Rights from the Start! Early Education for Filipino Children
Seventeen million children below the age of six may soon have access to early childhood education and better nutrition, thanks in part to a civil campaign supported by GCAP Philippines' member, Kabataan Kontra Kahirapan.
The "Early Years Act", which creates an Early Childhood Care and Development Council and would ensure that young children have access to proper nutrition and education right from the start, has passed the Philippines' congress and now awaits the President's signature. If it becomes law, the Early Years Act will transform some 50,000 daycare centres in almost as many villages into full-fledged learning centres.
While a similar bill was vetoed by President Benigno Aquino in February due to budgetary concerns, campaigners expect Aquino to sign the bill now that these concerns are being addressed by congress.
"Children who have access to early development programmes are better prepared for school," says Thea Soriano, the coordinator of another GCAP Philippines member, E-Net Philippines. "They are more competent emotionally and socially and demonstrate better intellectual, physical and verbal development."
E-Net recently engaged the Philippine government in a dialogue about early childhood education with officials from several agencies that will be at the forefront of the Early Years Act implementation, including the Departments of Health and Education.
"Our Filipino children are not adequately prepared for school," says GCAP Global Council member Claudine Claridad, who is also the national chairperson of Kabataan Kontra Kahirapan (Youth Against Poverty). "A government investment in early childhood care and education will reduce the number of children who drop out of school and will help break the poverty cycle. The Early Years Act makes it a government responsibility to ensure that quality educational opportunities are available to all young children, regardless of background or income.
Formative years before the age of six are critical for a child's future education. Half of a person's ability to learn is developed by age four, while key learning pathways are formed in the brain prior to the age of six.
More than one million Filipino children are in simple play centres, while 2.5 million children of school age are not enrolled at all. The Philippines Department of Education meanwhile says that 15% of elementary-age children are not in school.
Filipino anti-poverty campaigners and education advocates have pledged to be vigilant to ensure that impoverished and marginalised communities are at the centre of the government's affirmative action plans for early education.
The campaign for the Early Years Act is supported by a number of Filipino NGOs and networks, including ASPBAE Manila (Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education), Piglas Kababaihan (“Liberate Women”), Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision Philippines.
E-Net Philippines spearheaded this year’s Global Action Week on Education with the campaign theme Rights from the Start: ECCE Now! Day care teachers, school children, out of school youth, educators and advocates joined E-net in calling on the government to support early childhood education, while young children painted images of 'The Education We Want' on t-shirts.