27 September 2010

Address by H. E. Mrs Eleonora Mitrofanova Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO


Mr Vice-President of the Republic of Seychelles,

Madam UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador,

Madam Director-General of UNESCO,

Distinguished high-level panellists,

Dear members of the organizing committee,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we are witnessing a milestone event in the history of movements in favour of the youngest of the world’s citizens. This is a moment to celebrate our achievements, to draw lessons from our past efforts and experiences and to engage in a wide-ranging exchange of views on this vital issue. This international forum will enable us to assess and scrutinize persistent shortfalls and challenges in different parts of the world. This is an occasion to engage in far-reaching reflection on the goals we wish to achieve for our young children. This is our only chance at present to explore in depth and define feasible approaches and strategies to actually reach those goals.

Let me say how pleased and proud I am that this first-ever world conference on early childhood care and education (ECCE) is taking place in my country, the Russian Federation, which is an excellent venue for the event. There are at least two main reasons for this. First, the Russian Federation has a long history of public ECCE provision, considering that investment in children and their families is closely linked to national development and prosperity. The holistic aims of the traditional Russian kindergartens translate a strong emphasis on children’s health, physical and socio-emotional development and early literacy and numeracy. Thus, the country has important lessons of good ECCE policies and practices to share.

Second, the Russian Federation, and particularly its capital city, have hosted, and continue to host some of the ground-breaking theorists and scholars in education and child psychology. Among them, the most prominent figure is Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky whose socio-cultural theory continues to shape the understanding and practices of contemporary ECCE worldwide. His perspective acknowledges the active and necessary role of the environment – particularly human interaction – in the development of children’s cognition, skills and behaviour. He put forward the crucial importance of guidance and support by adults and peers in learning processes.

I am also particularly grateful to the City of Moscow for having been a visionary and committed partner in the preparations for this Conference. The City of Moscow and UNESCO have already implemented many and varied joint projects in the past, and I am sure that new initiatives are to come. This city with high standards and high quality pre-school education is a great place for wide-ranging international cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We can no longer stand by and watch the misfortunes and difficulties faced by children around the world. Despite the remarkable scientific and technological advances accomplished to date, we must realize that we still face a dire and alarming situation. The following figures speak for themselves:

• one in three children aged 0-5 are malnourished in the world;

• a child born in the developing world has a 40% chance of living in extreme poverty;

• around 10.5 million children under the age of five die each year from diseases which are mostly preventable;

• every day, 1,800 children are infected with HIV;

• Out of every 1,000 children in developing countries, 74 will not reach the age of five. Young children in emergency, conflict and post-conflict situations are particularly vulnerable, often living under stress in an unsafe and uncaring environment;

• Over 85% of newborn Russian citizens are, from the very outset, predisposed to various developmental problems, due to numerous unfavourable factors in our life today.

Is this the kind of world we want to live in and pass on to our younger generation? Because of the lack of very basic health care in the earliest years of life, the visual and hearing capacities of some children are impaired for life. Because of the absence of early learning opportunities, children experience difficulties in learning and adjusting to primary schooling and fall behind. Many of them drop out of the school system. Early childhood represents a window of great opportunities, and the consequences of missing these opportunities are far-reaching, and of considerable cost to families and governments.

It is therefore imperative that we make every effort to live up to the commitments the international community has made vis-а-vis young children. Through the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, we have broken out of a “deficit-and-welfare” approach to the child. Today, we recognize children as rights holders and active social agents who contribute to and participate in society. Through the World Declaration on Education for All, adopted in Jomtien in 1990, we left behind the notion of education as starting in primary schools and urged governments to build systems and programmes that make early childhood care and initial education an integral part of basic education. Through the Dakar Framework for Action, adopted at the World Education Forum in 2000, we inscribed early childhood care and education as the first and fundamental goal for achieving education for all. That same year, we proclaimed and adopted the Millennium Declaration at the United Nations, built firmly on the principles of human rights and inclusive human development, defining collective development goals covering child and maternal health, poverty reduction, universal primary education and gender equality.

Early childhood care and education is a particularly relevant theme for UNESCO. The Organization has the mandate to lead and mobilize all stakeholders for the achievement of education for all, whose first goal is the expansion and improvement of comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. The EFA Global Monitoring Reports and other studies have shown that EFA Goal 1 is the most neglected education for all goal. It plays however a crucial role in building strong foundations for the development and well-being of human beings. It brings a range of important benefits – not limited to education – to individual children, families and societies at large. A holistic approach to early childhood development best supports the building of those strong foundations. It is also essential to pay attention to health, nutrition, care, protection, stimulation and education equally, of course rooted in the particularities of local contexts and cultures.

It is in the early period of life that values, attitudes, behaviours and basic life skills, such as cooperation, autonomy, communication and pre-literacy skills, creativity and problem-solving, are shaped – or not. If we wish to nurture and reinforce in our children the values that foster peace and harmony, such as tolerance, respect for others, sharing, justice and equality, including its gender dimension, we must do so right from the beginning.

Building effective and inclusive education systems is among the priorities of UNESCO’s educational mandate, to which the UNESCO’s governing bodies, in particular the Executive Board, are paying special attention. We all unreservedly support UNESCO’s first steps in following up the present Conference, ensuring that early childhood care and education become one of UNESCO’s key areas of interventions, and duly reflected as such in the Organization’s programmes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I look forward to hearing from you accounts of success stories as well as concerns and challenges in providing positive and meaningful early childhood care and education. By pooling our efforts and sharing our wisdom and knowledge, we can better sow the seeds of peace, empowerment and development in young children. We can better care for and nurture our precious treasures, and by doing so contribute to “building the wealth of nations”.

I wish you a very successful conference.