up the physiological base of the psychological formations that allow for the configuration of the conditions for learning. We know that the different neuronal circuits, through which information will be circulating during all the human being's life, are formed in the first years of life.

We know that the possibility of making up circuits and connections between different neurons is not there during an individual's entire lifetime. When the child is born, or even in the uterus, that is, when the brain begins to take form, the possibilities of building connections are practically unlimited. From that moment there is a race against the clock because the possibilities begin to diminish and at seven or eight years of age, they are, in normal conditions, very limited, following an exponential curve. In this graph, the vertical column represents the number of neuronal connections and the horizontal line the years of life.

We currently know that the development of the brain before the first year of life is much more rapid and extensive that what was known and believed before and that the brain is far more sensitive to the environment conditions that what was believed before. This makes the conditions to which the newborn is faced with have an immediate effect in the quickness and sensitivity of the brain and, as a consequence, in the accompanying psychic qualities and functions. If the conditions are favorable and stimulating, they will have immediate repercussions in learning and development, if they are unfavorable, or limited, they will act in a negative way, harming such learning and development, sometimes irreversibly.

It is clear that we are born with specific potentials and that these capacities develop more or less depends, above all, on the stimulation that the child receives, both from the adults he is with and from the environment. Evidently, we adults learn things, we learn new abilities, but we do so using the neuronal connections that were set up in our childhood.

Along this line, data provided in 1994 by research work conducted by the Carnegie Corporation, in the United States, reveals that the environment, that is the stimulation provided, not only affects the number of brain cells, the possibilities of connecting them and the manner in which these connections are established, but that this early influence of the outside world leaves definite imprints on the human psyche and that its absence causes irreversible damages in the individual. This research points out the serious consequences that high risk or disadvantaged situations have on children and how they can be avoided by means of an early intervention.

Data from this research reveals that in minors considered to be in the high risk category that had the opportunity to attend educational programs during their first six months of life, the risk of mental handicap was reduced up to 80% and that by the age of 3, these boys and girls showed I.Q.'s higher in 15 to 20 points of other children in the same group that did not have the opportunity of attending these programs. The follow up studies verified that by the age of 12 the first group of children was still functioning at a higher level of intelligence, which was even more significant when they reached the age of 15.

These data suggests that early stimulation programs do not only solve the deficit or lack at the time it is detected but that they have long-term educational effects, as long as they are conducted during the sensitive periods of development.

The same research work reveals that even when stimulation is provided somewhat later, for example, when a child is 3 years old, it will also achieve improvements in the intellectual development of these children however, they never reach the level of achievement obtained by children who started at an earlier age.

This same study underlines the fact that the development of intelligence, and social behavior in human beings takes place more rapidly during the first years. Most of the brain cells and neuronal connections develop in the first two years. The health condition and nutrition of the child contribute to the development of the brain –essential to increase learning potential – as well as factors such as the kind of social interaction and the environment around him; children who suffer external tensions in their early years can be unfavorable and permanently affected in the functioning of their brain. Children who enjoyed stimulating interaction with other children and with toys and who also enjoyed good nourishment, show better development of the brain functions by the age of 15 than those children who grew up malnourished and without having received early stimulation.

Another important study conducted in the United States by L. Schwenhart, shows how a group of three and four year olds, from a low-income neighborhood was divided into two subgroups. The first group took part in a quality preschool experience and the second group did not. Both groups were evaluated periodically until their members were 27 years old. The research demonstrated that those individuals who attended the good quality preschool program enjoyed a much higher level of schooling, earned significantly higher incomes, and had more chances of owning a home and a lower dependency on social services.

The work by R. Myers, published in 1998 point out that both the studies conducted by the Carnegie Corporation and L. Schewenhart are valid for the so-called Third World countries, with a new variable . The systematization of 15 studies that compared children with and without early education in ten different countries reveals, among other advantages of early education, that:

  • Access to early intervention usually has a positive effect on school progress and performance, with substantial decrease on school drop outs and repeats.
  • Poor children can benefit more from many-sided programs than their more privileged peers

All the above reasons make it clear why educational attention in early childhood is so important. In particular, attention to children coming from marginal families has an enormous potential to compensate the lacks of their homes and substantially contribute to breaking the vicious circle of poverty.

There is room here to remember the story of Kamala and Amala, children who were kidnapped at a very early age by wolves in India in the first decades of the last century and whose case was documented by the Indian psychologist Rid Singh, who had the opportunity to be in contact with them. These girls, although they were rescued and integrated in a social setting that could provide them with stimulation, could not really complete their humanization process.

The scientific explanation of this fact is in the peculiarities of childhood and the knowledge of the sensitive periods of development. By this term we mean that moment in development in which a specific psychic quality or function finds better conditions for its upsurge and development than in other times. If the stimulation needed at this time is not provided, the quality or function is not formed or is deficiently shaped. It does not matter that stimulation is provided later, after the sensitive period has passed, because little can be accomplished at that time.

That is why Kamala and Amala, although they were integrated into a social setting that could provide this stimulation, could not really complete their humanization process, because their world, when their brain was sensitive and ready to assimilate the human experience, was not a human world but a world of wolves, an animal setting. From this we can conclude that it is not enough to have a human brain to become a human being. Human conditions of life are required for the humanization process to take place and, not only do they have to be present; they have to intervene at the precise moment.

Another very well documented case in this field is that of Isabelle and Genie, illegitimate daughters of a deaf mute woman. When they were found, Isabelle was six and a half years old and went quickly through the normal stages of language acquisition, finally achieving a certain control of the adult system. Genie, however, was fourteen years old and, although she was immediately trained to speak, she had many difficulties in applying grammar rules and was never able to learn the language structure. The capacity to acquire maternal language is restricted to the first years of life because, later, as was observed in these cases of extreme isolation, it is not possible to normally acquire the language.

The human brain is specially prepared to acquire a language up until a given age after which the acquisition becomes a difficult or incomplete task. The studies of Dr. Patricia Kuhl, of the University of Washington on speech perception during early childhood are very meaningful. Dr. Kuhl says that babies are born with the capacity to differentiate the sounds made in all human languages. In her research she has found that around six months of life, babies have picked up the particular sounds used in their mother tongue.

The simple fact of hearing adults speak alters the perception systems of the children. This initial perceptive learning makes the child more sensitive to his linguistic setting but also makes him more vulnerable to it, becoming nearly a hostage of it since “by the time he is a year old, his auditory map is completed. By the age of twelve months children have lost the ability to discriminate sounds that are not meaningful in their mother tongue and their babbling has acquired the sound of that mother tongue”.

These facts have not always been acknowledged and the formation and education of children in their first years of life has traveled a long road before reaching the scientific criteria it has nowadays


It is not until the beginning of the 20th century that the life of children began to be considered of interest or of concern by the international community. Thus, in 1920 the International Union of Assistance to Children was born and that later, in 1923, endorsed the first Declaration of Children's Rights. This Declaration, that was called Geneva One, was approved by the 5th General Assembly of the then called Society of Nations, in 1924.

This Declaration contained five fundamental principles for the attention and care of the child, they are:

•  That the child should have the possibility of a normal, physical and psychological development.

•  That a hungry child should be fed.

•  That a maltreated child should be cared for.

•  That a sick child should be healed.

E) That an orphan or abandoned child should be given attention.

In addition, the Declaration of Geneva established that children in the case of a disaster should be the first to be assisted. In the same way, child labor was forbidden and they were protected against any kind of exploitation. It also stated that children should be educated to understand that the best virtue is that of helping others.

The Geneva Declaration was an extraordinary step forward in the matter of attention and care of the child as a human being, basically focusing on his care as an individual, without much emphasis on his right to education. This document is part of the Universal Declaration of Children's Rights, the first document to establish what the child as a human being requires for normal growth and development and his conversion into an apt citizen, intellectually and emotionally capable and competent to play the social role that he is to play in the current world.

This Declaration, approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1959, established among its considerations, that are also part of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that every person has all the rights and liberties proclaimed in it, without distinction of race, color, sex, language, religion, political beliefs or of any other kind, national or social origin, economic position, birth or any other condition and that the child, because of his lack of physical and mental maturity needs special protection and care, including proper legal protection, both before and after birth and, considering that mankind should give its best to children , for them to have a happy childhood and enjoy for his own good and for the good of society, the rights and liberties proclaimed in it, calls on parents, men and women individually, and organizations, local authorities and national governments to recognize these rights and fight for their observation by adopting proper legislation and other measures.

For this, it sets forth a series of principles. Among them, those related to care and education state:

“The child shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family”. (Principle 1)

Adding that, because of his lack of physical and mental maturity:

“The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration”. (Principle 2)

In this sense, it adds that:

“The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding. He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother. Society and the public authorities shall have the duty to extend particular care to children without a family and to those without adequate means of support. Payment of State and other assistance towards the maintenance of children of large families is desirable”. (Principle 6)

Education is necessary to guarantee these purposes. In this sense, the Declaration states:

“The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education that will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgment, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.

The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.

The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes, as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right”. (Principle 7)

To achieve all of this, it concludes that:

“The child shall be protected from practices that may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men”. (Principle 10)

Taking as a base this Declaration, in November 1989, Resolution 44/25 was passed on the Convention of Child Rights that, in more than 50 articles, establishes firmly and clearly that based on the fact that children have the right to special care and assistance, they should receive all the necessary protection and assistance, that a child ought to grow within a family in an environment of happiness, love and understanding, that he must be educated and prepared for life and, remembering his social and legal rights, calls all states to respect these rights and ensure their application, for which they must take all the necessary measures to warrant the commitment they assume with this Convention.

The Convention states in an ample manner all the necessary actions to achieve the best development of the child, of which, because of their relation with this document, we mention the following ideas:

... “States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures”. (Article 3)

... “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services”. (Article 24)

... “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”. (Article 27)

For their relation with education and the healthy development of the child, it is necessary to mention the following:

“States Parties recognize the right of the child to education”, (Article 28)

“States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment”. (Article 29)

... “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts”. (Article 31)

However, in all these resolutions, childhood is considered as a whole, without specifying early childhood. It is only in the World Conference “Education for all”, held in Jomtien , Thailand , in March 1990, that this is more precisely defined. Thus, the World Conference “Education for all” coined the notion of basic learning needs, as a concept that encompasses:

“These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning....”

The universal school implicit in this notion means that all have access to a common body of knowledge and values, that must contain the required skills for those who wish to move on to more demanding levels of comprehension and analysis. For this to be possible, acquisition in the first years of life of the basic skills must be ensured.

The Final Declaration included, as a central element of the means and reach of basic education the following:

“ Learning begins at birth. This calls for early childhood care and initial education. These can be provided through arrangements involving families, communities, or institutional programs, as appropriate”.

Also, in the resulting framework of action it recommended:

“The expansion of early childhood care and development activities, including interventions by the community and the family, especially for poor, deprived or handicapped children.”

Reaffirming the significance of this World Declaration, in June 1996, the article. “Education, the best investment” was published in several of the most important newspapers in the word. Signed by the leaders of UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the United Nations Development program and the United Nations Population Fund. In this article, these personalities expressed that it was unacceptable that the world spent, at that time, 800 billion dollars a year in weapons and that there was no capacity to budget 6 billion dollars a year so that by the year 2000 all children in school age could attend school.

In line, and perhaps as a follow up on this, the report “Learning: the Treasure Within” , drafted by an International Commission on Education for the 21 st century and sponsored by UNESCO in 1996. This Commission, led by Jacques Delors, tried to answer a fundamental question that encompasses all others: What type of education will we need tomorrow and for what type of society?

