In 2020, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the next Starting Strong VI report dedicated to early childhood education and care. This report reviews the findings from the Quality beyond Regulations and the first Teaching and Learning International Survey in preschool education TALIS Starting Strong that was conducted in 2018 in 14 OECD countries (the results have been published stage by stage since 2020). The OECD gave recommendations on how to improve the policy in early childhood education and care. The findings and analysis of data on pre-school education in Kazakhstan are provided below.

Recognition of the value of early childhood education and care. Research in education including the large-scale OECD project “Quality beyond Regulations” highlighted the significance of early childhood education and care. It has positive short-term effects (contributes to the development of social skills and interests in children) and long-term impact on the holistic development of children in the future. A longitudinal study in the United Kingdom found out that attendance of ECEC settings for longer was associated with better academic performance and highly developed social and emotional skills. Those children who attended ECEC settings are more likely to pursue a higher academic education than a vocational training pathway. Meta-analysis of studies in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and USA also revealed the benefits of attending ECEC, especially, public institutions with appropriate funding.

High-quality ECEC available to everyone allows to detect possible physical or mental issues at an early stage and take immediate measures. An average share of inclusive ECEC in Kazakhstan has recently shown positive dynamics but remains quite low (29% in 2019).

A higher share of private institutions. Although OECD member countries are increasingly aware of the significance of early childhood education and care, funding still remains low. On average, OECD countries spent 0.86% of gross domestic product (GDP) on ECEC compared with 1.46% and 1.95% of GDP on primary and secondary education respectively. As a result, there is a shortage of personnel as evidenced by TALIS Starting Strong data.  The questionnaire participants reported stress associated with a large number of children in groups and the need to substitute for absent colleagues. An educator, in turn, lacks time and resources to involve in professional development programmes and courses. The analysis of the state programme for the development of education and science for 2020–2025 shows that about 54% of educators do not have a qualification category.

The deficit of state funding for early childhood education and care is compensated with private investments. The size of private investments in ECEC is relatively higher than in primary and secondary education. For example, every third child in OECD countries goes to a private early childhood institution while every tenth child goes to a private primary school. Two-thirds or more of children aged between 3 and 6 years old attend private institutions in Australia, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Low level of state funding for early childhood education increases the demand for private investment, in particular, in the southern regions of Kazakhstan (the cities of Almaty and Shymkent, Turkestan, Almaty and Kyzylorda oblasts) where more than half of children go to private ECEC settings while in Pavlodar and North Kazakhstan oblasts the share is less than 10%. In this regard, it is important to monitor private institutions in terms of services and access to education.

Coverage of all social and age groups. Numerous studies reveal that children should be widely covered with early childhood education. The Strategic Development Plan of Kazakhstan 2025 aims to reach 80% and in 2019, Kazakhstan was close to the mark reaching 78.3%. It is important for Kazakhstan as well as for the OECD countries to reach children aged between 1 and 3 years old since a significant proportion of Kazakhstani children (57%) in this age group is still not involved in early childhood education and care. This issue requires a comprehensive approach since neither in the OECD nor in other countries there is a single curriculum for the education and care of the youngest children. Moreover, with limited funding and early childhood education focused on preschool children, providing high-quality services for children aged between 1 and 3 years old can become a serious challenge for the government taking into account large investments in ECEC.

As with primary and secondary education, it is important to consider the socioeconomic status of families who need ECEC services. Early childhood education and care that takes into account characteristics of disadvantaged children can provide them with an opportunity to develop critical skills such as communication and thinking.

OECD countries make great steps to eliminate disparities in access to preschool education. Thus, the share of advantaged families who attended preschool institutions is at least 10%. In Kazakhstan, children from 3 to 6 years old across many regions reach 100%, however, it does not reflect the possible difference in the quality of services provided for children from different socioeconomic strata. Meanwhile, the number of children in groups per teacher should be considered, since it affects the quality of education.

Curriculum and transition from ECEC to school. As compared with other levels of education, ECEC lacks a consistent approach to the development of a curriculum, especially, as mentioned earlier, for teaching children aged between 1 and 3 years old. In some countries, education and care are not provided for children of early age. For older children, there can be a few competing curricula at once.

One of the most important criteria in the curriculum development is a smooth and painless transition from a preschool institution to a primary school. It is especially highlighted in the state programme for the development of education and science for 2020-2025. The aim is to determine cross-cutting key competencies that will be accumulated throughout the entire educational pathway of a student. However, the only key competence defined in this programme is trilingual education. Ensuring effective continuity of curricula requires a comprehensive approach on the part of the government and stakeholders.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. First of all, it is worth noting that in contrast to primary and secondary education where the countries’ responses to the pandemic were systematized, there are significant differences in the measures taken in early childhood education. Some countries have completely suspended ECEC and others proceeded to provide it just for children of critical workers and only 42% considered it essential to continue the learning process in a distance format. The closure of ECEC settings has deprived children of the opportunity to contact each other and develop basic socialization skills that distance learning is not able to compensate. The low level of funding and shortage of personnel are also critical since educators may leave this area and it may lead to further issues associated with personnel.

The measures taken by countries also differ in terms of support given to ECEC institutions and their employees, and directly to parents. The pandemic helped people realize that the important component of high-quality early childhood education and care was interaction built between ECEC settings and parents. It is especially important to support disadvantaged parents as research shows the correlation between the status of mothers and attendance of ECEC institutions. The rise in unemployment among the most vulnerable population will cause the outflow of children and deprive them of an opportunity to take advantage of pre-school education.

 

Sources:

OECD (2021). Starting Strong VI: Supporting Meaningful Interactions in Early Childhood Education and Care, Starting Strong, OECD Publishing, Paris.

IAC (2020). Kazakhstan: National report on the state and development of education (2019).

State programme for the development of education and science for 2020-2025

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