Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef

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Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean   1

                                                                                     Guidance on the
                                                                                     Importance of
                                                                                     Quality in Early
                                                                                     Childhood Learning
                                                                                     and Education in
                                                                                     Latin America and
                                                                                     the Caribbean
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

Panama City, January 2020

Cover picture: © UNICEF/UN0312270/Sokol

The statements in this publication are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policies or the views of UNICEF.

This publication may be reproduced for use in research, advocacy and education only, provided the source is acknowledged
(UNICEF). This publication may not be reproduced for other purposes without the prior written permission of UNICEF. Permissions
will be requested to Communication Unit,

Author: Elisa Hartwig
Publication coordinators: María Elena Úbeda, Regional ECD Manager, María Paula Reinbold, Education Officer, and Marina Morales
Carbonell, Education Specialist.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office
Building 102, Alberto Tejada St.
City of Knowledge
Panama, Republic of Panama
P.O. Box: 0843-03045
Telephone: +507 301 7400
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
Guidance on the Importance of
Quality in Early Childhood Learning
and Education in Latin America and
the Caribbean
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
Acronyms................................................................................................................................................................................ 4

1. Quality of and Access to ECE as Functions of Equity and Sustainability ............................................ 5

2. Significance and Impact of Quality ..................................................................................................................... 7
    Planning and Resource Allocation...............................................................................................................................10
    Curriculum and Pedagogy............................................................................................................................................. 12
    Family and Community Engagement......................................................................................................................... 16
    Quality Assurance and Improvement Mechanisms................................................................................................ 18

3. Regional Challenges and Successes in ECE Quality..................................................................................... 21
    Planning and Resource Allocation.............................................................................................................................. 21
    Curriculum and Pedagogy............................................................................................................................................. 23
    Workforce ......................................................................................................................................................................... 25
    Family and Community Engagement......................................................................................................................... 26
    Quality Assurance and Improvement Mechanisms................................................................................................ 28

4. The Path Forward and Technical Recommendations for Improving Quality...................................... 31

References............................................................................................................................................................................ 37
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
4                             Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

ASQ: Ages and Stages Questionnaire

CIS: Arnett Caregiver Interaction Scale

CLASS: Classroom Assessment Scoring System

CONAFE: National Council for Educational Promotion (Mexico) (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo in its
Spanish acronym)

ECC: Early Childhood Commission (Jamaica)

ECE: Early childhood learning and education

ECEC: Early Childhood Education and Care

ECERS-R: Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale - Revised

EFA: Education for All

EPRP: Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan

GDP: Gross Domestic Product

GPE: Global Partnership for Education

ICBF: Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar in its Spanish acronym)

IDELA: International Development & Early Learning Assessment

ITERS: Infant and Toddler Environmental Rating Scale

LAC: Latin America and the Caribbean

MELQO: Measure for Early Learning Quality Outcomes

MICS: Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys

MITRCC: Missouri Infant Toddler Responsive Caregiving Checklist

NGO: Non Governmental Organization

OECD: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

ORCE: Observational Record of the Caregiving Environment

PISA: Programme for International Student Assessment

PRIDI: Regional Project on Child Development Indicators

RINJU: Play Corner (Chile) (Rincón de Juego in its Spanish acronym)

SDG: Sustainable Development Goal

TIMSS: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Guidance on the Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Learning and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean - Unicef
Quality of and Access to ECE as Functions of Equity and Sustainability                                                        5

1. Quality of and Access to ECE
as Functions of Equity and

Early childhood learning and education (ECE) is an                       Uptake of ECE, along with related policy innovation
important piece of the composite of early childhood                      and public attention, has increased around the globe,
development services supporting a social ecology of                      spurred on by advancements in neuroscience and our
‘nurturing care’, which also includes adequate health,                   understanding of brain development in the earliest
nutrition, early stimulation through responsive                          years of life,12 13 as well as by economic research
caregiving and protection, safety, and security.1                        demonstrating its high rate of societal return on
ECE services, including childcare, preschool, pre-                       investments.14 15 ECE has progressively gained an
primary programs, and the early grades of primary                        influential position in the public agenda -- from the
school, generally address the age range of 3 to 8                        Education for All (EFA) Framework of Action at the
in a child’s life (although increasingly include care                    Dakar Conference in 2000 in which the expansion
for younger children). They support teachers and                         and improvement of ECE became a central objective,
caregivers to create safe, stimulating, and nurturing                    to the United Nations’ post-2015 SDG 4.2 calling
learning environments while also supporting parents                      for all children to have access to high quality pre-
to participate in their young children’s growth,                         primary education to the EFA in Latin America and
development, and learning.2                                              the Caribbean Lima Declaration of 2014 ensuring an
                                                                         inclusive and equitable access to quality learning
Research indicates that access to integrated early                       for all. This increased prominence has resulted in a
childhood development services, such as ECE                              heavy focus on increasing access to ECE programs.16
programs, can help reduce the major inequities,                          Preschool enrolment rates increased globally from
cycles of poverty, and lack of basic human rights                        33% in 1999 to 54% in 2012, with particularly high
faced by a vast majority of the world’s children                         rates in many LAC countries.17 Across the LAC region,
aged zero to five. 3 4 5 This may hold especially                        enrolment in ECE has increased substantially since
true for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC),                          2000, including among children under 3 years of age.18
where 3.6 million three- and four-year-olds
demonstrate inadequate cognitive, physical, and                          Despite overall LAC regional success, the issue of
emotional development for their age, and rates                           universalizing access must remain on the ECE policy
of inequality are more concentrated than in any                          agenda, not only because some countries of the
other region of the world. 6 7 Centre-, school- and                      region still lag behind in terms of minimal rates of
group home-based ECE programs (on which this                             provision, but also because there remain significant
report focuses), along with family engagement                            disparities in access to key services, favoring higher
groups and home-visiting programs, present an                            income and urban populations and children without
excellent opportunity to ameliorate and strengthen                       developmental delays or disabilities.19 For example,
every child’s optimal development and growth.                            only half of young children in Guatemala attend ECE,
Moreover, attending ECE has been shown to                                with the vast majority being from wealthy families.20
improve children’s on-time entry and overall                             Access to ECE programs as an issue of equity has
performance in primary school, as well as future                         been demonstrated by disparities reported across
health, well-being, civic engagement, and financial                      the LAC region and the globe (notable exceptions
stability in adult life.8 9 10 11                                        include Uruguay and Jamaica, which both offer
6                                                                                       Significance and Impact of Quality

