This special issue of the International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice provides a look inside an unusual initiative designed to support early childhood care and development (ECD) (1) policy, research, and practice in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU) brought together early childhood professionals from 10 African countries (2) to address child well-being through ECD capacity building, leadership development, and enhanced networking within and across countries. Over the space of three years (August 2001 through August 2004) the first ECDVU cohort of learners had the opportunity to engage with each other and with African and international ECD specialists to learn together and to address a wide range of ECD challenges at the local, country, and continental levels.
The culminating work of this unique cohort is featured in this special issue. Of the 30 students who commenced the program in 2001, 27 completed in 2004--a completion rate of 90%, with less than 7% leaving their country of origin. Each of these 27 participants who completed the full set of courses produced a major project (n=25) or a thesis (n=2) under the supervision of a three- to four-member international faculty committee, including at least one in-country advisor/member. (3) Each student also benefited from a project support team at the ECDVU central office in Victoria, B. C., Canada.
These projects typically took from nine to 12 months to complete, and some built on earlier or ongoing areas of interest. Each was designed to bring together individual interests with local or country-level development needs. All the candidates presented and defended their final work in a formal, audio-taped session. The topics addressed include developing ECD policies, designing programs, initiating training activities, collecting and analyzing original data and promoting community development across rural and urban settings. The full texts of all thesis and project write-ups are available at http://www.ecdvu.org/
The proposal to publish a synthesized set of papers from this historical body of work in a special issue of an international journal was driven by several considerations and objectives. First, the relative absence of a well-developed and current ECD literature base in Africa was one of the needs addressed through the ECDVU initiative. The thesis and project requirements of the program and the approach to preparing and guiding the students through the processes of developing, implementing, and writing up their projects were part of a deliberate effort to meet the need for relevant literature to inform ECD policy and practice on the continent. The successful attainment of the program's knowledge production objective makes it imperative that the rich insights emerging from the students' work regarding ECD capacity building be shared widely within Africa and with the rest of the international community. Second, the work provides a unique opportunity to stimulate international dialogue about the central role that indigenously produced and contextually relevant knowledge plays in the advancement of ECD and other programs in the Majority World. (4) Finally, the dissemination of this body of work appropriately positions the ECDVU's pioneering initiative to serve as both a catalyst and a model for the capacity building momentum it is possible to attain through appropriate resource mobilization and focused programming for leadership development.
As editors, we believe that the work synthesized in this special issue provides a unique insight into the challenges, advances, disappointments, and successes being experienced by those with a central concern for children's well-being across a wide cross-section of contemporary Anglophone Africa. For a continent that much of the Minority World knows only through troubling headlines highlighting wars, famine, disease, and political instability, this collection presents a different view, one based on the experiences of professionals working daily, in situ, to improve life conditions for children and families. …