Early childhood is a crucial stage in a person’s development. It is during the first eight years of life when growth and brain development are at their peak (UNESCO, 2019; WHO, 2019). Supporting children at this stage through early childhood care and development (ECCD) programs has been widely recognized to have numerous benefits for children’s social, emotional, psychological, cognitive, and physical development (UNICEF, 2013). Holistic ECCD programs which address all the domains of development positively impact children, especially disadvantaged populations by promoting school achievement, reducing educational and social inequalities, improving health and nutrition, and enhancing socio-emotional skills (Britto, 2012; Yoshikawa & Kabay, 2015; UNICEF Philippines, 2018; WHO, 2019; UNESCO,2019).
As education is a universal and inalienable right, it is imperative that young children, most especially those from marginalized and disadvantaged groups, have access to quality ECCD programs. This is in support of one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which is “ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning”, with early childhood development as one of its targets (UNESCO, n.d.). To make quality ECCD accessible to all children, there is a need for comprehensive systemic reforms (Shaeffer, 2010).
Unfortunately, ECCD programs in Southeast Asia are not always pro-poor and inclusive, with millions of children across the region at risk of being excluded from the system due to poverty, gender, geographical location, ethnicity, and disabilities, among other circumstances (Save the Children, n.d.).
The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) identified as two of its priority areas are achieving universal early childhood care and education and addressing barriers of inclusion by 2035 (SEAMEO Secretariat, 2016). In support of these, SEAMEO INNOTECH in partnership with the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) has undertaken this regional study with the primary objective of documenting and analyzing ECCD policies and programs in Southeast Asia and the patterns of marginalization that limit young children’s participation in these programs.
This research brief draws from the regional study, with information gathered through secondary data analysis of studies and policy documents on the different ECCD programs of eight countries that agreed to be part of the study: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. Focus group discussions and key informant interviews were also conducted to validate data with major stakeholders.