To face the challenges of the 21 st century, it considers indispensable to assign new objectives to education and, therefore, modify the idea we have about its usefulness. It transcends a purely instrumental vision of education, perceived as the compulsory way to obtain specific results (practical experience, acquisition of skills, economic goals, etc.) and rather, consider its function as a whole, linked to the realization of the person. “Education – it adds – constitutes a collective good that can not be regulated by the mere functioning of the market”. “The main goal of education is the full development of the human being in its social dimension”. Education throughout life and the need to move towards a “learning society” are, in the opinion of the Delors Commission, key elements to enter the 21 st century.

Education throughout life is not a distant goal. It is a democratic imperative . With it, it is intended that each individual can exercise the capacity to direct his destiny in a world where the acceleration of change, along with the phenomenon of globalization, tends to modify the relationship between men and women and time and space.

A central contribution to this report is the distinction of four fundamental pillars , indispensable so that education of this type can accomplish the functions demanded by the 21 st centure,

  •   Learning to know: Given the speed of the changed induced by the progress of science and the new forms of economic and social activity, it is indispensable to try to combine an ample enough general culture with the permanent possibility of deepening information in a reduced number of areas. This general culture continues to be the most important in the educational fact since it serves as a passport for a permanent education, setting the bases and providing encouragement to take advantage of other possibilities and develop different expressions offered by education throughout life.
  • •  Learning to do: Beyond learning a skill or a profession, it is necessary to acquire, in a wider sense, competences that help face new situations.
  • •  Learning to be: The 21 st century demands a greater capacity of autonomy and judgment, a greater personal responsibility for the achievement of the collective destiny.
  • •  Learning to live together: Key for the construction of peace and a tolerant world. It will be necessary to create new educational systems that develop a better knowledge of others, their history, traditions, customs, languages and spirituality. Learning to live together will foster the realization of common projects and a peaceful and intelligent management of conflicts between people and countries.

The Delors Commission assigns to basic education the connotation of a “passport for life” underlining the importance of early childhood education with the following statement:

“Besides the beginning of socialization that centers and programs allow for, it has been verified that children that have received early childhood education are more favorable disposed towards school and it is less likely that they will drop out than those who have not received it. Early schooling can contribute towards the equality of opportunities by helping overcome initial obstacles of poverty or a social and cultural underprivileged setting. It can considerably ease integration in school of children from migrant families or cultural or linguistic minorities. Besides, the existence of educational structures that care for children in preschool age facilitates the participation of women in the social and economic life”.

However, the Delors report laments that early childhood education is still not very developed in most countries and even in the industrialized countries there is much to do. It suggests the generation of low costs programs within the framework of community services with the strong presence of parents , particularly in countries with scarce resources.

Aware of the need for long term educational policies and mechanisms that ensure the stability and duration of educational programs, the members of the Delors Commission highlight the unavoidable role of the state in education (a collective good that should be accessible to all and that can not be subjected to a simple market regulation), but, at the same time, it is up to the political power to strengthen the civil society to participate in the formulation of policies, in overseeing that they are followed and the achievement of educational strategies.

All of this was reinforced at the World Forum on Education of the General Assembly of the United Nations held in Dakar, April 2000, in the document Framework of Action, Education for All , that, taking into consideration the need for special protection mentioned in the Geneva Declaration, of 1924, on the Rights of the Children and the Declaration on Children's Rights adopted by the General Assembly on November 20, 1959 and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights (particularly, in articles 23 and 24), in the International Pact of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (particularly, in article 10) and the statutes and documents of the specialized organizations and international organizations interested in the welfare of children, reiterated among its key statements:

“We re-affirm the vision of the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien 1990), supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that all children, young people and adults have the human right to benefit from an education that will meet their basic learning needs in the best and fullest sense of the term, an education that includes learning to know, to do, to live together and to be. It is an education geared to tapping each individual's talents and potential, and developing learners' personalities, so that they can improve their lives and transform their societies.” (Paragraph 3)

“Education is a fundamental human right. It is the key to sustainable development and peace and stability within and among countries, and thus an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century, which are affected by rapid globalization. Achieving EFA goals should be postponed no longer. The basic learning needs of all can and must be met as a matter of urgency.” (Paragraph 6)

These commitments are generalized to all levels and needs of education, singling out in paragraph 7 the reference to early childhood education, with the following objective:

“Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;” (section i).

After the Dakar meeting, another important international report referring to early childhood education and that considerably reinforces the idea and conception of its importance for the development of the individual is the Panama declaration, signed on July 2000.

In this Declaration, the Ministers of Education of the Iberoamerican countries agree upon highly important issues, and recognizing the statement of the Havana Declaration, of the 9th Iberoamerican Conference on Education, that points out the need to “reinforce initial education to foster a better performance of children in later levels of education and as a compensation factor for inequalities ”, the commitments expressed in the Convention of Children's Rights, the World Summit for Children, the 4th American Meeting of Ministers on Childhood and Social Policy, the Jomtien and Dakar Declarations and other international and regional statements referring to child care, such as the Santo Domingo Regional Framework of Action, they state that to achieve a quality education for all, it is necessary to foster early childhood education.

In this sense, the Panama Declaration states a number of considerations from which it establishes key agreements for the attention and education of children in early childhood. Among these considerations expressly referred to this stage of development are the following:

    • That education is an uninterrupted social process that starts at the time of conception and extends throughout life and within it, initial education (from birth until elementary or basic education, depending on how it is called in different countries) is a stage in itself, in which the foundation is laid for the formation of personality, learning, affective development, dialogue skills and tolerance in interpersonal relations as well as understanding among countries and cultures. 
    • That initial education is one of the strategic factors to ensure equity, diminishing the effects of poverty and promoting justice so as to consolidate democracy, social life as well as to support economic development and competitiveness of our countries. 
    • That quality initial education contributes to diminish the percentages of failure, school drop outs and over age in the following levels, becoming a highly profitable social investment that has an impact on the internal efficiency and effectiveness of the educational systems. 
    • That, to ensure the quality of the initial level, ample and global public investment is needed, to involve all the social sectors and actors, as well as a harmonious and co responsible articulation between families, local communities, social organizations and educational institutions.

Other considerations are equally important, such as those referred to the functions of the states, that can not be delegated, to supplement the educational function of families and the obligation of the educational authorities to design and promote policies to strengthen initial education and the need for greater efforts to extend this educational system previous to compulsory education.

Based on these considerations, the Panama Declaration confirms agreements that have been outlined in previous international meetings and reinforces them more emphatically, such as.

“We reaffirm once more the value of initial education as a fundamental stage for the development of personality, the achievement of a quality education for all, and for the construction of the citizenship of Iberoamerican children, their learning capacity, of relating with others and fulfilling themselves as human beings”. (Agreement 5).

“We shall carry out efforts to ensure that the economic and financial resources assigned in national budgets and in international cooperation express the importance of initial education in the framework of childhood policies as an indicator of the will of the states towards that level…” (Agreement 8).

“We underline the importance of strengthening the specificity and specialization of the initial level, in a development strategy articulated with the remaining levels of the educational system.” (agreement 11).

“We shall foster training and updating opportunities for teaching staff and for the support of initial education” (agreement 12).

“We shall advance towards the institutionalization of sustainable policies and programs of quality initial education” (agreement 16).

All of the above is summed up in a final agreement that, because of its importance and extension reflects the enormous significance that is currently being given to early education:

“We shall call on the Organization of Iberoamerican States to incorporate in its programs actions orientated towards the promotion of initial education, through models of horizontal cooperation and to coordinate with other international and sub regional organizations activities tending to the development of the initial level, such as the design and development of focal programs, curriculum design and development, research and study, design of educational materials and exchange of experiences.” (agreement 18).

It is evident that the importance given to initial education at the beginning of the 21st century reveals the size of the task, in which we can find an increasing awareness of the importance of education and care for children since birth and during childhood for their development as human beings, as the base on which all the individual's general education system shall be built.

A more recent international report is that of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care, introduced in Stockholm , June 2001, that makes recommendations to the OECD on the work to be done to respond to the main political challenges in the field of early childhood .

Beginning with a very clear definition of the term education and care of early childhood, that encompasses all the offers for care and education of children under the compulsory school age, regardless of the location, the financing, schedule or content of the program, in the results of this report, it is underlined that the first years of life make up the first step of a life long learning process and that the services for early childhood are considered more and more as a key element in the national agendas for educational, social and family policies.

In this report it is stated that the countries have used different viewpoints for the development of policies in this field. Policies that are based in the contexts, values and beliefs of each country.

In particular, policies and services for early education are closely linked to the cultural and social beliefs on young children, the roles of the families and governments and the purposes of education and care of early education in, and throughout, different countries.

The report confirms that there has been an increase on policies of early education and care in the countries members of the OECD in the last decade. Policy makers have recognized that equal access to quality early education and care can reinforce the foundation of learning throughout life of all children and support the great educational and social needs of all families.

The OECD, based on the preliminary reports, the country reports and other materials explores seven current policy trends in the countries of the report, referring to early education. They are:

•  Expanding provision toward universal access;

(2) Raising the quality of provision;

•  Promoting coherence and co-ordination of policy and services;

(4) Exploring strategies to ensure adequate investment in the system;

(5) Improving staff training and work conditions;

(6) Developing appropriate pedagogical frameworks for young children;

(7) Engaging parents, families, and communities.

To finally present eight strategies to organize policies so that they promote the child and family's welfare during early childhood:

•  A systemic and integrated approach to policy development and implementation calls for a clear vision for children, from birth to eight, underlying ECEC policy, and co-ordinated policy frameworks at centralized and decentralized levels. A lead ministry that works in co-operation with other departments and sectors can foster coherent and participatory policy development to cater for the needs of diverse children and families. Strong links across services, professionals, and parents also promote coherence for children.

•  A strong and equal partnership with the education system supports a lifelong learning approach from birth , encourages smooth transitions for children, and recognizes ECEC as an important part of the education process. Strong partnerships with the education system provide the opportunity to bring together the diverse perspectives and methods of both ECEC and schools, focusing on the strengths of both approaches.

•  A universal approach to access, with particular attention to children in need of special support: while access to ECEC is close to universal for children from age three, more attention to policy (including parental leave) and provision for infants and toddlers is necessary. It is important to ensure equitable access, such that all children have equal opportunities to attend quality ECEC, regardless of family income, parental employment status, special educational needs or ethnic/language background.

•  Substantial public investment in services and the infrastructure: while ECEC may be funded by a combination of sources; there is a need for substantial government investment to support a sustainable system of quality, accessible services. Governments need to develop clear and consistent strategies for efficiently allocating scarce resources, including investment in an infrastructure for long-term planning and quality enhancement efforts.

•  A participatory approach to quality improvement and assurance: Defining, ensuring, and monitoring quality should be a participatory and democratic process that engages staff, parents, and children. There is a need for regulatory standards for all forms of provision supported by co-ordinated investment. Pedagogical frameworks focusing on children's holistic development across the age group can support quality practice.

•  Appropriate training and working conditions for staff in all forms of provision: Quality ECEC depends on strong staff training and fair working conditions across the sector. Initial and in-service training might be broadened to take into account the growing educational and social responsibilities of the profession. There is a critical need to develop strategies to recruit and retain a qualified and diverse, mixed-gender workforce and to ensure that a career in ECEC is satisfying, respected and financially viable.

•  Systematic attention to monitoring and data collection requires coherent procedures to collect and analyze data on the status of young children, ECEC provision, and the early childhood workforce. International efforts are necessary to identify and address the existing data gaps in the field and the immediate priorities for data collection and monitoring.

