Early childhood education (ECE) involves one of the most vulnerable periods in life. As school will soon begin again in the fall, early childhood education experts warn that much of a child's development takes place in the first six years, so 7 is too late for starting school.
Joanne Robinson, an adviser in ECE at a pre-school education institution in New Zealand, expresses the importance of pre-school education, saying: “Attending an early childhood education service supports your young child's learning. You are your child's first teacher, and you can further improve your child's learning when you also give them education away from home at an ECE institution. Pre-school education, or childcare, at an institution outside the home gives your child the chance to socialize, learn and interact with other children and adults; children learn right from the beginning about the most important things that help them develop throughout their whole lives.”
The early childhood period is a very important and critical period in a child's overall development and personality, pedagogue and psychological counselor Sevil Gümüş says. “Because the child's cognitive, social, physical and emotional development takes place in the first six years, deficiency of education in these years cannot be treated later; it is almost impossible. The child may have behavioral disorders and deficiency in physical and mental development since his or her needs are not fulfilled as required in this period,” she adds.
According to Gümüş, ECE is also very important for brain development. The connections among neurons are at the top level during the early childhood years. It has been proven with research that life and environment conditions during childhood affect the functionality of the brain in a positive or negative way. Children who do not play and are not touched very much have 20-30 percent lesser brain development when compared to their peers. Gümüş also states that pre-school education not only has a positive effect on a child's development but also provides more success to children and society with a minimum cost.
When the subject concerns foreign language education, Gümüş says: “I do not approve an age generalization because every child's language development differs. I think the best way is to prepare a background for foreign language with songs and plays after the child starts speaking in his or her native tongue and to start foreign language education in primary school after the child learns how to read and write.”
There is a big difference between children who receive pre-school education and those who do not. Research conducted by Professor Çiğdem Kağıtcıbaşı from Koç University has revealed that children who receive pre-school education are more successful at school compared to others who do not have pre-school education in school or at home, and most children who have pre-school education attend university and have better jobs after university.
Unfortunately, in Turkey, 84 out of every 100 children between the ages of 0 and 6 do not receive pre-school education; in other words, only 15 percent of children in Turkey receive early education. A study conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reveals that the amount of children who receive some sort of early education is 70 percent in Mexico; 34 percent in Morocco; at least 50 percent in Eastern Europe and up to 100 percent in European Union countries, among which Turkey wants to have a place. Additionally, in Turkey, pre-school education institutions are common only in big cities, and they are private institutions.
The leading institution that supports pre-school education in Turkey is the Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV). They organize many educational programs, including a mother and child education program, a parent and child education program in pre-school (OVÇEP) and a pre-school education program. Additionally, they started a campaign called “7 is too late” in order to raise awareness among parents.
Parents should not be deceived by showy brochures
“ECE is very important, so you should choose the kindergarten carefully according to its educational quality. Do not be deceived by showy brochures,” says Gümüş. Education is a process starting at birth and continuing throughout life. The backbone of this life-long learning is laid during the first six years, she adds.
Early childhood education first starts in the family. After that, pre-school education institutions support families in preparing the child for social life. These institutions are not the places that just offer daycare to support working mothers and fathers. These are educational institutions whose purposes are to prepare children for future education, help them express themselves freely and help develop the children as social individuals, developing their creativity and skills. But what should parents look for in a good pre-school? Gümüş says: “Kindergarten is not a place to load children with information; it is a place where children gain necessary skills to learn information when they start primary school. It is not an academic education. Children's potentials are brought out in pre-education institutions. Besides, children should not stay in kindergarten all day; this can cause emotional problems in children. They should go to kindergarten between 9:30 and 10:00 and return home at 15:00; it is ideal for them.” Physical appearance and showy brochures are not the only important things according to Gümüş. She advises parents to choose kindergartens by looking at their criteria for education quality. But what are these criteria? Gümüş lists these criteria as teacher's personality, teacher's education and experience, the communication between teachers and other staff, the proportion of children to teachers, the number of classes, the quality and development of the program, lessons, pedagogue counseling, cooperation between school and family, physical conditions of the school, having a garden and sports facility, security and educational equipment.