The COVID-19 pandemic has left over 1.1 billion children out of school in 2020. An unexpected and incredibly positive outcome of this uncertain and challenging time has been the formation of the Teach For All Early Childhood Education (ECE) community. We are a group of 12 alumni of Teach For All network partners, passionate about and working in early childhood education across Denmark, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the UK, and the US. We came together at the start of this crisis in March to connect as a global community during a global crisis, as we were all tackling the same challenges of continuing to reach and educate our youngest learners in different contexts.
We cohere around a belief in the importance of the experience of our youngest learners, in the value of early education, and in the beauty and magic of early childhood. Our countries face different specific challenges that share common features and our ‘work local, think global’ perspective has inspired exciting discussions among our community. In addition to our core group that speaks every two weeks, webinars, a WhatsApp group, and ad hoc local calls extend our reach to the wider Teach For All community, including a Spanish-speaking Latin American subgroup that has formed.
Why form a community now?
As schools and early childhood centres began to shut down, we leaned on each other for support and guidance as we navigated this unprecedented crisis and sought to support our youngest learners, especially those in the low-income communities we serve. We hosted two webinars for the wider Teach For All ECE community—one when schools closed in much of the world and one when they started to reopen in some regions—to learn from each other about how our various countries and organisations were managing the transition and logistics to and from distance learning. We also published four articles on the impact and challenges of COVID-19 on our youngest learners and their families (you can read them here, here, here, and here [English translation]).
We are now at an exciting stage of our development, which sees us collaborating on a vision and goals for the future. We see a need in the broader global education discussion for a powerful voice on ECE, the opportunity to amplify and add momentum to local ECE voices and conversations, and the chance to bring global research and practice-informed perspectives to propose ways forward for ECE, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.
Why focus on Early Childhood Education now?
Critical shifts in ECE have been observed by many of our members globally right now: from India’s new National Education Policy and, as Teach For India alumna and ECE member Swetha Guhan describes, a "wave of transformation" in the country in regards to ECE, to Mexico’s emerging teacher training programmes in early years, to the UK’s spotlight on a sector discussed in COVID-related press as essential to economic recovery. Many of our members talk about the urgent need to leverage increased interest in ECE in conversations about the "why" of high quality education for our youngest children, including the value of childhood, play, and early child development. COVID-19 school closures have especially focused attention on the role of parents in education, a long-standing critical issue for early childhood educators keen to build a community of practice with parents, schools, and other organisations.
The ECE Community has already begun to support Teach For All partner organisations to influence policy locally—Teach For Morocco leveraged our international perspectives to inform Morocco’s first-ever Early Education policy—and conversations with private funding groups interested in investing in ECE. Connections made within the community have led to exciting project developments, including career opportunities and collaborative research ideas. We are currently developing a speaker series with influential leaders in the sector, a podcast miniseries, and a session at Teach For All’s first virtual Global Conference in October. These are only our initial steps, and we have aspirations that the community can continue to grow its impact and influence.
Our experiences of building the community
This community has given us a tremendous amount of professional support. Our members value the open platform to present our challenges, learn from each other’s experiences and collaborate honestly around topics we care deeply about, such as the role of play during and beyond the pandemic. We all work locally and share globally, united in our passion and vision for accessible, high quality early childhood education for every young child. This community is full of ideas, inspiration and innovation in early years education, shared across our different contexts. Our conversations range from deep dives into the nuts and bolts of our organisations’ curricula and programming to high level discussions about what it will take to create systems-level investment and action in ECE.
Aside from the professional benefit, the personal aspect makes our community so meaningful and refreshing. We are a unique mix of professionals working on the front line in schools and non-profits as teachers and leaders, in global funding, pedagogy and policy research, early education enterprise, and international NGOs. We have welcomed those with between 2 and15 years’ experience, knowing that these different perspectives and roles and types of organisations coming together is so essential and yet rarely happens. This community is special and has allowed us to put our work in a global perspective and dream about a bigger vision for early childhood education. Although many of us have never met in person, we have become friends and created a trusting support system during this time.
We believe our achievements so far and our ambitions for the future are possible thanks to our shared motivation as alumni of Teach For All network partners and the diversity of our experiences in the communities and organisations we work with. If you are interested in adding your voice to this community, please do get in touch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our biweekly calls and connect to the wider ECE community on our WhatsApp group.