•  A stable framework and long-term agenda for research and evaluation: As part of a continuous improvement process, there needs to be sustained investment to support research on key policy goals. The research agenda also could be expanded to include disciplines and methods that are currently underrepresented. A range of strategies to disseminate research findings to diverse audiences should be explored.

In this OECD report it is also stated that another challenge is the improvement of co-opting, training and payment of professionals for early childhood education, especially of staff responsible for development and education of children younger than three years of age.

To the reports and declarations analyzed above, we should add others such as the Report of the Framework of Action of Santo Domingo, the PNUD Report on Human Development and Consumer Education, the report of the Regional Office of UNESCO, “Preschool and Basic Education in Latin America and the Caribbean”, the reports of the Summit on Women Equity, the Universal Declaration of UNESCO on Cultural Diversity, among others, that in one way or another, directly or indirectly, advocate for an international agreement to offer attention, care and education to children, from the moment of birth, and that sometimes even mention the prenatal stage. This indicates the degree of awareness that has progressively been created around this key aspect of the development of human beings.

It is up to the states and governments now, as well as national and international bodies and organizations, to turn this aspiration into a reality.

However, there is still, in many countries, the criterion that education at this stage of life should be provided to help working women, or to enable the incorporation of women into the process of social production.

While this is plausible, it cannot be the fundamental reason to pay attention to early childhood education , since this conception reduces it into social service and assistance for working women.

This, also, goes against the main statements of the Jomtien Conference, that pointed to the unavoidable duty of the States to guarantee education for all, as well as that education should start at birth, which implies, not only providing care, attention and education for the children of working women, but to all children, regardless of the social status or role of their mothers. Only in this way can the essence of the spirit of Jomtien materialize


Based on the information above, we can establish as early childhood education the system of educational influences structured, made, organized and aimed at achieving the harmonious development of all children since birth until their entry into school education.

This early childhood education is developed through modalities, named formal , institutional or conventional and through other forms or non-formal ways, non-schooled or non-conventional.

The formal or institutional way is developed in an institution especially created to foster as much as possible the educational intention, which implies the direct and permanent role of the educator and the elaboration of a specific curriculum for that educational community. That is the case of nurseries or crèches, child centers or kindergartens, schools and pre kinder centers, among the various denominations used. These institutions include the participation of the family and other community institutions but highlight the permanent role of the educator as planner, executor and evaluator of all the educational process.

The non formal or non institutional way, sometimes called alternative, non conventional or non schooled, has as main feature that the educator diminishes her role in all the curriculum development and shares it with other educational agents that generate important spaces for participation, from diagnosis to evaluation and where the educator takes on the role of promoter, advisor, or coordinator of all that has to do with the pedagogical work, but in a more indirect manner. These ways have numerous modalities, that go from non formal services organized as such, to training schemes for adults to improve their skills as parents, promoters, care givers or other roles and that can not be placed within the educational systems. Also, this early education can be administered by the State, by non-governmental organizations or by the private sector, with the authorization of the government.

Whatever the way adopted, the final objective ought to be the global development of the child. If we re read article 29 of the Convention on Children Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989, we find what we basically should understand as early education:

“States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.”

While this is not exactly a definition, it does define very well what we should understand for education and what it should aim at . Today, education is defined as that offered to the child for his global development in the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects through experiences of pedagogical and recreational socialization. And this, regardless of the age of the child. It is a valid definition from the moment of birth. The methodologies to be used can vary, but the essence of the concept shall remain so throughout life.

Obviously, primary education will have its own peculiarities, as does university education, or adult education, but the goal is the same: the global development of the individual to the maximum potential allowed for by his genetic condition.

This last consideration would take us to conduct a comparative analysis between “education in the various age periods” to conclude that, undoubtedly, it is always education, even if methodologies, timing of the activities and ways vary. Each one of them is different to the other but they all have the same common denominator, which reaffirms once more the conclusion of the OECD report on the need for a Ministry that serves as a reference point (that can no longer be just the Ministry of Education) as well as treatment as equal to the rest of the stages of the educational system.

It seems clear that the concept of education has to be understood as “ to empower the skills that nature has provided the children with” and not just as a mere transmission of information. Nowadays our education should aim at having children learn to be themselves (learning to be ), learn to understand, both on the social aspects (learning to live together ) and cognitive aspects (learning to know and do ) and all of it to the maximum of the possibilities that nature has given to each child.

About the Terminology

The field of Early Education is known by different names in different countries, and some times within them, depending on the various references used by the various actors. International organizations do not have a common expression, which brings about a debate on what name to use each time a new inter-institutional document is drafted. Researchers have attempted to unify the field under one label, without success.

This terminological rigmarole is closely linked to the conceptual focus that one has on each stage as well as the projection of what the systems of educational influences should be, encompass or, even where they end . In this sense, the denomination is very important conceptually , becoming necessary to find formulas for international consensus. It is something more that a simple grammar problem or a mere semantic question and it overlaps with the conception on age and its peculiarities and the direction the system of educational influences should take to allow for the obtention of the goals of development and the manifestation of all the physical and psychological potentials of children in this stage of their lives. It is equally linked to all the causes and conditions that explain the phenomenon of development and its links with the educational process and, in a stricter sense, with that of stimulation in the early years.

Thus, when we talk of the systems of influence linked with the early years, we mention the terms of precocious stimulation, early stimulation, adequate stimulation, and timely stimulation. But we also use the terms of early education and initial education, preschool education or child education, closely linked with the previous ones and that may or may not encompass them. Recently, and closely related to the idea of the compatibility of family and work life, we find again the old idea of nursery, with the apparition of the term “ care” before or after the term education.

A commonly used term has been precocious stimulation , but it has been strongly criticized and it is now seldom used, despite the fact that for some time it was very popular, because of the implication it carries of being enacted before the time when stimulation is appropriate.

The most widely used term is early stimulation . However it also has its detractors that point out that it is partially inadequate, as they consider that the issue is not to provide stimulation at a given time but the opportunity for this stimulation to be provided.

Derived from it, there is a term coined by neo behaviorists, timely stimulation , sometimes also called adequate stimulation, although semantically, they do not have the same meaning. It refers not only to the time stimulation is provided but also to the fact that it should be adequate, so it refers to moment and opportunity.

Then there is the term early education , which leads us to the link between stimulation and education, both in terms of the interpretation of this link as well as of the period it encompasses.

In most of the bibliography, especially that referred to children with special education needs, when reference is made to early education, it is about the education that should be provided from 0 to 6 years of age, and not only for the first three years of life. This has also been defended by those who use the term of initial education and or child education , or education of boys and girls from their birth until they are six years of age, replacing the term “preschool” that tends to subordinate this stage of development to the following, the school stage, as if it was an appendix or a preparatory stage and without any significance in itself.

The oddest thing in this rigmarole is that in some Latin American countries, initial education is that for children in their first three years of life, coexisting with the more widely used of preschool education for children between four and six. This same situation is found in English speaking countries where they talk about “Early childhood education” and “Preschool education” to differentiate.

Besides the adjective, education means the obtention in children of the features and particularities of personality that foster their multilateral and harmonious development: multilateral referring to the achievements obtained in the different areas of development, both from the physical, social, moral, cognitive and aesthetic; and harmonious for the balance that must be kept between these areas of development. To this a fundamental question must be added: education should be for all the children of that society.

Within this trend, we find early education as the system of educational influences for children from birth until three years of age, a turning point in the life of children, as many educators know.

Based on the criteria of the general definition of education and what it implies, within the term of early education , we should find the term early stimulation , with no contradictions between them, one referred to the concept of education and the other one, much closer to the process of stimulation.

Whether or not we agree to substitute the term of early stimulation with the term early education , what remains clear is that early stimulation is for the obtention of the achievements in all children and technically implies not only sensory, affective and motor stimulation but all the other aspects implied in the multilateral and harmonious development of the children. Thus, any truly scientific stimulation program should not only consider the action on the sensory perceptive, cognitive, affective and motor components, but also the social and moral and aesthetic ones, as well as the formation of habits, organization of behavior, the motives, among many other aspects, and that have their foundation in these stages of development. And it should focus on all the children of a given society, regardless of the fact that, due to individual differences, some will reach a different level of achievements than the rest, but having started with the same opportunities.

Given the assistance component that this age group has always had, we find the term early childhood care and education (ECCE), as an enlargement of early childhood education, which adds the care element. Or rather, the order can be changed to education and care of early childhood (ECEC) to preserve the emphasis on education. There is also the term Early Childhood Care (ECC) without the education element: in the developing world, early childhood care tends to be linked to health care, nutrition and hygiene of the child, while in the developed world, it is meant as a social service provided to working women with young children.

Another term that is becoming increasingly popular is Early Childhood Development. It emphasizes the holistic approach that includes both the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. While Early Childhood Development is somewhat evasive, because it is a global approach that is child centered, and not on the social agent or the care or education process, it has become one of the more general terms in this field. A common variation is Early Childhood Care and Development that, once more, tries to close the gap between care and development/education.

Accepting the different conceptual approaches, we could ask if it is possible to find a term that could obtain a general consensus for the denomination of this age group and that is not permeated by those defined for the systems of educational or work influences. Obviously, to find this term we would first have to consider the interests of the child such as is stated in the Declaration of Jomtien , quoted in the previous chapter, that says that education begins at birth . It seems more logical that we call that stage “early childhood education”,leaving aside family and work life that, although they have something to do with the child, are an outside concern for him and focusing on how we have to understand and develop in these first years.

It would be an important step to eliminate the discussion that, in its essence, sometimes lacks foundation and find a consensus between the different approaches, especially between the balance care/education/conciliation of work and family life but, especially, analyzing the needs and what is better for the development of the children, regardless of economic or work reasons.

General objectives of early childhood education

Early childhood education has three fundamental tasks that make up the foundation on which all further development can be obtained and that appear, one way or another reflected on most of the educational systems. These tasks are:

    • Obtain multilateral and harmonious development of children, as well as the healthy formation of their personality.
    • Strengthen their abilities as learning individuals and enable the formation of cognitive interests.
    • Prepare effectively children for their entry into school and further education.

In the case of early childhood education, currently the most general objective seems to be “the maximum development of all the physical and psychological potentials of children of this age”, starting from the features of this stage of development. This approach is particularly important because it expresses in itself a position facing the acceleration of learning (contents for older children that are conceived in simpler forms for younger children) that can be extremely negative for the physical and psychological integrity of children of this age.

This stage. With its own contents, should attain objectives that, already in 1979 were analyzed by Professor Gaston Mialaret in the report he prepared for UNESCO:

Social objectives: From birth, the child develops in a family setting that is indispensable for his evolution. The wealth and coherence of his personality depends on the quality of this setting, and above all of the quality of the social relations established between parents and child. However, as the great psychologist Henri Wallon has perfectly demonstrated, the “me” of the child can only develop in relation with that of the others, and in this endless dialectic of the “me” and the “other” is where we have to look for, in part, the explanation of psychological evolution. The development of the diverse forms of sociability makes up an important objective for the education of the first childhood.

In this respect, we should mention all the results of the scientific work on the influence of the social setting and, more especially on that of the family setting. It is perfectly known that the stimulation of all kinds that the child receives makes up the indispensable elements for the development of his language. Depending in the lifestyle of the family, the relations that exist between the parents and their children, the time they dedicate to their children's education, language acquisition will take place in different ways. When we know the importance of language in social life and, more especially, for school success, we can clearly understand that the differences of the social setting will lead to differences of linguistic levels that sometimes are interpreted as differences of intellectual level. The child who does not have a good language level does not always understand what is going on and therefore, behaves, as if he was more or less retarded. Therefore, language exercises should be given an important place, so that children develop this means of communication, indispensable for any further social integration.