                                                                                         © UNICEF/UN033709/Arcos

nearly universal provision of ECE with only minimal      north, there exists an expanding body of research
socioeconomic disparities). Consistently, children       verifying the effect in the LAC region. For example,
from poorer families; from rural areas; from cultural-   an impact study conducted in Brazil demonstrated
linguistic minority or marginalized backgrounds;         that children who attend high-quality ECE programs
with exposure to or displaced by conflict, disease,      (as measured by a slight adaptation of the ECERS-R,
or disaster; and children with disabilities or           discussed in Chapter 4 of this report) were more likely
developmental delays have less access to ECE             to achieve higher scores on the Provinha second-
and other early childhood development services,21        grade literacy test scores. It is worth noting that this
although research indicates that they stand to benefit   study also found that the average quality rating for
more than their less vulnerable counterparts.22          five of the seven cities studied was “inadequate”, and
Quality of ECE services and systems as an issue          the average for the other two cities was “basic”,25
of equity, however, has received less global and         which demonstrates the urgency of the matter.
regional attention, perhaps because improving access
rates to ECE by increasing infrastructure may be         Thus, the shift in conversation around ECE from
more straightforward than improving the quality of       “Why?” to “How?” is timely. It is necessary to expand
existing programs and ensuring the quality of future     children’s opportunities for participation in ECE as
programs.                                                well as to improve and maintain the quality of their
                                                         ECE experiences. Effective ECE policy sustainably
The benefits of ECE on children’s development vary       optimizes both the quality of services as well as their
according to the quality of the program, with stronger   equitable distribution.26 Achievement of SDG 4.2
positive effects among high-quality programs and         requires a national, regional and global commitment
deleterious effects from poor-quality programs.23 24     to equitable provision of ECE, in terms of both access
While much of the research base hails from the global    and quality of services, to all children.
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                            7

2. Significance and Impact of Quality
High-quality ECE programs support and cultivate          third of children who attend preschool are enrolled
positive family well-being and allow children to         in private institutions, often operating outside the
attain their fullest potential as individuals and as     regulatory system.35 Without proper monitoring of
participating citizens.27 Moreover, these programs       basic requirements for operation and of licensure
offer a potential opportunity to mitigate the deeply-    processes, private ECE programs – while bolstering
entrench effects of discrimination, sexism, violence,    rates of ECE coverage -- can pose a serious threat
and child abuse, among others. At the 2017 Regional      to quality. Argentina presents a prime example of
Meeting of Education Ministers of LAC held in Buenos     the concern over equitable quality of ECE programs
Aires by UNESCO and others, a regional commitment        amidst the universalizing of access: as in Chile,
was established to continue expanding quality            Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay and the
ECE programs, particularly for marginalized and/or       Dominican Republic, the starting age of compulsory
excluded children, “through quality solutions that       education was lowered to 5 in 2006 and then (as in
promote the comprehensive development of children        Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and Uruguay)
and active participation of families and communities,    to 4 in 2014.36 This resulted in a 31% increase in ECE
engaging interinstitutional and intersectoral            enrolment between 2000 and 2015. In 2010 the access
partnerships” (p.10).28                                  rate was 96.3% for 5-year-olds and 81.5% for 4-year-
                                                         olds,37 with nearly a third of those services covered
High quality is a necessary condition for attaining a    by private ECE programs.38 Despite high rates of
positive impact in ECE programs.29 As such, provision    participation, provision of ECE services has remained
of ECE programs, alone, does not necessarily lead        deeply fragmented between public, private, and non-
to the best possible results -- underfunded, low-        governmental governance, with no consistent quality
quality programs cannot and do not accomplish what       assurance mechanisms, thus leading to an unequal
higher-quality programs do in terms of children’s        and inequitable distribution of quality programs. In
development and learning. According to a study           short, children from low-income families are more
released by the Inter-American Development Bank in       likely to attend low-quality ECE programs.39 40 41
2015, The Early Years: Child Well-Being and the Role
of Public Policy, many programs in the LAC region are    It is essential to note that there is an ongoing
underfunded and fail to focus on quality. Both access    discussion amongst the international research
and quality are inequitably distributed across the       community regarding the difficulty of establishing
region, disproportionately favoring wealthier, urban     a cross-cultural definition of quality in ECE to be
families.30 31 32 33 Overall, ECE funding for children   utilized and measured across contexts, particularly
between 0 and 5 years old is three times less than the   in specific detail. In his 2006 background paper on
funding dedicated to primary school-aged children. As    ECE quality for the EFA Global Monitoring Report,
a percentage of GDP, Latin America and the Caribbean     Robert Myers, drawing on a theoretical discussion
spends around half of the OECD average (0.7% of          of coherence versus diversity by Peter Moss,
GDP, ranging widely from 0.5% in Turkey and the          presented a cogent, cautionary argument against
United States to 1.8% in Iceland).34                     a narrow, “industrial-age” perspective on quality.
                                                         This conceptualization of quality wrongly claims
Meanwhile, many countries have failed to develop         to be “inherent, objective, absolute and able to be
and implement a consistent method of measuring           discovered by applying logic (or through research)...
and monitoring the quality of ECE programs.              tidy, coherent and predictable...”, thereby negating
Although preschools are generally incorporated           “multiple and changing truths, diversity, subjectivity
into the educational sector, approximately one-          and experience and uncertainty in a changing, messy
8                                                                                        Significance and Impact of Quality

