Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) can be more holistic and inclusive, as all stakeholders will exert a positive, action-oriented influence on child care systems and structures. In literary terms, Early Childhood Development (ECD) refers to a period of development from conception to the age of eight. Within this, the time of pregnancy to roughly six years, or the first 2,000 days, are critical in a child’s life. This is because brain development is unprecedented, and the safety and security extended to the child in these formative years lays the foundation for success in later years. This period of rapid brain development is called the window of opportunity because what happens during this period will yield benefits over a lifetime — extending beyond and into the next generation of resilient individuals. If we want children to maximise this window of opportunity and develop physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively, we need to ensure that education services provide nurturing care. That is, they ensure children are healthy, well-nourished, feel safe and secure, have a variety of playful learning experiences, and are cared for responsibly.
The premise of nurturing care is the holistic approach (see www.nurturing-care.org). It requires all government agencies, society, organisations, and institutions to come together and provide a well-connected ecosystem of nurturing care for young children. Thus, a carefully crafted environment and ecosystem must be structured around the child’s needs, ensuring individuals, systems, and services fulfil those needs with positive life experiences. This stems from cyclic and interconnected enabling policies and professional services that can empower communities and enhance caregivers’ capabilities, including parents, teachers, and healthcare workers. The term ‘nurturing care’ first appeared in a series on early childhood development in the Lancet and later formed the basis for the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development endorsed by several global agencies, including World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). The Framework provides a roadmap for action beginning in pregnancy and calls on policymakers, service providers and communities to work together to create the enabling environments for the provision of nurturing care. Though the Framework focuses on the period pregnancy to three, nurturing care applies across the entire life-course. As children transition to formal education programmes, they too need nurturing and stimulating learning environments. Education services must have all the right inputs and collaborations across sectors and stakeholders to ensure children’s developmental needs are met.
The Single National Curriculum (SNC), launched by the Federal Education Ministry, aspires to provide equal opportunities for quality education for all children. It has set forward key considerations pertinent to aligning and integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nevertheless, it could go further to ensure that all components of nurturing care are addressed in the curriculum. There are several ways through which we can ensure optimal attention to the components of nurturing care in the SNC. They are as follows:
Health Care: Include multifaceted healthcare sector personnel in the curriculum development wing; design specialised modules on health care management for teachers and parents to provide optimal care in school and home settings for these children; and, incorporate personal hygiene indicators in the school readiness checklist.
Nutrition: Explore the potential to provide school meals for children from low resource and income backgrounds; make height, weight, and head circumference part of children’s developmental profile; and, integrate nutrition education modules with local food alternatives, examples, and physical exercise breaks as a regular part of routine activities both at home and at centres.
Playful and age-appropriate learning: Ensure the curriculum experiences inculcate a culture of care among caregivers, parents, and the wider community and place children at the centre of their planning and decision-making process; provide opportunities for children to play, develop healthy and loving relationships with the adults who care for them, and explore their environments; and, equip caregivers and parents with the knowledge and skills to adopt age-appropriate and playful teaching and learning styles and practices.
Responsive caregiving: Equip teachers with an understanding of brain science and nurturing care to enable teachers to understand better and provide what children need, working in close partnership with parents and professionals; encourage teacher-parent relationships so that together they can support the child; and, develop abilities of teachers to provide individualised support to children with different abilities or needs.
Safety and protection: Plan, execute, monitor, and evaluate child protection services and effectively influence legislation, regulation, and law enforcement; and, hold dialogues on child well-being and protection, healthcare, and education to create awareness and engage stakeholders from all society factions.
Ensuring children receive nurturing care requires caregivers, parents, teachers, curriculum designers, and policymakers to work together. All stakeholders have a role to play. Thus, ECCE can be more holistic and inclusive since all stakeholders will exert positive, action-influenced systems and structures offering to nurturing care to children.