Social and Cultural Issues in Early Childhood
Cultural and social issues regarding early childhood always attract attention of today’ researches. Interest and concerns about the early childhood in the UAE, as well as the other Arab nations, can be viewed in the early twentieth century when missionaries from the West established preschools and introduced education in some Arab countries, which lived under the colonial laws and rules. In the nineteenth century, the early form of preschools existed in Syrian Arab Republic, Morocco, Sudan, and Lebanon. During the last ten years, the UAE has increased awareness regarding the significance of early childhood and started to pay attention to the policy and comprehensive early childhood program that would provide children with cognitive, emotional, social, holistic, and physical development.
The traditional Koranic educational establishments have been operating in mosques for centuries; these schools have been the only sector that taught and cared for children and youth. They continue to exist in rural areas. Children, who live in rural areas, are usually deprived of early childhood education and necessary services. The results of recent researches show that most of the children from rural and remote areas are deprived of early childhood services. However, some Arab countries, including the UAE, provide a wide variety of programs specifically aimed at helping children in remote and rural areas.
For many years, the UAE has been developing and improving policy regarding early childhood programs. Moreover, along with other Arab countries, the UAE has set comprehensive strategies and policies and appointed the relevant agencies in order to provide an adequate mechanism and review the plans. Most of the Arab countries have designed programs for early childhood care, particularly in the areas of education and health. The results of recent researches pointed to the presence of policy regarding the compulsory education for children aged 6-8 years. However, it provides no accurate and thorough statistics for this age group. The UAE along with other Arab countries cooperates with international and regional organizations and prepares comprehensive early childhood strategies in order to develop andenhance learning capabilities and developmental gain of each child (Community Development Authority, 2014).
The last years presented evidence and proved that early childhood education and care of good quality in both the structured programs and families positively affect the development, learning potential, and growth of children. All these initiatives and programs should be designed carefully and thoroughly with a focus on all the children’s demands and needs comprising health, psychosocial, and cognitive development.
Many researchers consider financing as a significant factor since it can either improve or deteriorate the level of service. Funding, as well as the reasonable understanding of the amount and source of the early childhood programs, can be extremely difficult in case if the detailed and relevant data is not provided. Moreover, it will be hard to discuss all the necessary mechanisms for funding such programs and services without dealing with technical, cultural, contextual, and social issues. All these issues have to deal with social background, the funding providers and agencies, the age group of children, and the target population (Myers, 2000).
One of the most significant challenges for today is the scarce and inadequate services for children, who are younger than five years. Unfortunately, this age group gets no care it is supposed to receive. In addition, providing investment in disadvantaged children and youth should become the primary public policy initiative that guarantees social justice, fairness, and simultaneously stimulates productivity in the society and economy (Heckman, 2006). For example, increased involvement of teachers and parents can strengthen support for the child’s learning, motivate high aspirations for their educational performance, and increase the quality of activities and interactions that occur. Despite the initiatives implemented in preschools and early childhood education, growth is still weak in the area of evaluation and monitoring when it comes to measuring the efficiency of programs and quality, and it is still slow in terms of quantity.
The UAE still focuses on the primary education with no reference to the early childhoood. In this case, the growing political will is an essential part. Undoubtedly, the national strategies regarding the early childhood that have been developed will make a high impact as it is evident in the foreign experience. Adoption of laws helps regulate and monitor the work through license issuance, assessing the physical and infrastructure facility, and appraise performance of staff, particularly in the private sector since it is responsible for most of the early childhood programs. It is necessary to establish academic departments, and training centers involved in the early childhood since owing to the academic qualification, staff becomes more professional. All the workshops and training courses contribute to the high quality development. Moreover, international and regional organizations in tight cooperation with the UAE’s ministry of education have already established a significant number of the training centers.
UAE has achieved the marked growth in terms of programs and policies that cater to the needs and rights of young people, and in some cases, the marginalized children. However, some Arab countries pay less attention to the children’s rights and their demand for different services. Progress is now occurring at a slow rate. Consequently, there is an urgent need for concerned individuals, and primarily, the authorities to think about affordability and availability for individuals, who need it the most, but, unfortunately, get it the least.
Nowadays, most of the Arab countries approach the universal primary education. However, attention to the significance of the early childhood years, the child development, brain research, early intervention, quality programs, as well as the other priorities, is increasing. For today, it is required to adopt a fundamental national strategy concerning the early childhood education and care, provide particular and clear budget. Moreover, it is necessary to implement adequate and comprehensive programs for psychosocial, health, and educational areas of the child development. The UAE that developed an action plan and national strategy now has a clear plan for quantitative and qualitative development of the early childhood programs.