and unpredictable world” (p.9).42 However, the            approach, 3) workforce, 4) family and community
response to the discussion cannot be sheer relativistic   engagement, and 5) quality assurance mechanisms
disabling, which could potentially put children who       (see Figure 1). Below is an elaboration of the many
are already vulnerable at further risk of harmful ECE     ways in which these components intersect. The
programs, but rather a context-specific definitional      guiding principles of the Conceptual Framework,
process engaging concepts of why and how quality          intended to influence discussion of the components,
is to be conceptualized, measured, and improved. As       are equity, efficiency, responsiveness, collaboration,
Yoshikawa and Kabay elaborate in their background         and coordination. The Conceptual Framework should
paper for the 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report,          be utilized as such, a frame of reference to stimulate
there remains an immense need for the science and         intentional dialogue and be adapted accordingly: each
evidence base of early childhood development to           country context must undergo its own dynamic and
incorporate a better understanding of culturally-based    participatory process -- involving parents, teachers,
norms and practices in families and communities.43        researchers, funders and decision-makers at national
                                                          and local levels -- to negotiate a contextualized
In order to address the issue of quality across the LAC   definition of quality as it relates to each of the
region, this report operationalizes the Conceptual        components of ECE. Essential to this process of defining
Framework developed by UNICEF to support national         and committing to quality in ECE is the engagement
ECE expansion and strengthening to integral, well-        of policymakers and representatives from the wide
functioning scale.44 Within this framework, the           variety of sectors that influence and are impacted by
following sub-sector elements contribute to effective     early childhood development, including health, urban
and equitable high-quality early childhood education      planning, social protection, emergency response, labour
systems, policies, and programs: 1) planning and          and cultural development, in order to support early
resource allocation, 2) curriculum and pedagogical        learning for all families with young children.

                                                                                         © UNICEF/UN0312667/Sokol
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                                                       9

Figure 1: UNICEF Conceptual Framework for Pre-Primary Education


                                             To ensure that the children in diverse early
                                             learning settings experience a curriculum and
                                             have access to materials that stimulate their
                                             development and respond to their individual and
                                             cultural characteristics.

    Planning and                                          the Pre-Primary S
    Resource Allocation                           reas of                  ub-                           To ensure that pre-primary
                                               n A                            Se
                                              o                                 cto                      teachers and other personnel
                                           cti                                     r
    To ensure equitable and
                                          A                                                              have essential competencies,
                                                                                                         training and support required
    efficient provision of
                                                                                                         to promote children´s
    pre-primary services, the
                                                                                                         positive development and
    deployment and
                                                         Curriculum                                      early learning, and that
    management of available
                                                                                                         personnel have opportunities
    financial, human, and
                                                                                                         for growth.
    physical resources.


                                and Resource
                                                      Equitable provision of
                                                       quality pre-primary

    Quality                                                                       Families &             Families &
    Assurance                                                                   Communities              Communities
    To have a coherent system                   Assurance                                                To ensure that families are
    to monitor all aspects of                                                                            active participants in
    the pre-primary sub-sector,                                                                          children´s learning and
    paricularly in terms of                                                                              development; collaborate
    service quality and                                                                                  with communities to streng-
    regulation compliance.                                                                               then pre-primary programs,
                                                                                                         family practices, and
                                                                                                         children´s learning and

                Source: UNICEF, Conceptual Framework on Building a Strong Pre-Primary Sub-Sector (in development), 2018
10                                                                                        Significance and Impact of Quality

