Abstract: ECD policies are influenced by the contexts in which they develop. Those contexts include historical, cultural, social, economic and diverse conceptual dimensions operating at international, regional, country and local levels. These forces impact on policy development as well as on policy implementation. This article briefly situates ECD policy directions in global and regional contexts before exploring dynamics that are operational at African country levels as seen through the eyes and activities of ECDVU participants. Four of the five participants are employed by a national government, one is with an NGO. Each project explores a different facet of policy development and implementation; collectively they speak to the complexity inherent within policy work.
Early childhood care, education and development (ECD) is a topic whose time has arrived, both around the world and in Africa. That 'arrival' has been driven by a number of factors, many of which are international in scope, but the particular ways in which ECD moves forward varies from region to region and country to country. This article will provide: 1) a brief initial context regarding international development activities that have supported greater attention to ECD policy development for children from birth through school entry age; and 2) an overview of key ECD events and activities in Africa; before 3) focusing more specifically on work undertaken by a number of the ECDVU participants in various African countries that represents particular aspects of policy development and implementation in those countries.
ECD in an International Context
The period around 1990 marked significant changes for children and for ECD internationally. On November 20, 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was formally adopted by the UN General Assembly; signing commenced on January 26, 1990, with 61 countries signing the document that day. By September 1990, 20 countries had ratified the Convention, bringing it into international law. It had been "ratified more quickly and by more countries than any previous human rights instrument" (UNICEF, We the Children, September 2001, p. 1).
In March 1990 the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) was held in Jomtien, Thailand, and at that conference the importance of early childhood development was underscored as a crucial part of basic education. The first four words under Article 5 provided ECD with a place at the table: "Learning begins at birth. This calls for early childhood care and initial education" (World Declaration on Education for All, 1990). For many years ECD had been the 'invisible child' hidden behind the family, disconnected from the recognition that its 'older siblings,' like primary, secondary and tertiary education, had received as key components in international development. Through ECD recognition at Jomtien, the rapid ratification of the CRC, and through the World Summit for Children held in New York City on September 28 and 29, 1990, the early years began to move out of the shadows to a place of recognition in its own right on the international stage.
Robert Myers' (1992) publication of The Twelve Who Survive refocused international attention from issues of child survival to a more encompassing understanding of what the increasing percentage of children who survive require in order to thrive. Myers' seminal volume was an advocacy as well as a policy and programming tool.
In 1994 the Carnegie Institute's Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children opened another key front in efforts to better understand the needs and challenges of early development. With their report Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children (1994), the importance of the early years as a key period of brain development began a movement towards the center stage of childhood discussions. The World Bank was quick to pick up the implications of the Carnegie Report for international development: healthy child development as key to broader social and economic development. …