After Tashkent, much remains to be done… – Gilles Pétreault, OMEP representative to UNESCO

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The general international context for education remains bleak, with 250 million children still not enrolled in school, a widespread shortage of teachers (44 million more are needed), and disappointing overall results: 37% of the world’s children, or more than 300 million children, will not achieve the minimum level of competence in reading by 2030. This “learning crisis”, seen as “a crisis within a crisis” in education, is of concern to international bodies and calls for new responses.

The pre-school and early childhood situation is equally delicate: less than a quarter of the countries in the world (46/194) recognise a year of compulsory pre-schooling, and the proportion of children benefiting from it is falling, from 75% in 2020 to 72% in 2022. To reach the target, 1.4 million children would need to be enrolled in pre-school education each year and at least 6 million teachers recruited. The funding gap is $21 billion a year. Conditions are as difficult as ever for children with disabilities, who are 25% less likely to have access to early childhood education services. 

The nine major recommendations of the report entitled “The Right to a Solid Foundation” firstly reaffirm the need for governments to increase and diversify the necessary funding by strengthening the global partnership strategy and targeting funds on the most vulnerable groups and on low- and middle-income countries. Extending the right to education by creating a legally binding framework establishing the right to ECCE, and investing in the collection and use of data (with new indicators to better support and monitor the development of the sector, particularly for children under the age of 3) are key instruments for implementing widespread early childhood education.

These recommendations also focus on the support children need to grow up. Firstly, through support for parents and carers, with governments being asked to adopt a whole-of-society approach incorporating parental support and family-friendly social services. Governments are also being asked to invest more in the recruitment and training of teachers to enhance their skills in creating safe, healthy and stimulating learning environments.

The quality of education provided in the ECCE sector is an important part of these recommendations: countries should develop early learning opportunities that focus on fundamental skills to prepare for literacy, numeracy and the development of social-emotional competencies. Governments are also encouraged to harness multidisciplinary research and scientific knowledge to improve ECCE policy and practice, including the quality of early childhood education programmes and pedagogy, attention to children’s development and early learning processes, and the definition of quality standards and measures.

These recommendations underline the relevance of the guidelines defined by OMEP to promote free, inclusive and high-quality ECCE. First of all, with advocacy actions, carried out both in bodies, workshops and events organised in particular by UNESCO, and through the mobilisation of national committees to obtain a decade of ECCE. But also, to achieve a better quality of education “from the start” by promoting work and exchanges through the organisation of regional and world conferences, or by recognising the excellence of actions and research work, particularly on sustainable development. Actions to support the implementation of projects (sustainable development, toy libraries, “colour your rights”, culture of peace) also help to encourage and promote local initiatives. 

As far as UNESCO is concerned, following its involvement in the drafting of the Tashkent Declaration, OMEP regularly participates in actions directly linked to ECCE: workshop and round table on the evolution of children’s right to education, orientation day on statistical indicators for ECCE, interventions at official bodies, in particular at the UNESCO General Conference. OMEP has thus become a recognised partner for monitoring the implementation of policies arising from the Tashkent Declaration. 

Whether it is to encourage governments to better finance the ECCE sector, or to contribute to improving the quality of education in the ECCE sector, or to support each national committee in its efforts to develop this sector, the role of OMEP is as necessary as ever.

Gilles Pétreault is currently vice-president of the OMEP-France, representative of the OMEP-World to UNESCO and Honorary National Education State Inspector. 

Previously he was Head of Departmental State Education Services and has experience as Head of an in-service training centre for teachers, as Education Inspector with various responsibilities and as schoolteacher, in several areas in France. 

Holder of a doctorate in French Literature, he worked in the field of French teaching and mastery of French language, Preschool Education and Elementary School in various subjects. He also engaged in studies in pupils’ academic careers and inclusion for children with special education needs. Other interest include school organization, teachers’ and education inspectors’ recruitment and training.

As an expert in Preschool Education, he both coordinated and participated in reports to the Minister of Education and contributed to the training of the Education inspectors. Representative of the Education Ministry to the OECD Early Childhood Education and Care Network for seven years, Gilles Pétreault was also involved in several international studies or projects (European Union programme for Improvement of Preschool Education in Serbia [IMPRES]; European Commission Workgroup; Eurydice Key data on early childhood and care; and the Unesco French National Commission).

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