Planning and Resource Allocation

Strategic planning and policy formulation -- and           per capita (i.e., per child), but the meaning of these
the allocation of the human, physical, and financial       numbers shifts according to several variables,
resources necessary to enable and implement them           including total GDP and currency spending power.
-- are crucial for driving quality improvement in ECE.45   Regardless, Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights
Furthermore, we know that policy and programming           of the Child obliges countries to provide resources
designed to optimize integration and coordination          to their “maximum” capacity and to monitor those
across early childhood development services and            resources to ensure compliance.50 The converse, i.e., a
related social sectors, called “convergence of             lack of proper investment in early childhood, inhibits
interventions” or “multi-sectoral interventions”, is       the potential development of children and reinforces
more effective than compartmentalized policies and         deprivations, inequities, and intergenerational
programs.46 According to Vegas and Santibáñez (2010),      poverty.51 Finance ministries enable ECE quality not
a “coherent, well-defined, long-term national policy       only by ensuring an adequate amount of funding to
can facilitate the sustainability of existing programs,    cover both capital and recurrent costs but also by
especially if it is developed through a consensus-         developing well-informed and strategic innovations
oriented process” (p.113).47 Vertical coordination and     in the allocation of funds that support all elements
communication across levels of governance within           of the sector (including all components of the
the ECE system, from program-specific context to           Conceptual Framework herein operationalized) and
local to sub-national to national, and in collaboration    their sustainable improvement. One such innovation
with academic, NGO, other civil society, and private       is the dynamic budgeting model utilized in Peru,
sectors, further contribute to strengthening systems       which combines historical budgeting, needs‐
to enable quality ECE programs. Establishing policy        based budgeting, and results‐based budgeting,
directives and clear governance structures, roles, and     where budget allocations are linked to specific
responsibilities facilitates the identification of gaps    population‐based targets.52 While the researchers
and potentially beneficial adjustments to planning         reported the need for further emphasis on consistent
efforts. Vertical alignment of planning and resource       implementation, it is nevertheless one of the few
allocation is also necessary across education and          countries where the Ministry of Economy has an open
age levels, such that opportunities to learn and grow      database on financial transparency.
are coherent from birth and throughout a child’s
educational trajectory.48                                  Meanwhile, part of what makes quality assurance
                                                           and improvement so much more nuanced than
Ministries of finance have a particularly critical role    the expansion of access to ECE programs are the
in national ECE policy decision-making, as well            budgeting trade-offs that must be considered by
as in improving and expanding local governance             national and program level decision-makers between
and control in budgeting and decision-making.              salaries, class sizes, the provision of materials,
The amount of public expenditure on ECE can be             the training and supervision of teachers, family
discussed in terms of percentage of GDP (which the         engagement initiatives, and other allocations.
OECD study, Starting Strong II, suggests should be         Decision-makers require capacity building,
a minimum of 1%)49 or in terms of annual spending          disaggregated statistical information from data
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                                  11

systems, and full exposure to recent research                 and Response Plan (EPRP) with a designated, on-
evidence to plan and budget effectively. Guidance             deck ECE expert team and explicit policy protocols
is especially needed at the local governance level            to delineate supports for children who have been
in highly decentralized contexts.53 For example, an           displaced or have been affected by other emergency
important issue faced in ECE is that of universal             situations (conflict, violence, climate change, economic
versus targeted policies. LAC countries tend towards          and political instability, disease, and disaster).
the latter, allocating limited resources to the most
vulnerable children. Yet an unintended consequence            In the cases where data is in fact collected in the LAC
of this targeted approach can be the increase of              region, it is often done so by multiple ministries and/
social segregation due to the concentration of poor           or at various levels of governance. It is therefore
or marginalized children within targeted centres,             important that this information is consolidated
many of which are characterized by lower quality.             and shared to optimize integrated early childhood
Another unintended consequence, which is seen in              development efforts. Data that is disaggregated
the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (“Instituto            by socioeconomic status, location, ethnicity, home
Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar”, ICBF) programs             language, gender, or disability furthermore ensures
in Colombia, for example, is that children whose              equitable access to high-quality programs and
socioeconomic condition is barely beyond the level            ensures that all children’s needs are met. The available
of vulnerability of the targeted provision, are denied        evidence demonstrates that the more economically
access to affordable ECE. Without the full gamut of           and socially disadvantaged a child is, the more they
information, policymakers could unintentionally               stand to benefit from ECE, and the greater the return
exacerbate inequities.54                                      on investments.55 One approach to understanding
                                                              how ECE programs’ quality and their impact are
An ample amount of information is required to make            related to demographic differences and inequities
informed decisions related to planning and allocation         (e.g., socioeconomic status, indigeneity, rurality
-- from the definition of quality standards to an             vs. urbanicity) could be to track each child with a
elaboration of aligned monitoring and evaluation              personal identification number that reflects the child’s
mechanisms and quality improvement supports. The              demographic information. This and other approaches
limited published data and statistics currently available     to disaggregated data analysis require sophisticated
in most LAC regional contexts, much less well-                data collection and storage processes and present
developed data and information systems, presents a            potential concerns for privacy.
severe limitation in stakeholders’ capacity to improve
the conditions of quality in ECE. Guatemala, Nicaragua,       As Robert Myers succinctly demonstrated in his
and Venezuela, for example, lack sufficient basic data        report, quality is an issue of equity, but equity is also
on early childhood development to effectively discuss         an issue of quality.56 Thus, effective, high-quality ECE
or analyse the situation, likely hiding some of the direst    systems, policies, and programs entail an equitable
ECD statistics in the region, especially in light of recent   distribution of available resources, equitable access to
political instability in these countries. For this reason,    services, and equitable distribution and remuneration
ECE must be included in an Emergency Preparedness             of human capital.57
12                                                                                         Significance and Impact of Quality