Programs of action with very young children have other social functions, given the extraordinarily rapid evolution of our current world. There is a deeper and deeper gap between the natural world that surrounds the child (a world that, is also diminishing considerably) and the world we live in. This world demands special attention and an adaptation that mobilizes delicate psychosocial mechanisms that are not yet fully developed in the young child in his psychobiological equipment. Therefore, it is necessary that a part of the action with young children is dedicated to develop the biological, motor, psychological and social mechanisms that he lacks at the time of birth and that will enable him, with some chances for success, to face our contemporary civilization. Thus, with a regular organization of his life, in a relatively flexible way, by respecting the vigil and sleep patterns; by efforts geared towards giving children a balanced diet, by the balance of motor and outdoor physical activities and indoor games, the child can be prepared to face successfully the outside world.

Educational Objectives: Early Childhood Education Programs will try to develop all the communication networks that link the child with the world, be it physical or human. At the time of birth, the tools that allow the individual to contact the outside world, that is his sensory organs, are not yet ready to start functioning. A more or less long period is needed for them to be in condition to receive and receive well all the information coming in from the outside.

It is necessary that all the exercises and games proposed to children (since we are not talking at all of lessons, obviously) allow them to both improve and widen their reception systems of the messages from the outside. Adults and children live in an extremely complex world, crossed by messages of all kinds (visual, auditory, smell, taste, etc.) and the programs have to help the child to acquire the largest possible number of messages, in the best possible conditions.

Now, this does not mean that attention should be limited to the sensory activity: this, in itself is already important, but we should not forget that the other means that allow the child to communicate with the human world are the relationships of the emotional type. Psychologists have fully demonstrated that the first emotional relationships established between the child and the outside human world are based on elementary emotions shown by smiles, cries, and fits of anger. And when other new means of communication can be used emotional relationships do not become less important, they will support, provoke and enrich the new means of communication and will become the base for all aesthetical emotions that we often leave aside. We do not communicate with others only by words but also with our gestures. Our attitudes and our face gestures make up a communication network with others, a net that will imprint its tone and affective sense to the verbal messages exchanged. One of our objectives is to prepare children to appreciate all the affective subtleties of the messages, so that they do not get used to consider only the intellectual or verbal content of human exchanges, which is an attitude that considerably reduces the volume and quality of exchanges.

It is necessary that the child learns to use these ways of communication to express and to develop what we call creativity. In this field we have to make a special effort for the child to come out of himself and express himself and to organize, structure and develop his personality. Instead of what traditional pedagogy used to think, one can influence the inside of a child no only from the outside but also, helping him to express, offering all the occasions to create, invent, imagine, which will foster his personal plenitude. We have to initiate them in their creative capacity in terms of behavior and adaptation to the world. It is necessary that the child learns as soon as possible to find alone, that is with the psychological resources he has, a personal, when not original, solution to the problems he meets. Therefore, one of the objectives of early childhood education must be to develop in the child the capacity of initiative, imagination and the spirit of discovery. The child will be more adapted if he has discovered by himself, with his own activity, a solution to problems, and his psychological balance will be more stable, we have, as we have said, already at these ages, to help children to learn to learn, understand and set about.

Such pedagogy of the invention, of the creative capacity, of the constant search for answers is what should permeate our work. This does not mean that children will become little geniuses or inventors of new things. But we have to get them used to find by themselves the solutions to the small practical problems of our daily lives, pointing out for them the road to autonomy.

This last word, autonomy, takes us directly to the third great category of objectives, those referred to the individual and his physical development.

Development objectives: Research has demonstrated that deficits are cumulative . The child with deficits will have fewer chances to evolve and reach normal levels, even when this stimulation is provided later. Early identification and treatment or correction of problems related with physical and mental handicaps, social, cognitive and affective underdevelopment, etc. will have a more satisfactory solution and in many cases, definitive, in these first years of life. This possibility for preventive action will be fundamental.

The first years of life of the child are essentially a time of free and spontaneous activities, of search and discovery. This is a privileged period for the observation of the child, be it in individual or social activities. Close attention should be paid to the child's physical, motor, intellectual, emotional and social development to discover whatever may be outside of the normal framework . At this age, a small lack or trauma can be corrected or cared for easily, we should not wait until these perturbations set in more definitively to begin curing them. From the early childhood period we have to start simple compensation or correction exercises. We know perfectly well that a small articulation defect can hinder the evolution of language or that a minor perceptive perturbation can have incalculable consequences for the further development of the personality. It is, thus, very important that all the adults that are with a child take into consideration these simple objectives of detection, compensation and reeducation . The sooner an insufficiency is detected the sooner it will be possible to correct it and what may simply be a question of a few special exercises at the time of detection, may later become the subject of a very long treatment.

It also should lay the foundation for a healthy and harmonious growth . It is necessary to observe and follow up for this growth to be adequate. On the other hand and, as Dr. Federico Arguelles stated in his lecture at the summer course of the Andalusia International University, in La Rabida , Huelva of 1997, “an incorrect nutrition in the first years of life can determine the origin of a serious illness and influence a more unfavorable pathological evolution of the individual in his adult life”. This is, pediatric nutrition is an important prevention factor. For example, specialists are now talking about osteoporosis in the pediatric stage. This apparent nonsense is more than justified once the relation cause – effect is confirmed between an inadequate childhood diet, in this case, for the lack of calcium, and adult illnesses. In the same way, cause effect links have been found in pediatric nutrition and arteriosclerosis caused by poor diet habits or ulcers that could be prevented in the early years of life. Along this line, there is much work done by Prof. Eissenman, of the Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia, who linked pediatric nutrition with the development of the nervous system


In the elaboration of programs for children between 0 and 6, it is indispensable to consider some general questions, as in any educational program and some particular questions given by the characteristics of the children the programs are addressed to. Among them we have:

•  The educational program to be developed should match with the peculiarities of the physical, anatomical, physiological, motor, psychological development of the children between 0 and 6.

While this statement may seem redundant or unnecessary, it is a key question because there are many early childhood programs that do not scientifically match up with the peculiarities of the development of children of this age. The following are some situations:

  • The consideration in the program of only some aspects of development, overlooking others, or giving an excessive weight to specific areas of development leaving aside others. Thus we have “cognitive” programs, “psycho motor” programs, etc., in which the emphasis is placed on the theory they are based on because the program is based on the child conception of that theory. In that sense, while the elements that have to do with the physical, motor and psychological aspects are usually well represented (although, sometimes, in a reduced manner) those referred to the anatomical, physiological aspects are usually overlooked in this programs, which then lack indications, procedures, etc. There are many programs in which there is no indication of the time the pedagogical activities should take, something that is closely linked with the nervous system of the child, his capacity for work and intellectual performance and the possibility of functional fatigue of his body. 
  • The introduction of conceptions for higher school grades in the conception of the program and the organization of the educational process. This problem is found often in curriculum design, where it shows up in the objectives and contents, as well as in the methodological procedures and the focus of the evaluation, in the formal structure of the program and in the organization of the educational work. The problems of objectives and contents have two important manifestations: the introduction of contents for older age groups that are thought to be appropriate for this age group (which has to do with the criteria of the acceleration of development), on one hand, and on the other, to conceive the content in a similar way to the subjects of elementary school both, from the formal point of view (and thus we talk about units, content areas, etc.) and from the focus of the content (fragmented, segmented, not interrelated or organized as a system of knowledge). This, of course is closely related with the little knowledge there is on the particularities of the development of children of this age, which is usually considered a preliminary stage for what is truly important, school, or as a preparation stage for it, and thus conceived with programs, organizational patterns, systematization of information, similar to the primary age and school.

In this senses, given the particularities of thought and perception of the child, the contents have to be addressed to the formation of more general capacities and abilities, with a global focus, in which the different contents are interrelated and assumed in a general, not specific way . Contents that should be conceived as a unit of the cognitive and emotional processes and not as isolated areas of development without any relation between them.

All of this is reflected in the organization of the educational process, where the pedagogical activity, that has its own particularities, is conceived as a class, in the stricter sense of the word and the organization of time as a school, without considering the methodological and organizational procedures that are structured with a school focus.

All of this makes, that, sometimes, the established educational program, both in its conception and its structure and organization, contradict the particularities of development harming the obtention of these achievements and the psychological stability of boys and girls.

The lack of correspondence of educational programs with the objectives of education, given the lack of a truly scientific conception of development in this stage of life. This becomes more evident in programs that are conceived as systems of information, habits and skills, starting from the idea that this age is preparatory for school, and that what is important is to provide the child with as much information as possible to ease such school learning. The more current focus of the objectives of early childhood education is to achieve the maximum development of all the psychological and physical potential of the child. It transforms the conception of programs that go from being programs for the formation of abilities and specific information to development programs, where it is more important to form general capacities, as we have said before. To focus the early childhood education program in this way makes it a lighter program, that is, a program that does not have to keep the child permanently in a pedagogical activity, sometimes surpassing his work capacity, but to a program in which the child can play, develop his own initiative and creativity, searching for himself for the essential relationships and building his knowledge under the appropriate guidance of the educator. What is important is not the information in itself, but to form the instruments of information, psychological processes and features that allow the creative assimilation by the child of the most important relationships of objective reality.

The possibilities for intellectual and cognitive development in children of this age group are incalculable, what is difficult is to make these potentials available and find the appropriate means, given the peculiarities of these age group. The old methods of reinforcing, repetition and excessive assimilation of information should be a thing of the past and new ways should be sought out, that support active learning by the child and in which the assimilation of information takes place within rich and dynamic activities, that enable the child to actively incorporate the relationships found in the world of the objects and ideas that surround him.

B. The early childhood education program should start from a well-founded and appropriate conception of the age group.

While all early childhood education programs have to start from a deep knowledge of the development of children at this age, so that there is a correspondence between the contents of the program and the levels of development to be achieved, so should do the theoretical general conception that the program is based on. In this aspect, there are four fundamental problems that are frequently observed in these programs:

  • Some early education programs do not explicitly state their theoretical focus, which has to be deducted from the study of their methodological procedures, which may lead to confusions or inexact deductions.

    •  Other programs explicitly state their conceptual focus but later there is no correspondence of the theory with the methodological procedures used.

    •  Many programs are eclectic and are based on several theoretical focuses, sometimes contradictory, as they just mechanically assume the theories they are based on. In this case, it can be observed that the methodological procedures are equally eclectic and sometimes there is no correspondence with some of their theoretical foundations.

    •  There are programs that tend to divide the stage in sub-stages. In this case, there is usually no conceptual unity between one age and the other and different methodological focus and criteria are recommended, which is extremely harmful for children who, in the transit from one period to the other are subjected to different forms of organization and learning systems .

From the analysis of these problems, a scientifically conceived educational program for these yeas should explicitly state the theoretical position it is based on and there should be a correspondence between what is theoretically stated and what is later done in the pedagogical practice. In this way, the theory leads the methodological action and the pedagogical practice helps to confirm and deepen the theoretical focus it is based on , theory is confirmed by practice, which is the criteria of truth and, in turn, practice improves and consolidates theory.

A program of early childhood education should theoretically correspond with only one conceptual focus , whatever it may be and dialectically assimilate the best from other compatible conceptions. To dialectically assimilate means that any organizational pattern, content, procedure, method can be integrated into the program as long as it is filtered and conceived within its theoretical conception, modifying it to allow for this fusion. Unfortunately, this is not usually done, and the most common thing is that the procedures are taken as established by other theories, in a mechanical and eclectical manner. To make a closed program, that does not allow for the inclusion of any other theoretical or methodological procedure is as harmful as the eclectical manner, because in every approach there are usually elements of scientific truth that nurture psychological and pedagogical science with information that come from the study and research done by many, without scientific truth been the sole patrimony of a school of thought or theoretical position.

