Throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region, more and more emphasis is being placed on early education and care in recent years. From ensuring primary education for all and updating curriculums of primary schools to ensuring the right environments at home for early childhood development, the aforementioned emphasis is widespread and diverse at the same time. Despite a lot of investment in education by governments in the region, children in these countries are not learning enough and their academic results or outcomes do not match those of children in other countries outside the region.
As school systems reach massive levels of participation with the youth bulge growing in the MENA region, concerns about the relevance and quality of education has intensified with the primary school curriculum being in the spotlight. When children experience quality early education and care, their short-term cognitive, social and emotional development take a boost. Similarly, early education and care facilitates their long-term success in academics and even later life.
Parents have a crucial part to play to ensure early childhood development in their children. Involved parents can make a positive and lasting impact on their children’s learning ability. Children who are properly stimulated from birth to age five by their parents tend to perform better than other children in the long run. What this means is that these children are more likely to complete their schooling, perform better academically, and lead healthier and more productive lives as adults. On the ground, this stimulation takes the form of being read to, attending preschool, and having parents who are aware of the school curriculum.
During the first five years, the brain’s synaptic networks are still in the process of forming. This is when children’s development is particularly receptive to human contact. How parents interact with their children and engage them in cognitive, social, and emotional developmental activities in these years defines their future selves.
Why Parents Need To Be More Involved In Early Childhood Development
Children’s development of the cognitive and social skills needed for success later in school is supported by responsive parenting. Responsiveness plays an important role in providing a strong foundation for children to develop optimally. This includes positive affection and high levels of warmth in combination with behaviors that are cognitively responsive to the child’s needs.
Parent involvement in early childhood education can extend the experiences that a child has inside the classroom to actual activities that happen in the home. Parents who are in tune with the primary school curriculum and keep themselves updated with what is happening in their children’s classroom are better able to establish a connection between home and school. This connection is a key component of a child’s development and supporting further learning creates a positive experience for them. This, in turn, helps them perform better academically. In a nutshell, young children’s acquisition of problem-solving, language, and social-emotional skills are facilitated by interactions with their parents. Parents becoming more involved during the early childhood development period also promotes school-readiness, which ensure they stay in school and a lower grade repetition rates.
Early interventions are not only long-lasting but also much more economical when compared to repairing problems that develop as a result of delayed or damaged development. Access to quality early childhood education and care can strengthen the foundations of lifelong learning for all children. It is thus crucial to develop strategies to empower and educate parents on how to provide a stimulating, loving and protective environment at home.
A good example of a state that’s incorporated parents into the education system brilliantly is Jordan. The state runs a Parental Involvement Initiative set out to introduce parents into kindergartens, making them aware of the primary school curriculum, acquainting them with the teaching methods used, and the philosophy explaining the routines followed. It aims also at enriching the classroom environment through tapping into the experiences and expertise of parents in facilitating children’s learning. A parent who understands what their child is working on at preschool has a better sense of their child’s competency and which areas they need to work on to improve. They can then facilitate this improvement.
Parents And Primary Schools
Primary school educators need to do their part to ensure parent engagement. Education technology can help parents be more involved in their children’s school curriculum. Tools such as Bingiel can be used by parents to be more included in their children’s primary school curriculum. They can use it with or without their children. It increases parents’ understanding of the educational process and cooperation with teachers. Even teachers and school administrators can make good use of this tool. It uses storification, gamification, and personal learning paths to make the primary school curriculum more interesting for everyone involved while particularly increasing student engagement. There are plenty more such applications available to parents.
Primary school teachers can encourage parents to be more involved in their child’s primary school education. Schools could take some or all of the steps that will make parents feel more engaged in their child’s life. Parents can be invited to the school to learn more about the teachers, staff, and facilities at the school. Parents could also share their talent or devote time to volunteering inside the classroom. They could even be asked if there are any particular topics they believe is missing and needs to be incorporated in the school curriculum.
Children could also have a journal outlining their achievements. It can be a way for parents and teachers to communicate with each other. Schools can also make useful resources available to parents in relation to developing motor skills, language development, behavior management and more. Schools can even recommend some complementary activities that a parent and child can complete at home to extend their curriculum beyond the classroom setting.
Early Childhood Development and Policy
While family is a personal matter, early childhood development is as much a state matter as it is a filial one. Policy and practice decision-makers need to pay particular attention to parents who are most at risk: they need to find ways to facilitate change in parents’ behaviors, taking into consideration personal beliefs and social support to maximize effectiveness. Given the critically important role of early childhood learning and primary school curriculums, policy-makers have an interest in making sure that young children’s environments at homes and schools promote positive outcomes and their education is relevant and effective. This creates successful future citizens.
It is unfortunate that children have to experience substantial inequality of opportunity starting early in life. What’s worse is that that inequality is more impactful in early learning and in activities that support early cognitive development. A wide variety of elements such as wealth, and even the education level of the family impact the early cognitive development of a child. Ensuring equality of opportunity in school will require addressing the causes of inequality of opportunity in early childhood which requires sustained, targeted, and complex policies. MENA countries must work towards providing equality of opportunity fiercely.
Policies which set out to improve early child development must also take care of complementary strategies linked to the different environments that surround a child. This is a challenging task but very much possible by ensuring that there is consistency in both philosophy and strategy between government policies and actual action.
Children Are the Future of the World
In the midst of conflicts in the MENA region, perhaps a commitment to early childhood development would be one thing the various factions, all of whom want the best for their children, could come together and make progress on. Children are every parent’s greatest joy and every country’s greatest resource. Investing in them during their critical early years is one of the greatest gifts parents, educators, and the government can give them and one of the smartest moves to make for the future of the world.