Curriculum and Pedagogy

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child,            Vertical alignment from the home to ECE programs
the 2010 Moscow Declaration, and the 2014 Lima             to primary schools promotes smooth transitions and
Declaration of Education for All underscore the            “facilitates a coordinated, sequential strategy for
importance of ensuring quality through holistic            promoting early learning, which provides support for
pedagogies that are responsive to the needs of             children across the life course”.61 This relates to the
children and that value creativity, cooperation,           joint coordination of system planning and resource
self-confidence, autonomy, active learning, and the        allocation discussed above. It is important that ECE
well-being of children.58 Yet, worldwide and across        is recognized as a valuable opportunity for learning
the Latin America and Caribbean region, there is an        in its own right rather than mere preparation for
unfortunate trend of academic pushdown of early            learning in later schooling. Maria Victoria Peralta,
literacy and numeracy connected to some extent with        based in part on her analysis of ECE curricula in
the increased use of learning measurements and             Latin America, has proposed the following principles
standardized tests, often promoted by international        as essential to any curricular framework: an active
agencies.59 Also problematic is the fact that many         child, an integral view of development, participation,
countries fail to implement a wide-reaching system         pertinence, cultural relevance, and flexibility.62 Sharon
for child developmental screening or professional          Lynn Kagan, another prominent scholar in ECE,
supports for curricular and pedagogical modification,      describes high-quality curricula as holistic, child-
despite evidence that early intervention for children      centred, and rich with opportunities for play.63 How
with disabilities or developmental delays is critical.60   diverse contexts define and elaborate pedagogical
                                                           guidelines according to their conceptualization of
Employing Peter Moss’ aforementioned theoretical           “holistic” will vary, but as a baseline, academic
comparison, countries must balance coherence and           push-down of literacy and numeracy that is suitable
accountability with diversity and responsiveness           for primary schooling should be avoided. It is also
in the development of curricula and pedagogical            recommended that overly-complex, inflexible, rigid,
approaches. A national or regional curricular              scripted, or didactic curricula be avoided. According
framework, intentionally designed to be flexible           to a recent, pivotal report by the LEGO Foundation
and adapted for responsiveness, will only prove            in coordination with UNICEF, a distinctive element
effective if widely disseminated, implemented, and         of quality ECE programming for young children is
supported with equitable professional development          ‘learning through play’, or ‘playful learning’. Play that
opportunities. Equally essential is the capacity           is meaningful, joyful, engaging, imaginative, and
building to support ECE programs and teachers in           promotes communication and collaboration amongst
understanding the pedagogical aims of the curricular       children promotes development and builds critical
framework as well as opportunities for context-            knowledge, skills, curiosity, and creativity. Learning
responsive adaptation. Mechanisms that enable              through play should occur not only in pre-primary
those who regularly put the curriculum into action to      settings but also in the lower grades of primary
provide feedback and recommendations to improve            school as well as in the home and the surrounding
the framework are integral to connecting wide-scale        community with children’s parents or primary
policies to the everyday ECE program experience and        caregivers. Therefore, it creates a thread of continuity
can help assure relevance. Other considerations of         and connectivity across the various spheres of a
pedagogical quality include program intensity and          child’s life. Given the value of play for children’s
duration, family involvement, language of instruction,     development, it is critical that policies, planning, and
a daily routine that includes ample opportunities for      capacity-building of teachers, administrators, and
play as well as positive and meaningful interactions,      parents are galvanized and streamlined to support
and health and nutrition services and supports.            integrated playful learning.64 65
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                         13

Finally, given what research indicates about the         Much like in the process of defining quality,
importance of children’s social interactions within      countries must undergo a collective and context-
their social context and how that influences their       responsive negotiation to establish pedagogical
developmental and learning trajectories,66 67            standards or goals for age-appropriate learning
ECE curricula and pedagogy should support and            related to a context-based understanding of
create various opportunities for sustained positive      childhood and education.69 Regardless of how
interactions between teachers and children as well       a country context may determine these, it is
as amongst children in culturally-relevant ways.         important for ECE teachers to know what is
Many Latin American and Caribbean cultures support       expected of them and the young children with
learning through “intent participation” or “active       whom they interact. Thus, the development of a
observation” rather than “assembly-line instruction”     curricular framework or pedagogical guidelines is
or academic lesson transmission; therefore, a social     related to teachers’ professionalization through pre-
constructivist approach involving intent participation   service and in-service training. ECE teachers who
in more informal settings may be more suitable           are confident in their pedagogical and curricular
for ECE programs in the LAC region.68 Likewise,          decisions are more likely to cultivate positive
opportunities for learning through play must be          interactions and a warm climate.
culturally and linguistically relevant and responsive.

                                                                                      © UNICEF/UN0312272/Sokol
14                                                                                       Significance and Impact of Quality


