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Policies and practices of early childhood education and care during the COVID-19 pandemic: Perspectives from five countries

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Visnjic-Jevtic, A., Varga Nagy, A., Ozturk, G., Şahin-Sak, İkbal T., Paz-Albo, J., Toran, M., & Sánchez-Pérez, N.
Publication Date: 
16 Jul 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic, which affects all areas of life, has also affected children in need of education and care. It is of great importance to develop policies that take into account the best interests of children in this process. In this review article, the policies developed for early childhood education and care during the pandemic period in five countries (Australia, Croatia, Hungary, Spain, and Turkey), how they are implemented, the problems that arose, and the solutions produced are discussed. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that we need to focus on eliminating the educational inequalities, set policies for the welfare of children on foundations that are more realistic, rebuild teacher training, and improve the welfare of families. Priorizating the best interests of the child in the policies to be developed and building the social ecology on justice will ease overcoming the crises that will be faced.


Early  childhood  education  and  care  (ECEC)  forms  the  basis  for  the  acquisition  of  lifelong  competencies. The disadvantages of children who cannot access a qualified environment and education in the  early  years  continue  throughout  their  lives,  and  to  overcome  this,  practices  that  consider  the  best  interests  of  all  children  should  be  a  priority  in  the  country's  policies.  According  to  United  Nations  Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports, it is stated that 175 million children between the ages of 3-6 do not benefit from early childhood education at all, and one out of every four children who is one year younger  than  the  compulsory  education  age  does  not  benefit  from  early  childhood  education  at  all  (UNICEF, 2021a). Moreover, these are data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and it is not yet known how children  are  affected  by  early  childhood  education  as  the  pandemic  continues.  However,  according  to  UNICEF's  estimates,  the  global  economic  crisis  caused  by  the  pandemic  negatively  affected  families  in  developing countries, and it is estimated that the number of poor children could exceed 725 million, with 142 million more children already facing poverty (UNICEF, 2021b). Undoubtedly, the increase in poverty leads to the restriction of children's access to education and health, and to a decrease in healthy nutrition resources.  Furthermore,  poverty  causes  parents  to  face  difficulties  in  creating  economic  resources  and  experience psychological problems, and it disrupts family dynamics. This poverty not only directly affects the  family  and  the  child,  but  also  negatively  affects  the  budget  allocated  by  the  countries  for  education,  which is an indicator of social welfare. This negative effect on the education budget causes interruptions or  a  decrease  in  the  quality  of  the  education  services  provided.  Economically,  psychologically,  and  sociologically fragile societies are facing major crises in this sense, along with the pandemic.

As  a  result  of  the  rapid  spread  of  the  pandemic  and  became  life-threatening,  schools  at  all  levels were closed in 191 countries, and 1.7 billion students continued their education based on the policies and practices  that  were  promptly  developed  by  their  countries  (United  Nations  Educational,  Scientific  and  Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2021) in line with the policies to combat the pandemic (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020) announced by the WHO on March 11, 2020. According to the report prepared by UNICEF in September 2020, while the rate of countries that switched to distance education at primary and post-secondary levels was 90%, this rate was 60% in early childhood education (UNICEF, 2021c). In the report, it is stated that despite these rates, not all children have equal access to education, educational inequality has become more evident with the pandemic, teachers' technology literacy and competent use are low in underdeveloped and developing countries, and there are difficulties in providing and accessing digital tools (UNESCO, 2020).

The fact that inequality in access to ECEC has become apparent during the pandemic is due to the policy uncertainties and investing in ECEC not being a priority. In addition, the suspension of education of 40% of children benefiting from early childhood education because of the pandemic (UNICEF, 2021c) contains  important  clues  that  larger  crises  will  occur.  These  clues  make  it  important  to  evaluate  the  educational policies and practices of the authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this review article, the policies developed for ECEC during the pandemic in five countries (Australia, Croatia, Hungary, Spain, and  Turkey),  how  they  were  implemented,  the  problems  that  arose,  and  the  solutions  produced  were  discussed.