C. The early childhood education program should be conceived within the principles of education and teaching for this age group.

In reality, when we talk about the principles of teaching and education, there are principles that are general for any level of education, that become concrete and particular for each age group. In the case of the age group we are referring to, considering the same age from birth until the age of six or seven, necessarily implies its adequation to these general principles and the particularization of the educational process for the age, given the obligatory correspondence with the features of development in these years. The general principles are:

•  Education and teaching of the child within his environment.

that the education of a child can not be conceived unrelated to the particularities of the social environment he lives it, in constant relation with this setting and with educational processes based on the system of relations of this setting. It should not create artificial environments or sui generis means for the educational work. This is applicable to the methodological procedures that should be conceived closely linked to the particularities of the surrounding environment and where the achievements of development should be conceived closely linked with the social conditions of life and education.

•  The orientator role of the adult in the teaching - learning process.

The educator plays a role in the orientation of the process of assimilation by the child of the relationships of the world around him and this process can not be conceived without the participation of the educator, who organizes the conditions and system of educational influences so that the child, by himself, builds his knowledge, looks for the essential relationships, makes up his own basis of orientation. Of course, the position he occupies will be closely linked to the theoretical conception of the program and can be more or less directive, orientating or facilitating, but always as a part of the teaching – education process of the child and never establishing that spontaneous education, or the child by himself, would be capable of attaining all the expected development goals.

•  The child's own activity.

The appropriation of the social experience accumulated by the child will not only depend on the adult but is also closely linked with his own activity, because the psychological features and abilities are formed and depend on the activity. Is the activity is not rich, if the child does not play an active role in this process, the acquisition of information, the formation of the psychological features is poor and fragmented and never reaches the levels of development that can be attained with a process of effective activity. Each stage of development will be characterized by a fundamental activity that guides this development. In this stage, three activities will characterize this development: emotional communication between the adult and the child during the nursing period, the activity with objects in the early age and playfrom the age of three, to which we have to add different activities in daily life, productive in different degrees: modeling, drawing, among others, that enable a further degree of development.

•  Education and teaching within the group of children

Personality is formed in the system of social relations in which the individual moves, it is a product of his conditions of life and education. If this is so, the child's education should be conceived in the group, in the interrelation between children, in the small society that makes up a group of children, with rules, values, positions and a dynamic of its own. It is within this social setting that the educational process should take place, without isolating him from the contact with others, and not promoting an individual approach of development, which does not mean that the child should not have opportunities within the group of acting by himself and alone.

When designing early childhood education programs, as we have said, we have to start from the deep knowledge of the development of the child, his objectives and peculiarities, rhythms of development, sensitive periods, cycles and sub stages and, most important, of the objectives of the education of children in this age group, objectives that are not only meant to provide them with preparation for school but also addressed to achieving their maximum physical and psychological potentials, which radically changes the approach, contents, methods and methodological procedures, all that makes them more scientific and more significant for the later formation of their personality.

Specific principles of the early childhood education programs

The general principles previously analyzed are applicable to any level of teaching, and they become concrete in the case of early childhood education by the features of this stage of development. However, current pedagogy and psychology also consider other more specific principles. These principles refer both to the factors that condition the educational process and to the particularities and characteristics of these children; in correspondence with their stage of development and that can be expressed as guidelines that orientate their structuring and their methodological orientation. Among these principles, we have:

•  The center of all educational process is the child.

The early childhood education program has the central objective of achieving the maximum development of all the physical and psychological potential of the child, which can only be achieved if the child actively participates in all the process. To establish that the child is the center of the pedagogical activity means that the organization of his daily life in the early childhood education center, the structure of the planned activities, the methods and procedures for the didactic work, the relations established between the educator and the children have to correspond with his age, his interests and needs and have a personal significance and meaning.

The goals and objectives of education have to be necessarily conditioned in the educational process, which implies that the child must look by himself for the essential relations, make up his own base of orientation, build his own mental activity and actively participate in the decision of what to do and how to do it, that is, to understand the purpose of his actions.

This central place of the child should be conjugated with the general principle that establishes the role of the adult as an orientator of the educational process because it is she who organizes, structures and orientates the pedagogical process that should lead development. This is given because in this age, the experiences of the child are still limited, the control of his actions need more orientation and his possibilities for independent work are still in a very early stage.

•  Integration of the activity and communication in the educational process

Activity and communication, as general categories of development, are what enable in each child the assimilation of experience. During the different types of activities and in the forms of communication and interrelation that are established between children and those around them, the most diverse capacities, features and qualities of personality are shaped.

Although all activities contribute to child development, there are some that are more significant in a given stage: emotional communication between the child and the adult during the nursing period, the activity with objects at an early stage, play when they are slightly older.

Oral and affective communication of the educator and children make up a basic foundation of the educational process and, through this communication vital experiences are passed on.

This way, pedagogical actions with children would take place within an activity and be characterized by the widest communication possible, both between the educator and children and among them. This way, there is a more effective assimilation of the social experience that results in more quality of the psychological processes and qualities that make it possible.

•  Unity between instruction and formation

In this stage of education the foundation is laid for the qualities of the personality, and thus unity between teaching and education is particularly important. In this sense, the early childhood education program not only has to include the possibilities of attaining a given level of cognitive processes but also, of the affective-motivational, so as to achieve a complete and multifaceted citizen. At all times of daily life of the child in the early childhood education center, besides promoting instruction (always linked to the features of this age group), work should be done on formation, the education of feelings of love and respect for the family, his peers and educators, towards the country and the symbols that represent it, towards the work done by people around him and the satisfaction of completing simple tasks, as well as positive personal qualities, such as charity, truthfulness, honesty, perseverance, cooperation and mutual help, among others. This within the age appropriate activities that allow them to be significant and meaningful for the child.

•  The systematization of the different components of the educational process.

The components of the educational process: objectives, contents, methods and methodological procedures should be linked and systematized within the early childhood education program.

This systematization is expressed in different forms of relations, both between the different areas of development for the same cycle or year of life, within the same area of development, between different years of life, implying a horizontal and vertical transition of the early childhood education program and with the beginning of the school program, when the child enters primary education.

These relationships should be taken into account for all the different components of the educational process that should promote in all its extension the unity of the cognitive and affective processes that ought to be present integrated, so that every moment of the process is at the same time instructive and formative, developing his personality as a whole.

•  The attention to individual differences

This principle, although general for all levels of education, is especially important in this stage, since the development is based on structures that are still being formed, maturing and improving and in a sudden and accelerated way, allow for more possibilities for the existence of different rhythms in the development of children in their different sub stages within their age and even within the children of the same age group.

Differentiated work is indispensable because each child has his own particularities that make him unique and individual possibilities should be fostered to attain the maximum development in each child. This is methodologically expressed not by creating specific activities for each child but by doing activities with different levels of complexity, for each child and for each small group of children of similar characteristics within the group work, which should be conceived within the methodological orientations of the early childhood education programs. This differentiated treatment does not have to be done isolated while this way of working can be used for children with potentials above the rest or with those lacking or with a slower rhythm of development.

Attention to individual differences should be done in a natural way, so that children receive the level of help they need without their becoming aware that their tasks or questions addressed to them are simpler or more difficult than those used for the other children

Early childhood education does not only take place at the center, which is the usual means for institutional education, it also takes place through non-formal, non-school or non conventional education. From the most current point of view, both ways are considered as modalities of the same education, that respond to their own attributes depending on the needs, ends and goals and the conditions in which they are to take place, determined by the demands of the society.

But this consideration has not always been like this and at first non formal education was a simple and low cost way to provide some type of schooling to children that had no possibilities of attending an early childhood education center, either because of lack of resources of their parents or for the absence of social services and small capacity of the centers, or for the lack of official concern towards the attention and care of children in these early ages.

This is so that in the first definitions given of non formal education by official or non governmental institutions, such as UNICEF, it was defined as “any educational, organized and systematic activity conducted outside of the formal system, to provide selected types of learning to specific subgroups of population, be it children or adults.”

There are some points in this definition that underestimate non conventional education, which at first was not considered equivalent to institutional education.

Thus, to state “any educational activity” indicates the possibility that anything that is done can be considered as non-formal education, the presence of the adjective “any” next to this type of activity indicates so.

On the other hand, stating “selected types of learning” implies that not only the content of any given subject will be taught, but only those that answer specific objectives. This definitely restricts possible non-school educational action.

Finally, by establishing that it is aimed at specific subgroups of population , it is assuming that this type of education is not for all children but only for those that for, specific reasons require this form of learning, that is marginated children, Indian, cultural minorities, rural children. Etc.

For all these reasons and focus that were characteristic of the non formal education in its beginnings, this type of education was considered second class education and was rejected by those who opposed the formation of individuals with a lower level than those that institutional education could train. This had the consequence of reinforcing the idea that true development could only be reached by school education and in many educational systems this was considered the only way.

This leads us to restate the concept of non-formal education and highlight its features:

Non formal, non school, non conventional or alternative education is that that does not take place in an institution in the way conceived in the institutional approach and where the system of educational influences is shared between different educational agents, including the family and the community and the role of the professional educator diminishes his leading role to become a promoter and facilitator of the educational work.

Enlarging this concept, we point out that the non formal modality encompasses the educational processes and forms of self learning that are done outside of the educational centers, with programs developed with methodologies in which the family and the community take part, within a philosophy of interinstitutional agreement of the public and private sectors, and where the dimension of the educational actions is not only addressed to children but to all elements that shape their context.

The flexibility of these modalities allows to adequate their services to characteristics, requirements, interests and priorities of the children, the geographical, social, cultural and economic conditions of the setting as well as the resources available.

Thus, non-formal education of the first childhood goes beyond the traditionally strict pedagogical and psychological approaches to become a social process in which the members of the community organize and integrate to solve the problems of their children and their social setting.

From this projection, non school education surpasses by far the action that can be done in the institutional way, generally constrained by its own essence to the school setting and, although it generally involves the family and the community as educational agents, this is always delimited by its own structure and the essence of its educational and social management.

Organizational methods of non-formal education

As a consequence of the essence of the non formal programs that adequate themselves to very different social, economic, ethnic conditions, of the countries and educational systems, we find that there is no single organizational model of non formal education but, rather, many different models, that have different attributes depending on where they are applied, due to their particular needs. thus, we find:

  1. Home centered models
  2. Parent (or other adults) centered models
  3. Social attention centered models
  4. Family attention and care models
  5. Group attention models
  6. Informal education based models

It is possible that there are other models that combine attributes of these, but generally speaking, these are the more usual variables or alternatives and they can be found in what is done in any country although there can be more than one organizational model in the same territory as everything depends on the particular conditions of each community.

These community reasons have brought about a variable that tries to combine both alternatives of education of the first childhood, the institutional and non-institutional, and that has been named semiformal or semi school model of education of the first childhood.

Within this approach there are several variables for particular cases, such as the preparation for primary school of children 5 and 6 years of age of hard to reach areas, with very limited population in this age group that attend primary school several times a week and are taught by a primary school teacher. Usually the one in charge of the first grade, who leads some activities with them.

This preparation model for school learning sometimes has its own educational program for this type of teaching and other times uses selected contents of the official institutional program.

A new variable of this model is one in which the parents are trained by the teacher so that they can do the activities with their children at home.

Positive and negative aspects of non school programs

A very important aspect of this type of programs is that through them it is possible to considerably increase the coverage of attention and education for children in this age group, which sometimes is very difficult to achieve through the institutional approach, undoubtedly far more costly and complex.