The quality of ECE programs depends significantly         Finally, because ECE is an affect-dependent
on the daily pedagogical and relational experiences       profession, positive organizational climate, staff
that teachers and other staff provide to young            working conditions, and overall professional
children. Research substantiating the association         well-being contribute to teacher retention and
between teacher qualifications and ECE quality,           effectiveness. Some factors that improve working
including improved cognitive and social development       conditions for teachers overlap with the conditions
outcomes, demonstrates the need for strengthening         that improve the experience of children. As a concrete
the supply and quality of the workforce.70 71 In a        example, the structural quality element of low child-
literature review published by the OECD in 2012 of        teacher ratios reduces stress for teachers, improves
research regarding quality of ECE programs, there         teacher-child interactions, and thereby indirectly
was strong evidence associating teacher pre-service       improves child development and learning outcomes.
qualifications and ongoing professional development       A positive organizational climate for teachers may
opportunities with impactful measures of process          also include elements of greater autonomy and
quality, or positive program climate and teacher-         support for showing leadership or opportunities for
child interactions.72 In short, well-prepared teachers    participating in decision-making in aspects of the
implement high-quality ECE, whether in centre-based       curriculum, for example.74
or home-based settings.73
                                                          In order to implement high-quality pedagogical
Yet, the care and attention of children in ECE            strategies and practices, teachers and teaching
programs across the LAC region often take place           assistants require quality training in ECE. Many LAC
in situations of short-handed staff who are poorly        countries face drastic variability in qualification and
paid and have little training. Certainly, the low         professional preparation of ECE personnel, with a
salary of most ECE teachers globally has resulted         particular lack of required professional competencies.
in low professional status and little recognition,        Quality teacher preparation and ongoing professional
all of which contribute to the high-turnover rates        development should be well-organized, relevant
amongst teachers. This turnover can be detrimental to     for national and local contexts, financially and
children’s development and waste resources spent on       geographically accessible, and aligned between
professional development. Investment is necessary to      theory, current research, prescribed requirements
ensure attractive compensation and ongoing training       (e.g., learning standards, assessment), and practice.
and coaching programs that allow for the hiring           A fundamental action is to strengthen public
and retention of a skilled workforce in this sector.      policies aimed at valuing educators in the field of
Generally, educators working with older children          early childhood and addressing their initial and
are better trained and paid, leading to continuous        continuing education in the specificities of the field
and unsurprising professional flight and draining of      of ECE. Improvement of pre-service qualifications in
workforce talent. Early childhood educators’ salaries     ECE and, simultaneously, improvement of ongoing
cannot be less than those received by their peers         professional development for active teachers require
working at other education levels. Moreover, an           a context-specific plan of action and concomitant
unfortunately resilient feature of the ECE professional   investment of resources. Teachers’ capacities
landscape and the limitation of its expansion in LAC      and teaching practices reflect the content of their
countries is the feminization of the profession and the   professional training and development, whether pre-
stigmatization of male staff.                             service (at the university level or the trade license/
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                            15

certificate level) or in-service. Professional training   ECE programs and policies must support the
must provide ECE teachers with specific capacities,       hiring of qualified teachers with knowledge of
such as knowledge of human development and                the local context and the required training to
strategies for working with diverse children and          work with specific populations (ethnolinguistic
children with disabilities or developmental delays.       minority or indigenous populations, or children
This underscores the critical role of academia in         with disabilities). Studies show that children in
supporting and building ECE workforce capacity:           ECE programs with a higher proportion of non-
across the region, there is an urgent need to evaluate    dominant cultures or home languages (usually
and update curricula and pedagogy -- both for             reflecting a lack of cultural or linguistic “match”
children and for training teachers -- according to new    between teacher and child) experience lower-quality
evidence regarding teaching and learning. Higher          interactions with their teachers.79 For this reason,
education and research institutions are a valuable        in countries like Colombia, indigenous and Afro-
asset in developing programs and specific strategies      descent populations may prefer to hire members
for teacher training and coaching.                        of their communities.80 In many LAC countries,
                                                          however, there aren’t sufficient ECE teachers willing
Research shows an association between positive            to live in remote areas or capable of teaching in
teacher-child interactions and both higher pre-           indigenous languages or equipped with suitable
service qualifications and in-service professional        cultural knowledge.
development. Only the latter, however, was
associated with an increase in children’s cognitive,      One strategy might be to create incentive systems
behavioural, executive function, and social-              to train and attract highly qualified and contextually
emotional outcomes.75 76 Additionally, recent research    appropriate teachers for the most vulnerable
indicates that professional development in the form       (rural or poor) areas, which is related to the first
of relational, on-site, and on-going coaching or          component of planning and human resource
mentoring is particularly effective.77 These on-site      allocation. Chile, for example, has developed salary
coaches, if properly trained, can simultaneously          incentives for teachers working in remote areas
employ observation-based quality evaluation of            and in schools with a large number of children
teachers’ practices to contribute toward a composite      living in poverty or considered at-risk.81 Research
understanding of national, regional, and local            indicates that the skills and abilities of children
professional development needs.                           largely develop through educational interactions
                                                          with teachers, especially if they are of quality. It is
According to a recent study of ECE in the LAC             therefore recommended that the LAC region invest
region, “the level of certification of educators in       in ECE teachers’ professional expertise, specifically
the different countries under study is unequally          promoting cultural- and linguistic-responsiveness of
distributed, depending on the geographical                teachers and teaching assistants.
region where they work, the age, and the different
professional skills presented”. (p.11)78 An ECE           Recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce
workforce with highly disparate qualifications, skills,   may require such professionalization strategies as
and knowledge prevents equitable service provision.       developing gradated job profiles and associated
In line with the vision of attaining equity of quality    qualifications, with clear and supported paths for
for children and equity for the ECE workforce,            professional advancement and growth. In parallel
countries must provide, at the least, equal access to     with teachers and teacher assistants, requirements for
continuous, high-quality professional support for all     minimum qualifications of program administrators,
personnel, including in very remote areas. It is likely   professional development coaches, and other
that increased, targeted workforce development            leadership roles, as well as investment and planning
for those teaching in the most challenging                with regards to capacity building, can improve
circumstances would prove even more effective.            workforce quality.
16                                                                                           Significance and Impact of Quality

