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KARACHI: “It is the milestones of early years that will enable our children to complete transitions to primary, post-primary and secondary education. The young need carefully crafted attention, including nurturing, nutrition and teaching, so that they can grow up as tall, well-supported, informed and responsible citizens,” said senior minister for education and literacy Nisar Ahmed Khuhro.

He was speaking at the two-day Right to Education and Early Childhood Education and Development regional conference titled ‘Foundation for quality learning evidence from South Asia’ organised by the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi in collaboration with the education and literacy department of Sindh and the South Asia Forum for Education Development in a hotel here on Tuesday.

“I think that the time has come to give early childhood education and early childhood care and development its rightful place in our societies, ensuring a rights-based and evidence-based approach in our programmes to be backed by appropriate curriculum standards, teacher preparation, teaching-learning resources assessment, research and innovative strands and dignified resources that produce results which must be boldly measured and made public over time,” the minister said.

“Since 1998, early childhood education and development has been formally endorsed in Pakistan in policies and action plans and now even in our right to education acts to fully back the fundamental constitution right enshrined in Article 25-A, but we must go beyond the script,” he said, adding that in Sindh the education department had finalised the Sindh Education Sector Plan (SESP) 2014/15-2018/19 in which early childhood education (ECE) was an important intervention. “In fact it is a foundational one. We acknowledge at the outset our local education group (LEG) members and development partners, including the World Bank, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), European Union, Unicef, Unesco, UK AID, CIDA, Dubai Cares, Open Society Foundations, Oxfam GB, GIZ, Save the Children, Plan Pakistan and many more who are supporting the government of Sindh in the implementation of the sector plan with many civil society organisations. However, the battle for the ECE has to be won in our hearts and minds. We need to envision it as a multi-sector holistic business, reflecting the needs of the child from birth to eight years or three to five years in the region,” he said.

The most important aspect of this initiative, according to the minister, is a vibrant curriculum adhering to the standards in learning and teacher preparation. Stressing the role of teachers in all this, the education minister said: “Teachers are the anchor or pillars of this programme with sensitivity to the learning domains but with flexibility ensuring that the child is at the centre of it all addressing physical, psychomotor, cognitive, social and affective development. These must be aligned to appropriate physical facilities in schools and community outreach programmes while engaging with parents and caregivers.

“As the government of Sindh has started the preparatory work to formalise the ECE fully into the mainstream of the education system, the ECE teachers’ cadre has also been finalised with revised recruitment rules. Only female teachers will be eligible for the post and they will be provided opportunities for their career progression while serving in the ECE field of education. Once recruited, we need to ensure high quality training and skills for ECE professionals, their accreditation above all so that there is a lively market for teachers in the public and private sectors. I hope that the Sindh teachers education development authority (STEDA) will particularly focus on this area through the public-private partnership approach to have the best options available.”

Baela Raza Jamil of the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi and education secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho also spoke.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2014