Another positive aspect is the considerable effect that it has on the educational improvement of the family that increases its educational potential by the direct action on it.

The participation of the community, the incorporation of women to the labor force and the social involvement are positive aspects of these non-conventional educational programs.

Non formal educational programs generate better health and diet conditions, foster the practice of habits and prevent social problems in children, family and community since they show higher levels of social responses derived from the participation in these programs.

The results of these programs are sometimes immediate because it has been observed that they generate a higher percentage of enrollments into school of the children and a longer stay in it with lower indexes of failure.

Since they are rather flexible, non formal education programs allow for their application in very different geographical settings, such as hospitals, community centers, health centers, work places, social services for human development, people's dining halls, centers for migrant crop workers, industrial or agricultural co ops and many more.

Because of the curriculum adaptation of these programs to the conditions of the communities, the non conventional educational programs assume a marked multicultural character which cooperates positively to the social acceptance of the minority groups, marginated children and children from distant rural areas, among others.

However, often deficiencies and negative aspects are found in non formal educational programs, one of them being the classical question of whether this alternative model really accomplishes the expected goals of development of children and if they can be equivalent to those reached in the institutional approach. This can only be verified by studies that cover:

•  The level of development reached by children from their entry in the program, in the intellectual, motor, language, social and emotional areas.

•  The preparation acquired by the families to conduct activities to stimulate the development of their children and their social adequacy.

•  The social impact of the program in the community.

These three factors condition the success that these programs can have and their experimental verification is the way to answer the question.

The little attention provided by the official sector is another lack of these educational programs, along with the little flexibility of the public administration to adequate the administrative regulations and respond to the diversified characteristics demanded by this type of education.

The scarce systematization and evaluation of these modalities is another important problem, even more acute than in the institutional model, which makes these programs take place in many places without any effective verification of their quality.

The conception that these modalities are to be used only with children at risk, such as indigenous or marginated children, limits the possibility of their extension to children in other locations that are considered not at risk but that cannot attend formal public or private schooling.

This is what it is necessary that, to consolidate achievements and diminish the deficiencies, truly scientific programs of this kind are designed and validated to demonstrate their validity and quality as such


Fathers and mothers, the family as an integral unit, make up the most influential educational agent on the development of the child during the first years of life. The family is the most important primary human group in man's life, the most stable institution in the history of mankind.

Of the dynamics and functions of the family

The family has been pointed out as the developer of several functions, such as the economic, that historically has characterized it as a cell of the society; biosocial, that includes procreating and raising children, as well as the sexual and affective relations of the couple and the spiritual and cultural that assumes, among other things, the satisfaction of the cultural needs of its members, their cultural improvement and leisure, as well as the education of the children.

Some authors differentiate, in addition, the educational function that in many ways permeates all the others; because all of them satisfy the needs of its members but at the same time, educate the younger members and thus, ensure aspects of social reproduction that is characterized for its continuity and duration. The family is the first school of man and the parents are the first educators of their children.

This is why the early childhood education centers must have very strong ties with the family, the fathers, mothers and other family members, to organize the system of educational influences and to reach the objectives that education has for these age groups.

Relations between the center of education of the first childhood and the family

The achievements of development of the children and their appropriate social adjustment can only be attained when there is an effective union between the home and the early childhood education center.

This implies the formation of a double link: the educational center projecting towards the family to know its possibilities, needs, real life conditions and orientate the parents to give at home continuity to the educational tasks; the family, offering the center information, support and their possibilities as educational potential. This way, the early childhood education center and the family make up a dialectic unit, in which each one exists subject to the other and among whom there are interrelations determined by their own objectives and functions.

Projection of the early childhood education center

In this sense, the purposes and goals of the early childhood education center regarding fathers and mothers are divided in three key aspects:

•  That they become aware of their vital role as the first educators of their children.

•  That they acquire the necessary knowledge to successfully carry out this education, in coordination with the technical personnel of the center.

•  That they cooperate and collaborate with all the tasks requested by the center, to be aware that it is an extension of the home.

To attain these goals it is indispensable to organize a task of family education that allows for the unification of the training and educational work of the children.

The work of family education consists basically in orientating the parents in aspects related with the way in which they can and should follow up the educational work of the center, obtaining from them the adoption of an attitude of cooperation and active participation in their children in the center and support of their tasks and objectives, sure that they are the most adequate to obtain the optimal resources that both family and centers wish to attain.

Thus, family education consists of a system of influences to elevate the preparation of fathers and mothers, as well as other adults of the family setting, to stimulate their conscious participation in the education of their children, in coordination with the early childhood education center.

Family education, with an intentional character and direction is carried out in several ways. Among the most usual and productive are the schools for parents, family consultations and individual meetings, home visits and parents meetings.

Besides these, there are other methodological alternatives available to be used with parents, such as recommended readings, that sometimes are published in sources for the education of parents, correspondence between educators and parents, the use of a questions mailbox that parents may wish to ask, that some times takes the form of a bulletin board to publish the answers to the more general questions, announce the activities of the center, write advice on some child development issues, etc.

Mass media, such as the radio, television, and press can also be used by including specific messages and programs. In many countries there are experiences of this kind, both in terms of local and national programs. Their methods are diverse but they respond to the social and psychological characteristics of human communication.

Projection of the family towards the early childhood education center

Within the methodological alternatives for parent education, a very effective means is that of the parents associations, boards or councils. The integration of parents to the dynamics of the center, grouped in organizations of different kinds, that collaborate directly with the center in structures led by themselves has proved to be an effective and efficient way of supporting the educational work of the institution and their work with parents.

Among the objectives of these parent associations we have:

  • Collaborate with the center in accomplishing the educational tasks.
  • Oversee that the activities of the center prepare the basis of education and foster the relations of the family and the community, not only in accomplishing the tasks of the center but also in providing the family with pedagogical nutrition and health rules to be followed at home.

Educational practice and research work have confirmed that the integration of parents in the dynamics of the center, in these associations or groups that collaborate directly with the center, led by them, are a very effective way to support the educational work of the institution and the work of the parents themselves.

Active participation of the family in their projection towards the center, their incorporation to the mentioned tasks and others addressed to their own improvement (as can be the promotion of reading materials related with the education of their children, for example) place the family in a power position to demand from the educational institution work of constantly improving quality.

At the same time, the initiative of the associations or groups created in the different centers tends to foster the projection of work towards the community, that should be something that stems out of the participants in the educational work: the center educates, the family educates and the benefit is shown in each child, that goes through his education better cared for, without contradictions between the demands of the educators and parents, in an affective and understanding environment, of respect and mutual support, in which the parents, as prepared and aware adults become active part of the educational team


In 1979 in his report for UNESCO on early childhood education, G. Mialaret stated two general conclusions of his study:

  • The existence of a serious imbalance between the theoretical statements, the generous justifications, somewhat utopic pedagogical conditions regarding education and the fulfillment and implementation of such statements.
  • The existence of a too great distance between what is done and what could be done.

More than 20 years after such conclusions, the general situation of education, and particularly of early childhood education, it seems to remain the same, in fact, it is possible that in some places these statements are even more disheartening now than at that time. This has influenced the direction the current world has taken, where the difference between poor countries and highly industrialized countries is greater every time, where the levels of poverty and lack of schooling produced by the neoliberal policies have increased considerably and particularly affecting children that, along with women and senior citizens have become the most vulnerable elements of our contemporary society.

Current problems

The problems of early childhood education can be grouped in two great sections:

  • Those pertaining to early childhood as an educational level in relation with the demands imposed by society for the education of children of this age group.
  • Those pertaining to its educational theory and practice.

Without any doubt, the most significant is the lack of resources in many countries to maintain existing educational programs that enable caring in a sufficient manner for the needs of coverage and improvement of the quality of this educational level. This is a consequence of the lack of a political and economic link of the educational level with the structures that determine the budget decisions that are reinforced with the deficient technical foundation of many of these educational programs that, often, are not viewed as an educational form, but simply as a means of providing care and attention.

Another general problem is the progressive loss of the specificity, characteristics and specialized orientation of this educational level, that has led in some places to the belief that it is an education that can be taught in any manner without significant consequences for the child's development.

The acceptance of culturally irrelevant pedagogical models has been, in particular in the third world countries, another of the serious problems faced by early childhood education. It is known that no curriculum is valid for all the contexts and while people may be aware of this, the reality is that many times pedagogical models are adopted from totally different social contexts for their use in completely different conditions.

This has been a factor that has caused the lack of credibility in the possibilities of early childhood education since the programs cannot attain the expected achievements of development in children.

To that it must be added that many early childhood educational programs lack enough curriculum quality and experimental evidence of their possibilities , which is closely related to the criteria that what is important in the attention to the first childhood is to provide the required coverage, leaving aside any reference to the quality of its content.

The lack of articulation between the different sectors that develop programs of attention to childhood is another important problem that sometimes, duplicates efforts, follows different lines or each sector ignores what is done in the rest.

In the case of early childhood, it is not unusual to find a separation between institutional education and non institutional or non school education that often do not even fall under the same ministry or are led by numerous state, non governmental or private entities.

The problem of the need for coverage, linked to the lack of resources for early childhood education, lead to a lack of equity in the attention of children in this age group, privileging those in better conditions to receive this type of teaching, such as the children who live in densely populated urban areas and relegating those that are harder to reach, such as the children in non urban or rural areas, marginated zones or regional ethnic minorities.

This lack of equity leads, in the long term, to differences in the development of the children, while it should favor and provide equal opportunities to those who need them more, that is, the children in the lowest levels of society, of the poorer segments or those in the sparsely populated areas.

This lack of equity not only concerns the young children but it is also linked to the difference in sexes, which makes educational programs, even for this age groups, typify these differences in their contents, classroom organization, center structure, behavior of the educator towards the children and the general setting, something that the Mialaret report detected back in 1979 and that is still current in some educational systems.

The inadequate or insufficient training of the staff in this educational level continues to be an unsolved problem, even in highly developed countries although, of course, the situation is even more dramatic in the third world countries.

Training of professionals working with this age group is very varied and sometimes a university degree is not required to work in this field, while in basic education it would be unconceivable to take on a teacher without certification. At the same time, improvisation of people working with these children is a very usual thing, which is many times caused by the fact that this education is not given the significance it has for the development of young children.

The conception of assistance, or provision of a social service and not of an educational service is one of the main causes of this problem that unfortunately is revitalized nowadays. Thus, a concept that had, apparently, been left behind, as is that of “nursery” for the care of children of this age group is now becoming current again, going against what science has verified in terms of the importance of education in the initial stages of life. Oddly enough, this is a phenomenon that is gaining importance in the more developed countries that, supposedly, have a higher level of theoretical conception and methodological application.

A problem to point out is the lack of expressly designed legislation that enables a growing, stronger action of the private sector over the public sector in the education of the first childhood.

This is a consequence of the lack of official attention to the needs of the coverage and quality of education of children in this age group. With an increasing awareness in society of the importance of the early childhood education for the development of children, on one side, and further integration of women in the process of social production (that traditionally played the role of caring for young children), on the other, leads to demand more early childhood education centers to care for these children.

If the state is not efficient in providing for these needs, numerous early childhood education centers, managed by private individuals, without any kind of training, crop up.

This leads, in turn, to a double sided problem, one is the lack of the necessary control by the state authorities of what takes place in these private institutions, with the creation of many different curricula, according to the criteria followed by each center and, the other one, is to place in non qualified hands the direction of this educational process because in some countries, often the owner of the center is not even an educator.

The conciliation of coverage with the quality of education. Criteria for its solution

The decade of the 90's of the last century witnessed important reforms in the field of education. In the previous decade, as part of the educational policy, some countries made efforts to try to extend as much as possible the access of children, teens and young people to education. However, the increase of coverage did not mean the increase of quality of education.

