After the communication by the Spanish authorities of the ” Plan of transition to the new normality” , the beginning of a process of de-escalation in the educational field is proposed with the partial return to classrooms of, among others, children from 0 to 6 years.
After a period of confinement caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, which has affected millions of students worldwide, educational institutions, which have had to undergo a digital transformation in record time, plan their possible reopening to welcome the voluntary return of these students.
The implementation of a plan for the progressive recovery of normality that ensures that citizens continue to be actively involved in the fight against the pandemic requires that the return to classrooms guarantee, in addition to the logistical and administrative organization of teachers, that of medical services. , that of transport, that of maintenance and cleaning, that of safety and that of the well-being and health of children and adolescents.
Uneven reopening in the world
The pandemic is developing at different speeds in different countries. While in some, such as Mexico , the peak of the disease begins to wreak havoc and the closure of schools continues, in other countries, as in the case of Germany, teaching activity has already been partially resumed, with maximum hygiene measures.
However, in Spain the strategy for recovery and continuity of learning has recently been proposed. Although with this return to classrooms the objective of giving continuity to the educational processes of these students is met, and taking into account the health, social and economic challenges, a debate has been opened among the agents involved in this process to do so coordinated and comply with the general measures of the public administration, education inspectors, pediatricians and epidemiologists.
Although the voluntary reincorporation of the smallest to the classrooms to guarantee conciliation may make a certain sense, from the logic of public health in Early Childhood Education it is more difficult to comply with the rule of a safety distance and follow the alignments that will have to abide by schools to avoid infections.
The EU, through the Common European Roadmap for lifting containment measures of COVID-19 , recommends that member states gradually authorize concentrations of people, indicating a series of specific measures for schools and universities: different meal times, reinforcement of cleaning measures, clearer classrooms and increased online learning.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) collect several relevant measures in their guide to protect children in schools .
In addition to establishing a series of alignments that would enable the eventual reopening of educational centers in safe conditions, other provisions are provided such as cleaning and disinfecting educational facilities, disposing of sufficient gels and masks, monitoring the distance between the students and the limitation of capacity of the number of students.
It also emphasizes that in Early Childhood Education it is necessary to develop programs that inform students about how to protect themselves, in addition to promoting safe hygiene and care behaviors, and working on resilience and empathy.
In this fight against the epidemic, it is inevitable that the measures taken on the voluntary return to education at an early age raise doubts and divide the opinions of politicians, doctors, teachers, family associations and others.
Despite the fact that, at this time, Early Childhood Education is crucial for families to return to work, in the educational context there are many studies that justify that this training in the early years provides significant learning and experiences and serves as social support for the students.
Personal and social development of the little ones
It is therefore worth reflecting on the benefits that Early Childhood Education has on the personal and social development of children. The brain develops most of its neurons between birth and three years of life. The neurological potential increases and reaches approximately between 80 and 85% of the total of his neural connections during the first six years of life thanks to the quality of the interactions and experiences of the child with the environment, his peers and adults. Hence, it is interesting to note that the first eight years of life, which are called “early childhood”, are relevant to the cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development of every individual.
The US National Center for Development and Early Learning affirms that children who enter and remain in early childhood education programs have greater opportunities to face the school challenges posed by the compulsory stages and the formal educational system.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stresses that Early Childhood Education plays a basic role in the school integration project for children with special educational needs.
Through behavioral and cognitive behavioral indicators it is possible to detect risk situations and initiate intervention processes that contribute to their optimal development. For its part, UNESCO places emphasis on Early Childhood Education as the educational level that promotes equal social opportunities when students come from families that are in situations of risk.
Schooling rate in Spain
The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training states that the enrollment rate during the 2017/2018 school year in Cycle I of Early Childhood Education (0 to 3 years old) in Spain was 36.4%, a figure very similar to that of OECD average (36.3%).
For Cycle II, Spain achieved a schooling rate of over 95% in all ages of this educational cycle (from 3 to 6 years old). Despite the fact that incorporation at this educational level is voluntary, participation is almost universal. It is considered that the high statistics of schooling in this country are a reflection of the social recognition that families give to the formative work carried out in the educational centers that serve these ages.
Integration and self-esteem
Currently, the educational systems conceive Early Childhood Education as a comprehensive educational stage in which the foundations are laid to prepare the child for the start of the compulsory stage of education. It is configured as a phase in which the concepts of care and education are integrated into the same model, allowing children to learn and live in safety environments, where their biological and emotional needs are met and significant experiences and learning are developed .
The main objective is to contribute to the strengthening of self-concept, self-esteem, self-regulation, creative and critical thinking, as well as the stimulation and development of social, linguistic, motor and artistic skills.
Given the significant impact that education has in these early years, there are many educational centers that propose innovative models, active methodologies and flexible, creative and inclusive teaching spaces that offer the best learning experience for these students in these first years of school life.
Author Bios: Silvia Carrascal is PDI. Faculty of Education and Teacher Training, UCM at Complutense University of Madrid and Montserrat Magro Gutiérrez is a PhD student in Educational Sciences at Camilo José Cela University