Family and Community Engagement

While trained, committed teachers are at the heart of        particularly acute need to strategically engage fathers
quality ECE, powerful early learning also happens in         in the LAC region.91 Research findings indicate that
the home environment.82 83 For this reason, a growing        effective family engagement improves the confidence
body of research demonstrates that high-quality ECE          of parents, fosters positive and responsive familial
programs and systems must strategize effectively             interactions between parents, and improves family
in order to engage families and communities and              well-being and financial stability.92 ECE programs
strengthen child-focused partnerships.84 85 86 87 More       and other early childhood development services
involved parenting -- active facilitation of nurturing,      should provide families with supportive, nonviolent
responsive, and stimulating interactions and early           alternatives to corporal punishment and other harsh
experiences through the provision of nurturing care,         disciplines, shown to have long-term adverse effects
which ensures health, nutrition, responsive caregiving,      on children’s development and well-being.93
safety and security, social-emotional well-being, and
early learning -- is associated with children’s cognitive,   As such, it is important for ECE program staff to
social, and emotional development, as well as their          collect information regarding families’ beliefs and
motivation to learn.88 89 Family engagement on the           socio-cultural practices, attitudes about childhood
part of various ECE stakeholders and actors truly            and education, home language, financial and health
begins -- or fails to -- before birth. Specific family       (including mental health) circumstances, and the
engagement strategies might include providing                need for continuity of comprehensive, wraparound
guidance and disseminating basic child development           services, such as early morning care or health and
and neuroscience evidence; child-focused, bi- or             nutrition services. This information proves useful in
multi-directional collaborative communication;               programmatic and pedagogical decision-making, as
parenting education to support all families in               well as in guiding, at regional and local levels, ways
establishing positive home environments that                 for increasing demand amongst families for ECE
stimulate children’s development, including how to           services. A critical potential point of early contact may
sensitively and actively participate in their child’s        be through hospitals and the health system, as is the
stimulation through play, storytelling, singing,             case in Jamaica, where information is collected, and
reading, and other experiences; parental participation       parent education is provided. Indeed, of particular
and inclusion in decision-making or volunteering with        importance in the LAC region is the increased
the ECE program through parent councils and parent-          effort to enhance parental education with regards
staff organizations. These strategies must be context-       to the benefits of ECE. Results of a multi-country
and culturally-responsive, and therefore will likely         evaluation indicated that in Chile, for example,
differ across country contexts or even from program          some families required increased persuasion to
to program. Because families are diverse and have            be convinced of the importance of ECE. Therefore,
varying needs, high-quality programs must employ             the government of Chile initiated a series of media
strategic, differentiated engagement with each family.       campaigns stressing the relationship between early
Moreover, it is critical that participation involves a       development stimulation and improved achievement
strengths-based approach, supports families with             in further schooling.94 This accentuates a further
sensitivity to their circumstances, and empowers             point: community engagement encompasses not
them to build on their positive practices.90 Given           only community organizations but also media and
that only one in six children 3-4 years old engages          broadcasting. Strategic engagement of all varieties
with their father in early learning activities, there is a   should be considered.
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                            17

When ECE programs and families exchange information         related community services -- facilitates effective
regularly and adopt consistent approaches to sociali-       and efficient ECE programs and systems and
zation, daily routines, child development, and learning,    contributes to the social, emotional, physical, and
children experience better continuity and consistency       cognitive development of young children. Specific
across programmatic and home environments.95 From           community engagement strategies include holding
a social-ecological perspective, this knowledge sharing     events within the ECE setting that are open to the
supports effective transitions and increased cohesiveness   community; inviting community leaders or experts
within and between the people and settings that sur-        into the school setting or accompanying the children
round young children and plays an essential role in their   out into the community to learn from and share
development. It is essential that when collecting family    with its members. Collaboration with community
information or distributing information with regards to     resources and services is essential in strengthening
ECE or early childhood development, that ECE programs       programs and cross-sectoral system coordination.96
concertedly employ culturally-appropriate communica-        High-quality ECE cultivates widespread community
tions in the families’ home language.                       support and buy-in of ECE, particularly if families
                                                            and communities are empowered to contribute to
Especially when coupled with family engagement,             the design and implementation of programs and to
community engagement -- or the connections                  the development of quality standards that reflect
established amongst ECE programs and systems and            their sociocultural values.

                                                                                         © UNICEF/UN0126817/Heger
18                                                                                         Significance and Impact of Quality