On the other hand, the indexes of coverage have to play necessarily with its objective reality. Thus (and this is typical in many Latin American countries), in the official statistics it is stated that 100% of six year old children are enrolled in school and this official coverage is true when the social reality if very different. The data provided by the Organization of American States reflects that only 60% of these children are really attending school and that by the end of their first year, only 40% of them remain in school.

Despite the relative increase of enrollment of children in early childhood education programs, the rate of enrollment at the world level is low, especially in Latin America and other less developed areas. The highly developed countries show, in general, high levels of coverage in this age group, especially in the institutional programs. However, when we compare the age ranks, there is always a noticeable imbalance of the attention provided to children between four and six and that provided to children less than three years of age.

By all means, the increase of the index of coverage is a favorable index even if its not yet accompanied by enough quality. In this sense, an increase in coverage can lead to:

  • The probabilities that a percentage of children reach, at least, minimum limits in their development, therefore diminishing the number of cases in which programs will have to make up for what has not been achieved in the past.
  • The possibility of opening diversified alternatives of attention pertinent to different social and cultural realities of population.
  • The design of programs that do not require large investments in infrastructure because they do not function in specialized centers (implying the non school way), have a considerably lower cost and, as it has been demonstrated, they can be of the same or greater quality than more formal programs.

However, we have to keep in mind that quality cannot be lost as a result of the implementation of low cost models or attempts to increase the coverage of proven models. The argument that efforts should be addressed to increase coverage before verifying their quality, foregoes the essential fact that without quality there will be more expenses later, either to improve schooling or to remedy what has been done deficiently. Poor quality educational programs are ineffective deprive children of benefits and mean a loss of resources.

A quality educational program is such that is appropriate for the stage of development of children and that answers their learning needs considering their individual differences. Therefore, quality cannot be ascribed only by legislation or by setting up rules and standards from the central level.

Setting up these rules and standards must include a clear definition of which of them is the responsibility of the central, regional, local or community level. It is also important that quality be defined within the national context because sometimes quality programming is only identified with high cost first childhood models that are not appropriate or desirable within a specific national context.

In terms of the insufficiency of coverage and quality the following can be stated:

  • Systems of quality evaluation measure, as a rule, product variables and tend to verify only intellectual or cognitive aspects.
  • Variables related to personality aspects of the children are not evaluated in depth, especially the affective – motivation and the will regulatory areas.
  • Process variables are not taken into account, such as the characteristics of the educational process and the attainment of cultural and family education functions, which leads to a descriptive position, and does not give possibilities to the formulation of explanatory hypothesis about the possible causes of the detected deficiencies.
  • Studies have focused on school settings and the information on non-schooled population or non-formally educated groups is very limited.

In brief, the educational programs should have quality criteria that allow to establish when an educational program has or not quality. In this respect, G. Fujimoto points out that the consensus generated in several regional and international symposiums, with the massive participation of delegates from governments and the civil society, approved the most important quality criteria:

Activity: it plays the lead role in the active construction of learning.

Integrality: implies the harmonious development of all the dimensions of development: physical, emotional, social, intellectual and aesthetic.

Participation: the active intervention of the diverse educational agents: the center, the family, the community and, even, the children themselves.

Relevance: that the programs respect the needs and contexts of the children, appreciating their culture, values, traditions with diversified curricula and relevant and significant learning.

Innovation and modernization: to incorporate useful and significant learning for children, their social group and culture based on the new technologies available.

Flexibility: to be adequate to the needs and social and cultural features to respond to diversity with different models of attention.

Sustainability: that it tries to maintain and continue actions, not only with children but also with the appropriation of programs and services for parents and the community.

Educational programs should be based on these criteria, thus insuring their quality.

There is already awareness that the criteria of quality should be closely linked to the criteria of quality. This, in the OECD report is stated that after access (and, therefore, coverage) the increase in quality of education of the first childhood is the topmost political priority in the OECD countries, based on the position that when children who receive high quality care and education in their early years show better cognitive and language abilities than those who received lower quality care and education.

For the less developed countries, perhaps the issue of coverage is still the most important consideration and, because of that, the issue of maintaining quality is harder to address, given the levels of poverty, economic and social impoverishment in many of them.

Quality is inherent in the educational action but at the same time it is as dynamic and complex as education in itself. It is not possible to think of talking about coverage if it does not imply a criterion of quality but it is also impossible to think of a quality education of the first childhood if it is restricted to a small percentage of the population. To reconcile both criteria is perhaps one of the hardest tasks to be performed by many states.

The problem of centralization and decentralization

Centralization and decentralization are, at this time a key issue for many states, not only in the educational plane but also in all their economic, social, cultural and administrative structure.

Decentralization policies have become the key to the process of institutional restructuring. Basically, they imply a new distribution of social power by setting up an administrative structure in which the centralized state sheds a number of traditional functions, such as the administration and maintenance of centers, hiring and paying teachers, preparing budgets for services, among others, to concentrate its attention on strategic tasks such as the formulation of policies (educational, social, economic); evaluation of the results of the educational activity and its monitoring, research in strategic areas, identification of innovations and their generalization, among others.

In many countries competences and functions have been distributed into the different levels (central, regional, state, local) which means an increase of levels and participants in the decision making process.

The fact that the educational center has the possibility to determine the curriculum demands for its students is linked also to the problem of centralization and decentralization of the center of early childhood education, as a reflection of similar processes that take place at the state level and should not go against the achievement of a harmony between unity and diversity of the curricular conceptions.

The harmony between the unity and diversity can be understood from the establishment of a common and compulsory basic level that ensures the minimum preparation for each child and sufficient aperture to attend the social needs in the formation of the citizen, in tune with the characteristics of the social setting in which the early childhood education center is working.

These reflections are aimed at strengthening the idea that besides establishing common curriculum demands in a country, for all the institutions of the same type, as a way to ensure the demands necessary for their development and the equity of all people, it is also, very necessary that the curriculum has enough flexibility so that the center can answer the specific and particular needs of its children and teachers, as well s the needs and interests of the community.

However, the realization of a flexible curriculum alternative that responds to unity and diversity from the curriculum brings about another type of problems and at the same time pedagogical demands that allow:

  • That the curriculum selected as common is general enough to attend the demands of the children depending on their level of development, as well as the inclusion of specific demands of the community and the families.
  • That the center of education of the first childhood has the necessary elements to identify correctly the specific needs of development and formation of the children, as well as the educational needs that respond to the context and stimulate its own development.
  • That the center generates all its creative capacity for the identification and development of ways for the expansion of its specific curriculum strategy and the elements and indicators it needs for its permanent self evaluation of the quality of the product.

These demands and needs become important challenges for the center.

The problems of decentralization are closely linked to those of curriculum adaptation and its diversification. However, it is important to remember that the planning of the curriculum project has to be flexible enough to allow for modifications, inclusions and substitutions, as the results of the evaluations recommend, avoiding the rigid curriculum models that only allow for irrelevant tool variations. This does not mean that there is freedom to make changes that may vary the core essence of the model which would lead, or could lead, to have as many curriculum models as there are centers.

The ideal is to have a curriculum model that, establishing the objectives of development to be achieved by all the children it is used with, allows for its decentralization and diversification according to their corresponding levels until it reaches the curriculum project of the center and, even of the classroom, in which the necessary adaptations can be made, based on its own features, those of the children, the level of training of its teaching staff, the material conditions and organization and the role played by other agents, such as parents and the community, among other factors.

In some countries there is a national curriculum model from which adaptations and diversifications can be made, while in others there is a state or province model that expresses the curriculum in terms of its territory and it is from this level where such modifications can be made.

In any case, there are always methodological indications or orientations that can be more or less flexible, more or less rigid, depending on what is the current educational policy. This, many times creates problems for the planning of the curriculum model that does not have enough freedom to take its own decisions.

But, to ease the work of adapting the curriculum model it is necessary, besides the general methodological rules, to establish open and flexible curriculum proposals that allow for their adaptation to the different realities.

Even in those countries with a somewhat inflexible curriculum model, the current need has made it necessary to create particular projects for specific educational communities that are substantially different from the general educational community.

However, the higher levels of autonomy and participation in the different levels of the process of decentralization of the educational system faces now three specific limitations:

  1. The resistance of the interests committed with the centralized system whose relative power could be endangered.
  2. The obsolescence of the juridical regulations still standing that regulates education and the lack of flexibility of the current regulations in some countries.
  3. The limited and unequal distribution of management capacities, which can generate inequity and resistance to change.

To overcome these difficulties requires actions in which the different subjects, institutions and levels reach agreements to act according to specific objectives. These agreements, along with the coordination, make up the way for a conversion of the participation in a permanent up to date source of dynamism to improve the relevance, efficacy, effectiveness and equity of the educational system and turn it into a task for everyone.

This leads to the professionalization of the educators that, from mere transmitters of cognitive information, become a source of dynamism within the educational processes, as they are able to take actions and decisions in the decentralization.

The challenges of the new millennium

Peruvian expert, Dr. Jose Rivero, of the UNESCO office in Santiago de Chile has established seven strategic priorities at the onset of the new millennium for education of the first childhood.

1 st PRIORITY: To consolidate a new culture of childhood, with early childhood education for all children, emphasizing strategies of positive discrimination in favor of the children of poor and vulnerable families. A new culture of childhood should start with the fulfillment of the rights of all children without any exception.

To accept this means

•  To accept the need for a change in the objective life conditions of all children. This change is attained by modifying concrete social realities. This, the generalization of the new culture of childhood would be closely linked to the modification of the social and economic realities in which the children are living.

•  The role of education cannot be limited to the transmission of cultural values of a society. Its function should be to enable that the child, from birth, has all the possible opportunities to develop his potential. Today's children and the youth and adults of tomorrow demand to have as the base of their education an early childhood education starting during the pregnancy and well before their entry into primary school.

2 nd priority: To foster learning in environments that foster affective and motor development of the child, recognizing and stimulating the child's capacities.

The rich experience of educational studies and research with children coincides in saying that children design their matters of communication and learning from a psychomotor organization developed at least in four areas:

  • The link with the more significant adult or adults
  • Exploration
  • Communication
  • Balance

It is pointed out, with reason that interaction of these organizational areas is what allows the child to build the foundation of his first and permanent learning: mental representation, abstraction and the development of his language, and operational thinking.

For this it is necessary

To give the highest importance to the internal world of the child and his psychoaffective nucleus. Even at the risk of simplifying the long pedagogical experience it can be said that all learning can take place in two ways: by pain, stressful external demand, or by pleasure, motivation and affection. Of the first way there is enough experience and well-known results. “Everything that is memorized by force, at the cortex level, without having awakened any emotional echo, does nothing but parasitise the memory. Forgetting it is then a sign of mental health”; say A. Lapierre and B. Aucouturier (1985). Instead, through pleasure and affection, the child has less possibilities of fragmenting and can, in this way, develop harmoniously his social, intellectual, affective, physical and emotional areas as a whole.

The option for play in education of the first childhood has here one of its main foundations. To take advantage of spontaneous play of the children will let the rescue of the great wealth that they bring with them to the educational center or program, because in such play manifestations everything they are living and the capacity to interact with others is reflected.

It would be important, on the other hand, to consider that the challenges of the 21st century have to do much more with the mental health than with intellectual health. For this, the formation of self-esteem, personal security, confidence in others, tolerant with what is different to them, the capacity to assume challenges and risks will be forged in the first educational experiences with adults and other children in early childhood education. Inner peace and acceptance of difficulties will be forged and marked also in the first educational practices.

