Nineteen early childhood development (ECD) experts from 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were hosted by the Dominican Government on June 12th and 13th for a two-day high level Conference in Santo Domingo to discuss the benefits of investing in quality ECD and to provide input based on the most successful regional practices.
The International Early Childhood Development Conference opened by the Minister of the Presidency of the Dominican Republic, Gustavo Montalvo, and Education Minister Josefina Pimentel, marks the beginning of the wide-ranging and ambitious national Government program Quisqueya Empieza Contigo (Quizqueya Begins with You), aimed at fighting two public enemies: poverty and inequality.
The President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, launched the national program Quisqueya Empieza Contigo last April, in order to provide protection, nutrition, early stimulation and health care for children aged 0 to 5 years old. The program seeks to expand pre-primary education coverage to 90 percent while simultaneously improving its quality. These quality services are to be delivered through 250 new childcare centers, and a network of 1000 community childcare centers. In addition, training will be provided to 68,000 care-providers and technical volunteers, who will further educate and involve families in the provision of ECD within the home, all with the aim of benefiting over 600,000 children by 2016.
The International Early Childhood Development Conference supported by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) brought together high-level policy makers, planners, academics, the private sector, NGO representatives, members of civil society, as well as international partners, to provide a space for interaction and dialogue between organizations and individuals involved.
In addressing the participants, Minister Montalvo, stated emphatically that "you can be assured that your contributions and discussions at this conference will not be a mere theoretical exercise or just another meeting. They will serve as input to enrich our present and future actions."
The objectives of the conference were to discuss:
- The various ECD policies, programs and projects in the region
- The mechanisms to evaluate the results and impacts of child development interventions in both developed and developing countries
- The potential benefits of investment in quality care services for ECD, based on the description of public interventions in developing countries, and
- Experiences of the challenges and opportunities facing these types of services and programs in different countries within the region.
Steven Barnett (Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research in the U.S.) and Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan (Professor of Early Childhood Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University, U.S.) were among the presenters who met to discuss the benefits of ECD interventions.
The Conference concluded on 13 June with a plenary session and recommended actions for building a Dominican-owned ECD system that is participatory, inclusive and responsive to local needs. Specifically, experts agreed on the need to prioritize quality of services from the outset, while expanding coverage, develop a transparent information system subject to accountability, design an appropriate evaluation system, focus on gender, strengthen Public-Private Partnerships and combine different sources of financing (central and local governments).
Support to ECD in the Dominican Republic
Since the beginning of 2013, for the first time in history the Government is investing 4% of GDP in education based on the national consensus on the need for a new development model based on a high quality and inclusive education system, oriented towards poverty reduction.
For the last decade the Dominican Republic has been one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, with substantial potential to reduce poverty and inequality. Nonetheless, the country has not yet achieved economic growth that translates into poverty reduction or strengthening of the middle class. This is reflected in the fact that 35 %t of children continue to live in poor housing conditions.
The Dominican education system faces greater challenges than other countries in the region, particularly at the pre-primary level. The gross enrollment rate in pre-school in the region is close to 60%, while in the Dominican Republic is less than 40%. Only 16% of children from poorer families receive pre-primary education, while for children of high-income families the figure is 75%.
The first ECD project funded by the Bank between 2003 and 2011, aimed at reducing the negative effects that poverty and adverse learning environments have on child development and success in school. The project targeted children aged between 0 and 5 and increased access to early childhood education with a focus on the poorest, while strengthening the quality of early childhood education programs. Among other achievements, the program benefited 52,000 children directly and 106,000 indirectly through the development of innovative educational programs. A total of 17 Model Regional Centers and 245 classrooms were constructed nationwide, while 409 classrooms were rehabilitated.
In the following months, the World Bank will continue to support ECD in the country through technical assistance that supports the design and implementation of the Quisqueya Empieza Contigo program.