The first World Forum on Early Years Care and Education was held in 1999, when Americans, Roger and Bonnie Neugebauer extended their activities, editing Early Years Exchange magazine, to organise an event where like-minded individuals from across the international community were invited to Honolulu to meet face to face and exchange views and ideas relating to early years care and education. Since then, World Forum face to face conferences have become a biennial event, moving between continents and attracting hundreds of delegates from many countries. It has distilled its values into 5 key themes –
Children. Relationships. Change. Differences. Spirit.
These shape and support its mission to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings, and its commitment to improving the life chances of all children throughout the world by connecting, informing and inspiring the adults who support their growth and development.
I have been fortunate to attend 3 World Forum conferences – in Belfast in 2009, Auckland in 2017 and Macau in 2019. All of these have been inspiring, enriching and humbling. The experience of being immersed in the richness of diversity of the World’s Early Childhood Educators, to hear their stories and to share their passion, is profound. It has changed my perspective, not just on Early Childhood Education and Care but on my view of what it means to be part of the human race that inhabits a single global village where the challenges and injustices of children in other countries is my concern.
In recent years I have been privileged to serve as the national representative for England to the World Forum and I am also a member of the leadership team of the Men in Early Childhood Education working group. The continuing connection this gives me with like-minded friends across the globe, is, in my opinion, the most powerful benefit of belonging to the World Forum family.
The Covid pandemic forced postponement of the 2020 World Forum conference scheduled to be held in Vancouver. This has been put back to March 2022. As with so many events impacted by Covid, the decision was made to host an online event in 2021. This took place from 5th – 16th April, 12 days with live opening and closing plenary sessions sandwiching 10 days of virtual tours of different countries – Mexico, Kenya, Colombia, Scotland, Fiji, Roma communities in Europe, Lebanon, South Africa, India, Nepal – hosted by teams of in-country volunteer Early Childhood Education leaders.
Having experienced face to face events previously, there was some curiosity about how the sense of connection and the power of communication would work in an online world. Would we feel that we had shared this experience together or would it somehow reinforce any sense of isolation? How would each country present the richness of its culture and traditions, and its challenges, joys and achievements in providing Early Childhood Education and Care to its children?
Over 1200 individuals from across the globe registered for this global tour. Feedback expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate without having to travel or to be able to afford the cost of conference registration, travel and accommodation. In other words, it proved to be a far more democratic opportunity. It was heartening to see so many students able to join in the online discussion groups and our ‘tour group’ live Zoom sessions.
So what did you miss? The first thing to say is that I was blown away by the content. It was evident how much planning, organisation and hard work had gone into the development of each presentation. These succeeded in mixing formats – interviews, personal testimonies, quizzes, song, dance, traditions, children, political and policy context as well as exposition of some of the current challenges faced, to provide an holistic view of countries / people groups. The presentations were hosted on an online platform that tracked progress and enabled delegates to proceed at their own pace. It also included online discussion fora where threads were captured reflecting individual observations, thoughts and comments, connecting and building the global community.
Some of the highlights from the presentations
‘His Name is Today’
A powerful presentation of some stark figures revealed the extent of the social challenges faced tackling the causes and effects of poverty in this vast continent.
India has 22 officially recognised languages. In a delightful video, children dressed in their traditional costume, representing various regions, introduced themselves by stating where they come from and the language they speak – adding, in each instance, “and I am the same as you!”.
We learned about the Mobile Creches organisation, providing care and education for the children of female workers at their places of work e.g. on building sites.
The tour finished with a look at some traditional games.
In Kenya, we visited villages where the challenge and responsibility of caring for children is shared by the wider community. And, we had the chance to see children playing their indigenous games.
Our journey to Colombia provided an opportunity to be informed about the challenges of children who have suffered the trauma of living with the constancy of violence and its effects on their communities, families and their own wellbeing. And we met Nini, such an inspiring lady, who teaches the children in her own Wayuu community.
Closer to home, there were 2 main themes showcased from Scotland – Forest School and Men in Early Years Care and Education (a subject close to my heart). The inspiring Claire Warden introduced us to the Auchlone Nature Kindergarten where we saw children relishing the freedom to explore, to think, to create and to grow in independence in the beauty of the Scottish countryside.
Kenny Spence, from Men in Childcare not only presented, he also wrote and recorded his own song as an accompaniment to one of the presentations. Many from around the world were impacted by the work of Men in Childcare, particularly the testimonials spoken to camera from some of the parents and female colleagues saying what a difference it makes having men involved in young children’s care and education.
In Lebanon, we met 100 children throughout the tour, who introduced themselves individually. It was a wonderful focus on and reminder of the key element in our common advocacy. We do this for the children.
We were reminded of the social, geopolitical, religious and cultural challenges affecting this region and Lebanon in particular. The country is dealing with the aftermath of the tragic massive explosion in the centre of Beirut. We looked in on the therapeutic work taking place with children affected by it. We also saw the work amongst the many displaced families and war refugees.
The Nepalese introduced us to their culture, traditions, people groups, languages, food, cooking and of course, their wonderful children.
The Rainbow Nation
When it comes to discussing geopolitics, entrenched inequality, discrimination and historic trauma, South Africa is sadly a prime case study, and yet it is also an optimistic nation, acknowledging its challenges and looking to a more hopeful future. Our tour featured the stunning landscapes and biodiversity as well as the wonderful people.
ROMA COMMUNITIES IN EUROPE
Not a physical country but a dispersed people group with a strong sense of identity and proud understanding of their heritage, a nation who have suffered and continue to suffer discrimination. It is their personal stories of resilience and fierce determination that are so impactful in this moving set of presentations.
Our visit to Fiji encompassed its heritage, beauty, traditions, sense of adventure, the challenges of climate change and…. mud – lots of it. Such joy and abandonment!
In Mexico we visited an inspiring centre, guided by Ivan who showed us their approach to children’s active learning. He used the graphic analogy of the teacher as a ‘ping-pong’ player, serving and returning the ball, as an equal partner with the child, rather than a ten-pin bowler sending deliveries down the alley at the pins.
We observed children in their centre, participating in their programmes of active, self-chosen and initiated learning.
Other videos explored conflict resolution strategies and a project passing on traditional skills to children, making Lele dolls.
The tours were bookended by live plenary sessions. The opening session included a panel discussion on experiences of dealing with covid in different countries, including the national representative for England, one David Wright.
I can’t end this summary of the virtual tour without acknowledging our wonderful hosts Luis and Priyanka who moved us on each day between countries, with energy, insight and enthusiasm. We marvelled at the various modes of transport employed, from rickshaw to hot air balloon!
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR AT THE
2022 WORLD FORUM ON EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION!
Blog post written and submitted by David Wright, United Kingdom.
David is a member of the World Forum Foundation Working Group on Men in ECE, World Forum Foundation National Representative for England, and Owner of Paint Pots Nurseries.