It will be equally important to discover and foster the potentialities of each child. Early childhood education should be the tool that, along with nutrition and health, insures the foundation of the good development of a person. The quality of the experiences in relation with other children and with adults that can be offered to the child will be strengthened if they take into account the child's capacities and his possibilities are fostered to project his movements, intentions, intelligence, affection to modify his own surroundings, be them family or educational.

It is necessary to pay attention to the development of language with a multicultural focus. Language is acquired through social exchange. Language in its diverse expressions is necessary to communicate with others and to represent and shape the world. “The child's intellectual growth depends on the dominance of the social mediators of thought, that, is, on the possession of language” explained L. Vigotsky.

Language develops thoughts, life with others and is the main factor of communication. It is said, with reason, that without language it would not be possible to build thoughts nor love. However, to help the child to build his expression, communication and understanding through language, it will be necessary to start from the recognition of the potentialities of each child, his creativity and capacities to produce.

3 rd priority: To link the family as educational and socialization agent, fostering reflection and understanding of their role in the development of children.

The family is the active mediator between the individual and society. Its importance is such that it can be said that it is them, according to their possibilities and limitations that facilitate or limit the processes of development that affect their members. If their action is adequate, the results benefit society. It is considered, more and more, as the privileged space for action of public policies and that in which they can have more impact.

The influence of the family setting is predominant in all the crucial periods of growth, for example, the styles of interpersonal communication help the child to define his models of reactions to experiences, thoughts and feelings of others. When education enables the participation of parents, they improve their behavior as such, favoring the independence of their children and their own self-esteem, which influences the school performance of their children.

They are the educational agent par excellence; learning by imitation, determinant in children is one of their products. Glen Nimnicht states that “in the end, in most of the cases, the family is the sole permanent educational influence of their children; teachers come and go, the child can change from schools but the family remains”.

The family setting is the first opportunity that every human being has to become so. This is why it is decisive to consider the presence and action of parents or the single mother as first educators and the family, whatever the type, as primary structure of which the child is a member, and where he can become a subject due to the process of identification and differentiation that allows him to acquire his own identity.

For all this, every early childhood education program should integrate the family if they want to be successful in their work. The programs based on the family will have greater possibilities of educational success. A key question in early childhood education programs will reside in enabling parents to trust themselves and develop skills that improve their interaction with their children.

Unfortunately, in poor or deprived settings, parents do not have, many times, the possibilities of recognizing their own worth or their potential as educators. A frequent reason for this is that they themselves do not have a successful pedagogical experience from their school years,

The improvement of the family cultural environment and the increase of paternal awareness that this improvement will directly influence the educational development of their children and of their learning and that the link between teachers and children should be a mediating one, were assessed and made explicit back in 1932 by Lev Vigotsky.

The educational level of parents, particularly of the mothers, appears in many experiences and studies as the key factor in education and health of their children; it is also a direct influence for the option to give their children early education and to avoid school drop outs in the higher grades of primary and secondary school.

4 th Priority: Strengthening scientific knowledge on childhood, family and community through research.

If there is the purpose of a real improvement of the quality of early childhood education, scientific research will be fundamental to accomplish it. A priority of scientific research on the development of this education will be to try to really know the child one is working with. Starting from the real child in a real world and also, trying to have, through research, more conceptual clarity on the child, placing him in concrete settings.

5 th Priority: Approaching the new technologies with pedagogical criteria.

The history of the last century has abundant examples of the enthusiasm with which education has received cinema, radio, television, video, and more recently, computers as potential educational means. It seemed like each new means was for some innovators, the final answer to accumulated educational problems. However, after some years of applying each new means, it turned out to be ephemeral in terms of the potential it was supposed to have, largely because they were being used as educational mechanisms without first taking into account the goals for their application.

With new technologies it is frequent to find positions that go from utopia (technology as a panacea solving the main problems of learning) to skeptical (television and computers can be harmful for children and stimulate innocuous learning). Both positions have a new techno centric vision of the problem, without considering the human, cultural and contextual elements and privileging only the technological side, substituting a goal for the means. The fundamental question is not what can be done with television or a computer? Or what do computers and television do for children but what can children and their parents do with television and computers? What things can they build with them?

It is important to start by admitting that no new technology replaces the previous ones. Computers do not replace videos nor do these replace television, or this replaces the radio. Each one has its role, potentials and limitations. What is important is that children are aware of their existence and are motivated to use each means with an alert and aware mind.

6 th Priority: Search by the educator of excellence in early childhood education.

This priority can perfectly be the first one and it is linked to the good completion of the others.

If we assume the hypothesis of the central importance that education of the first childhood has for human and personal development, we will admit the need to opt for strategies that enable a rigorous selection and initial training of the teaching staff as well as giving them possibilities for constant evolution and professional updating.

Taking into account the study of reality and the opinion of the experts consulted in research on specialization of early childhood education, it is concluded that the basic personal features that a specialist in childcare should have are such as:

•  Relation with children. This is a priority. The teacher should be warm and affectionate with children, patient but at the same time active to adapt to the intense rhythm of working with children. For this, it is pointed out, that it is better to hire a person that feels love for children even if not qualified, than someone with higher qualifications but without this quality.

•  The relation with the type of work. A specialist in early childhood education needs to have affinity towards the activities of his work. His vocation of service should have to be expressed also in his responsibility towards work, interest in updating and learning to provide even better service.

•  The relation with others. His ability to communicate and the adequate handling of human relationships will allow for a good relation with the community, parents of the children and work colleagues, an important aspect for the development in the field. For this, in these studies it is recommended that the specialist is a member of the same community where the center is located.

•  The relation with one's self. Emotional balance and good physical and mental health are important tools to face unforeseen and difficult situations that often demand common sense and balance to make a decision.

7 th Priority: Early childhood education in the education system: better articulation with the initial level, primary school and more influence on it.

Most of the developing countries have entered the 21st century with unsolved problems back from the 19th century. Their deficits in terms of coverage, school repeats and dropouts are still very high. The great challenges are, precisely to accomplish the dream of a truly universal school and prepare our societies to assume all that is implied in the third millennium in terms of a successful and equitative integration.

Global basic education has to overcome the current results of legal regulations that demand a compulsory basic education. It is not enough and will not be enough to improve the coverage and approach 100% of children attending school. It will be necessary to face the main factors of school failure and dropouts. The purpose will have to be to reach the minimum demanded by the 21st century: bilingualism, mathematic skills and reading skills at least at an eight or ninth grade level, ability for team work to solve problems, understanding and enjoyment of science and technology, use of computers and communication means, tolerance and respect towards differences.

The importance of quality early childhood education should be placed within this future context and the whole of the educational system.

Of the role of the governments

It can be added to what Dr. Rivero has stated, even though it is contained in the first priority, that the governments should have an active policy in this area of education. That is, the urgency to achieve an awareness of corresponsability of the society, represented by its government, with parents, to insure the optimal growth of the child. Early childhood education has today a series of considerations and demands that cannot fall exclusively on parents.

This priority is based on the following considerations:

  • To guarantee as far as possible the equality of opportunities of the child, regardless of his origin and condition.
  • To balance the social roles of the couple to avoid separating women from work to care for the children, at the same time legitimizing the role of women as mothers.
  • Education is an ongoing, uninterrupted process from birth that requires the specialization and professionalization, as well as affection.

For this, it will be necessary that

•  More centers are created and not only for children whose parents are working. The quality should be promoted as much as the quantity of the services.

•  A better coordination and coherence of the sectors should be insured among the sectors working in children education.

•  Means are available to foster a further commitment of parents in the services of education of the first childhood.

•  Training of professionals in the field is permanently improved.

•  Governments play a fundamental role in financing, planning and promotion of the improvements in quality of the services, even if it does not directly create them since they can be the competence of other organizations.

It is universally understood that it should be the governments who guarantee the universally recognized right of the children to a correct education, which also refers to early childhood education. Governments should be urged to set up quality early childhood education programs that compensate for inequalities of origin and allow for the conjugation of opportunities and compensation of inequalities. For this they have to:

•  Set into place legislation according to the needs of the children.

•  Guarantee the correct development of early childhood education through the proper financing of it.

The always limited resources destined to early childhood education should be distributed so that they benefit all of the children, and therefore, society. Professor Mialaret says:

“To perfectly reach their objectives, it would be necessary that the children from all social levels could be together within this educational community. Early childhood education can not turn into a new means of social segregation, leaving the children of poor families together in one side and those from wealthy families in the other. If we want early childhood education to become a tool to fight against social injustice and prepare children to live in peace, it is imperative that we fight for its generalization so that the child, rich or poor, advanced in his evolution or not, finds happiness and friendship with all the other children of the same age, regardless of race, nationality, religion or social origin. Early childhood education should be at the service of authentic democratization in which all the individuals have the same possibilities to develop and the same opportunities to triumph in life.”

In the same way, the International Labor Organization recommends that:

“The services and installations of early childhood education should be at the disposal of parents, if possible free of charge, or at a reasonable price, corresponding to the possibilities of each worker (more specifically, of each father)


Unfortunately and despite the fact that the role of the first childhood played by early childhood education in the development of the individual is scientifically well defined, it is not fully assumed by those who decide on policies and resources. Which makes the expectations of accomplishing an education for all proposed by international associations for this decade still very distant in many countries of the world, especially in the developing countries. The child, with rare exceptions, does not have the official support it should have and thereof, the equality of possibilities and opportunities is not ensured.

Oddly enough, in some of the industrialized countries, or of the first world, in which the problems of coverage are less serious, (although the issue of quality should be looked into), an old, outdated trend is returning, and that is the concept of nursery. It does not stem from the need of education of children for their own good but of the need of the working mother, which is obviously not the same thing. It relegates early childhood education to a mere care program, many times, sprinkled with false educational notes, that do not take into account the Conclusions or the Recommendations of the Jomtien Summit that say:

“Education begins at birth. This demands the early care and the initial education of childhood, which can be achieved by measures for the family, community or institutions, as needed”.

Without any doubt, this is a veiled form of maintaining inequality and social injustice because the upper classes are the only ones who can access early childhood education centers that meet the conditions for education and development of the children. This is a form of deepening the breach between social classes.

The new concept of early childhood education implies not only a technical task of how to conceive the education of very young children in the new millennium but also, a political and social action to guarantee that this new education is available for all children and that the principles of equality and social justice contained in the Declaration of Child Rights are met.

That these Rights of the Children are met is, without any doubt, the biggest challenge faced by early childhood education in the third millennium. 

By Juan Sánchez Muliterno.



Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas the United Nations has, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,

Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth,

Whereas the need for such special safeguards has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the statutes of specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children,

Whereas mankind owes to the child the best it has to give,

Now therefore,

The General Assembly

Proclaims this Declaration of the Rights of the Child to the end that he may have a happy childhood and enjoy for his own good and for the good of society the rights and freedoms herein set forth, and calls upon parents, upon men and women as individuals, and upon voluntary organizations, local authorities and national Governments to recognize these rights and strive for their observance by legislative and other measures progressively taken in accordance with the following principles:

Principle 1

The child shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family.

Principle 2

The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

Principle 3

The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality.

Principle 4

The child shall enjoy the benefits of social security. He shall be entitled to grow and develop in health; to this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate pre-natal and post-natal care. The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services.

Principle 5

The child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition.

Principle 6

The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding. He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother. Society and the public authorities shall have the duty to extend particular care to children without a family and to those without adequate means of support. Payment of State and other assistance towards the maintenance of children of large families is desirable.

Principle 7

The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.

The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.

The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.

Principle 8

The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief.

Principle 9

The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form.

The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.

Principle 10

The child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men