Quality Assurance and Improvement Mechanisms

Quality measurement and monitoring can identify             Currently, however, monitoring and quality assurance
critical areas of improvement and resource needs,           systems are more often than not fragmented and
as well as inform key policy decisions (including           inaccessible, rather than centrally and coherently
licensing, budget, staffing, and regulations) related       compiled and retrievable by the public.99 To combat
to the first component of an effective ECE sector           this, as described above, country contexts must
discussed above, i.e., planning and allocation.             engage in their own unique process in order to
Conducting data-driven analysis -- including both           conceptualize and operationalize definitions and
quantitative and qualitative data -- is essential for       indicators of quality in their ECE programs. They must
the optimal planning and delivery of high-quality           also determine how to measure or observe standards
programs and is necessary for assuring the rights           of quality using quantitative and/or qualitative data
of each child to quality ECE. This is confirmed             collection, and how they will utilize the results.
by evidence of positive associations between                Domains and indicators of ECE program quality,
the implementation of quality monitoring and                or the conditions, experiences, and environments
improvement systems with high-quality teacher-child         that a country or regional context determines to be
interactions.97 Effective monitoring of ECE service         most conducive for young children’s growth and
quality and regulatory compliance across providers          development, can and should vary. However, within
is critically important for the equity and sustainability   a particular context, consistent expectations must
of programs. Without coherent and comprehensive             be maintained. Data collection coverage requires
quality data collection, it is difficult to know what is    sufficient human resources in the field, while effective
going on across and within country contexts. Given          quality measurement requires that evaluators receive
the extent of the private sector’s involvement in ECE       sufficient capacity building to be able to monitor
provision, particularly in the Caribbean,98 enforcing       reliably (over time and between evaluators). Both
standards across all program modalities ensures that        coverage and reliability require adequate funding.
all children receive quality care and education in their
early years.                                                In general, quality is often divided into structural
                                                            dimensions and process dimensions. Some
That said, it is also true that harshly enforced quality    researchers additionally discuss caregiver dimensions
assurance and noncompliance penalties are an                and programmatic dimensions, but this report has
issue of equity for diverse children, families, ECE         previously covered these, as related to the UNICEF
programs, and communities. Country contexts should          Conceptual Framework. The two most commonly
exert caution with regards to quality assurance:            studied aspects of structural quality are child-teacher
mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation that               ratios and group size.100 Other aspects include
repetitively measure without any paired protocol            variables such as infrastructure, years of experience
for providing targeted context-responsive and               and degrees or certifications acquired related to
needs-based supports for quality improvement are            ECE, teacher salary, director salary, ample classroom
ineffective. Data collection should be purposeful           space, ample outdoor space, an established
and carried out through an equity-oriented lens.            curriculum, the availability of pedagogical materials,
This framework helps shift the culture of evaluation        and licensing. Structural quality is vital to ensure
from one focusing on inspection and control to one          adequate conditions of safety, water, nutrition,
based on accompanying centres in their efforts to           sanitation, and hygiene. Although much focus has
improve. The OECD is currently conducting a policy          been given to structural quality improvement,
review on “Quality Beyond Regulations in ECEC”              perhaps because it is more easily measured and
which will likely prove useful to stakeholders engaged      monitored, process dimensions are critical for
in conceptualizing a more holistic, supportive              ensuring advances in child development outcomes
understanding of quality dimensions.                        that do not suffer the ‘fade-out effect’.101
Significance and Impact of Quality                                                                                   19

Process quality refers to less easily quantifiable            teacher ratios, teachers’ pre-service qualifications and
characteristics such as varied and pedagogically              participation in in-service training, and the existence
adequate opportunities for play, participation,               of quality assurance mechanisms -- facilitate and are
creativity, exploration, and relationship. Process            consistently positively correlated with process quality,
quality focuses on the nature of routines, activities,        particularly with teacher-child relationships across
and interactions between caregivers and children,             different types of ECE settings.108 109 The evidence
amongst adults/staff, amongst children, and between           available from the LAC region suggests extremely
children and the pedagogical space and materials.             low levels of process quality,110 which illustrates the
Though notably a non-LAC country context, a study by          tension created by an expansion of access without
Mashburn et al. (2008) across 11 states of the United         a corresponding focus on ensuring quality. For
States showed that teachers’ positive instructional           example, Mexico and Chile boast a relatively high
and emotional interactions with 4-year-olds predicted         rate of ECE participation, with approximately 70%
academic, language, and social skills.102 Similarly, a        of young children enrolled (over 75% for four- to
recent study conducted in Peru showed that teachers           five-year-olds), as well as high rates of qualified ECE
with higher observed process quality (as measured             staff. However, the average child-teacher ratio in
by the CLASS tool) were associated with children              2014 exceeded 25:1 in both countries (average 32:1
with better development outcomes, in particular,              in Chile).111 Uruguay faces a similar tension between
communication, problem-solving, and fine motor skills         an equitable, accessible ECE system and high child-
(as measured by the ASQ-3).103 In a previous study also       teacher ratios of 25:1.112 While there is no international
employing CLASS, higher performance of Ecuadorian             gold standard for child-teacher ratios, it is logical that
children attending the pre-primary year on math,              teachers have less time for positive and personal
language, and executive function tests was associated         interactions with children -- not to mention active
with teachers’ behaviors and positive interactions.104 In     inclusion of children from non-dominant cultural-
general, children who experience a warm relationship          linguistic backgrounds -- when their attention is
with their teachers are more excited about learning,          spread across a large group.
more positive about coming to school, more self-
confident, and achieve more in the classroom.105 For          The level of quality that can be achieved by ECE
young children, high-quality interactions need to be          programs is a direct function of the funding they
frequent, responsive to their interests, supportive of        receive and its allocation, which in turn is a direct
their cultural-linguistic identity, rich in language, warm,   function of political will or the investment of political
and sensitive to their needs. That said, as an indication     capital. Low child-teacher ratios, for example, are
of affect, they are highly culturally bound and therefore     inevitably expensive, especially if teachers receive
difficult to standardize across cultures and even             adequate compensation. Similarly, training teachers
within and between communities in a single country            in positive and meaningful interactions requires
context. Protocols for observing process quality tend         funding for professional development. Without
to be complex, time-intensive, and require specialized        a significant budget commitment, well-informed
training, which presents a further challenge in quality       planning, and resource allocation, it is impossible to
assurance and improvement efforts.106                         think about real improvement in the quality of ECE in
                                                              the LAC region.
There is a consensus in the ECE field that high
process quality better predicts children’s development        There is a discrepancy in the field with regards to
and learning than structural quality.107 Yet, structural      whether quality assurance mechanisms should
and process quality are interrelated, in that structural      include child development outcomes. Naudeau
variables identify and ensure the resources and               et al. (2011) argue that monitoring child outcomes
environment needed to facilitate “warm” or                    can prove beneficial in evaluating the impact of
“positive” interactions and emotional climate.                ECE policies or programs, as well as compare their
Factors of structural quality -- such as smaller child-       efficacy and cost-efficiency, and therefore inform
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