ECD NETWORK OF PAKISTAN
Early Child Development (ECD) is emerging as an area of focus and interest globally. Over the last decade, Pakistan has also seen increasing intervention in the area of early and formative education and development of children in the age group zero to eight years. Wide variation is found in the understanding and use of ECD terminology and it is also known as Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), Early Childhood Education (ECE) or Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED). The ECD programs and approaches are now recognized as being the most advantageous and effective method that enhances the child’s natural potential in all respects; mental faculties, physical development and social/behavioral competencies. A 2012 report from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concludes that Early Childhood education “improves children’s cognitive abilities, helps to create a foundation for lifelong learning, makes learning outcomes more equitable, reduces poverty and improves social mobility from generation to generation.”
Following the global trend, Pakistan has seen a considerable growth in the practice of ECD as a model of social development. A significant number of NGOs and private sector organizations are operating ECD centers and ECD related programs in various parts of Pakistan. International donor agencies have also realized the benefits of ECD in national development and have made generous funding available for this sector. The government has also realized the significance of ECD. Following quote from National Education policy 2009 attests to government’s interest in ECD/ECE:
ECE/ECD has historically not been formally recognized by the public sector in Pakistan. The traditional “katchi” class in some public sector schools has predominantly remained a familiarization stage towards formal schooling for un-admitted young students. A limited part of this curriculum is taught to this group. Against this background, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, ECE was included as a component in the Education Sector Reform Program and funding was provided to the provincial and district governments. ECE was also included in the National Plan of Action of Education for All. Pakistan is committed to the Dakar Framework of Action, the first goal of which is to expand and improve comprehensive ECE for all children, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
With the growth of ECD worldwide, the practitioners of ECD have formed alliances, networks and interest groups in many countries and regions. These formal and informal networks have benefited the participants; organizations and individuals, in many ways as is the case with “networking” in any field. In Pakistan, many NGOs and other ECD stakeholders are doing a great job of serving the developmental needs of their target children. Most of these efforts and interventions are based on individual goals and aspirations of various ECD organizations without much formal networking and mutual support, although there are informal communication processes in place whereby most players know about the programs, challenges and successes of various ECD organizations in Pakistan.
The effectiveness and impact of ECD work in Pakistan can be enhanced exponentially if a formal network or alliance of all ECD organization was created with an aim to promote the cause of ECD in Pakistan. Even though the importance of having a national ECD network is recognized by ECD stakeholders the idea of creating a formal ECD Network in Pakistan had not materialized until NOW.
Since its inception in 2007, Rupani Foundation has been actively engaged in ECD, mainly in the mountain communities of Gilgit Baltistan and some rural parts of Sindh. Being an infant in this sector, the Foundation has tried to learn, informally though, from the best practices and successes of other ECD organizations in Pakistan. The Foundation believes that the process of mutual learning and support can bring tremendous benefits to ECD sector if there was a formal alliance or Network in place that would also influence and channel mass awareness, advocacy and government policy in promoting ECD. This led the Foundation to propose to all ECD stakeholders in Pakistan to form a formal network of ECD stakeholders.
The Foundation started thinking about this idea towards the later part of 2012. The challenge was, given that Pakistan has a fairly large number of ECD organizations with varied goals, vision, programs and target communities, how to go about the process of forming the network. Who would decide what should be the mission, goals, objectives and programs of the Network? Who would decide the legal structure of the Network? Who would be the members of the Network? The Foundation thought that if Pakistan must have an effective and active ECD Network, all ECD stakeholders should be part of the thinking process involving the formation of ECD Network so that everyone “owns” the idea. To manage this “bottom up” process and bring players in such a large sector together to achieve consensus on proposal remained the biggest challenge in moving forward with this idea.
In early 2013, the Foundation decided to organize and host a series of meetings in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, thereby providing a forum to all ECD stakeholders from various parts of the country to discuss this proposal and bring about a “national” consensus on forming a national ECD network, and to deliberate on the purpose, mission, goals and objectives of the Network. These meetings were held in mid April 2013 and a number of participants took active and enthusiastic part in the discussions. The meetings ended with a unanimous decision by all participants to form Pakistan’s National ECD Network. It was also decided that a National Steering Committee should be formed, comprising of participating members – either nominated or volunteers, with the task of discussing and finalizing the formative elements of the Network such as its purpose, mission, goals and objectives, programs, legal structure etc.
The minutes of the three meetings were circulated amongst the participants in May, and a National Steering Committee was formed with the mandate from the larger group of ECD organizations to discuss and finalize the formative elements of the Network on behalf of all stakeholders of ECD sector in Pakistan. As a result of this year long activity, the ECD Network of Pakistan has now been registered as a non-profit alliance of all ECD organizations in Pakistan, registered under the Society Act.