We have discussed today the importance and benefits of the Early Childhood Development (ECD).
We have heard and listened about the importance to discuss: data, evidence and experience on this topic.
We have highlighted the demographic challenges facing Bulgaria: an ageing population and strong emigration patterns among youth and educated Bulgarians.
We have also focused the discussion today on the most disadvantaged families, so that they benefit from these important investments.
We discussed that early childhood development is one of the smartest investments a country can make to help prepare children for future learning and employment and reduce intergenerational transmission of poverty, especially due to the demographic challenges.
We also discussed that improving ECD interventions for all requires both a focus on access – and quality. And, Bulgaria is starting to build evidence around this area. The two presentations today – the Social Inclusion Project and the Impact Evaluation of the Springboard for School Readiness project in vulnerable settlements – show the results of the focus on access and quality.
We learned that improving access to ECD interventions happens when you make them more affordable for poor families. Within poor settlements, removing kindergarten fees was an effective way to boost enrolment for the disadvantaged.
Improving the quality of ECD interventions by making them more holistic, child-centered and inclusive can help reduce inequity. The SIP intervention increased parental awareness in ECD, provided a platform to enhance services for young children, increased enrolment in kindergartens – especially for children with disabilities – and improved the school readiness of children from vulnerable communities.
As we leave here today, we need to reflect further upon these findings and discussions take them forward with significant policy change in the interest of Bulgaria’s future, namely her children.
Seven words in English which have been used today, beginning with “i”, summarize the key points of today’s workshop:
1. Importance: Investing in ECD is extremely important to ensure a lifelong of learning and it has been proven to produce life time impacts.
2. Inclusion: We have to ensure, especially in view of the demographics trends, to eliminate the barriers to access so that everybody benefits from ECD investments.
3. Integrated: It is imperative to approach ECD from an inter-sectorial approach ensuring health, social protection and education actions within an integrated framework.
4. Interest: It is clear that ECD is high in the agenda of parents, municipalities, civil society, Government and development partners.
5. Impacts: We learn that reducing fees is a sufficient condition for enrolment and that, unfortunately, it is only a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve learning results. This highlights the need to ensure the quality of ECD interventions. Other research indicates the impact on PISA scores and latter success in labor market outcomes arising from ECD attendance.
6. Institutional leadership: we learned that it is important to discuss and agree on an institutional leadership at the national level to lead and coordinate the variety of programs and sectors into a comprehensive agenda/strategy and to ensure the sustainability of the whole program.
The last word that begins with “i” is indebted. We owe gratitude to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy for the very successful implementation of the Social Inclusion Project and for co-hosting this exchange today. We are also indebted to the speakers and to the audience for sharing their experience and lessons. We are finally indebted to the Children who opened this workshop and who brought their dances, happiness and hopes for a good future for Bulgaria.
We look forward to working with you in the future!