It is impossible for us to think of the future, near or far away, without finding ourselves … “soaked” by the times we are living, moved by its challenges, overwhelmed by its problems, unsure by the nonsense that predicts disasters, possessed by a fair rage before the profound injustices we meet… Or also inspired by the manifestations of free love towards life, which strengthen the necessary hope within us (Paulo Freire, 1996)
With 2020 coming to a close, I feel compelled to make a balance of what has happened to us as part of humanity, as human rights activists and as OMEP members.
For our contemporary generations, the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic was and still is an unprecedented and almost unbelievable event. Humanity had a certain illusion of control over its various issues, since they developed at a local or regional level, or in countries that do not “hit the headlines”. However, the pandemic had an impact on each of our actions and concerns; and it still has, because we do not know yet when this will be definitely over.
We have lived a critical year, which has marked humanity in multiple ways.
Besides the almost 73 million confirmed cases (by mid December) and the numerous lives lost, the pandemic has had devastating consequences for the countries’ economies and for jobs, incomes, public health, food supply and social relationships of millions of people.
We have gone backwards on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which means we are further from reducing poverty and inequality, preventing environmental degradation, and improving the situation of women and girls and, of course, the wellbeing and development of children.
Millions of children, teenagers and young people stopped going to school, and the youngest did not have access to preschools nor any other early childhood education and care centres.
For babies and young children, the lack of access to education increased inequalities, fears, suffering and confusion. Masked people, changes in daily life, estranged grandparents and other family members, lockdown and lack of nature, no opportunities of play with other children, excessive exposure to screens, all of this had terrible consequences for the development and the mental and physical health of each child.
Moreover, the ongoing bond with teachers and caregivers was particularly hard to keep because of the huge gap in access to electronic devices and internet connection, but also because communication and learning during this stage are primarily possible through close human contact, being face to face and playing.
For this reason, we need to be aware that the measures of shutting down programs, systems and institutions because of the lockdown have greatly impacted children’s daily lives, and that we still do not understand the full dimension of the impact this had, nor of what they have or have not learnt.
We know that the pandemic affects everyone, but not to the same extent. The personal and social vulnerabilities represent and affect people in different ways, depending on the stage of their lives, their individual capacities, their vital conditions, and their family, institutional and community networks. Because of this, these needs should be addressed in different ways in order to tackle them effectively.
The scarce social and political visibility of the early childhood population has become a challenge for the wellbeing and development of children, and for the work all of us do related to their protection and happiness.
It is crucial to double the efforts in order to CREATE A NEW REALITY for children, as OMEP stated in its Position Paper: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19. To achieve this, we must capitalize what we have learnt, assume responsibilities and intervene to protect children’s human rights from birth, as detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
During the 72nd anniversary of the Human Rights Day, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet said that there is a vaccine for hunger, poverty, inequality and many other issues that humanity faces. It is a vaccine that was developed in order to face massive global crises: pandemics, economic crises and two world wars. The name of this vaccine is “human rights”. Its main components are included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in the case of children, in the Convention of the Rights of the Child. (https://www.ohchr.org/sp/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26580&LangID=s)
This 2020, it has become evident, in a way that cannot be ignored, that we must intensify our efforts so that children’s realities are seen and their rights are realized, taking into account that education is a key tool to achieve this goal without leaving anyone behind.
To conclude, I would like to quote Paulo Freire (1996) in his conviction that this advocacy is a practice based on the selfless love for life and childhood and the absolute respect for human rights. For this reason, in OMEP we assume our ethical responsibility facing “the new” to strengthen in each of us the necessary hope and work for a fair world for all the children since birth.
OMEP is ready to face, with knowledge and hope, the challenges that come this 2021.
Mercedes Mayol Lassalle is the World President of OMEP (World Organization for Preschool Education) since January 1, 2020. National Normal Teacher, Graduate in Education Sciences, University of Buenos Aires. Former Director of the Early Childhood Education area of the City of Buenos Aires. Currently, she is a Professor in the Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of Buenos Aires and in the Regional Program for Training in Planning and Management of Educational Policies, IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, Office for Latin America. Elected member of the Coordination Group of the Collective Consultation of NGOs on EDUCATION 2030 – CCNGO / ED 2030.