Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is a comprehensive approach to policies and programs for children from birth to six years of age with the active participation of their parents and caregivers.
Its purpose is to foster holistic growth, development, and learning of children so that they are able to realise their full potential.
ECCE is grounded in the understanding that early childhood, as a critical developmental phase, has a significant impact on a child's future. It aims to prepare children for school, and more broadly, for life. This includes nurturing their physical health, cognitive abilities, social and emotional skills, as well as fostering their creativity and curiosity.
ECCE views children as competent and confident learners providing enjoyable, challenging and meaningful experiences which allow children to learn and develop holistically within respectful reciprocal relationships with others to enhance well-being, nurture identity and belonging, foster communication and language and encourage the child to explore and think. Therefore, positive learning dispositions, attitudes, values, skills, knowledge, and understanding are nurtured.
ECCE in Ireland, often referred to as preschool education, plays a critical role in the development of children before they begin formal schooling. As is the case worldwide, the importance of ECCE in Ireland lies in its potential to nurture the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children.
Ireland has several key aspects to its ECCE system:
ECCE Scheme: The Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme is a government initiative that provides free early childhood care and education for children of preschool age. It is a universal, free, programme available to all children who have turned 2 years and 8 months of age before 1 September. They can continue until they transfer to primary school as long they won't turn 5 years and 6 months on or before 30 June of the programme year.
Aistear and Síolta:Aistear is the national curriculum framework that guides early learning in Ireland for children from birth to six years of age. It emphasises learning through play and provides a broad view of how children learn. Síolta, on the other hand, is the national quality framework for early childhood education, setting out standards for all aspects of ECCE including environment, interactions, play, and partnerships with parents, among others.
Regulation and Inspection: The Department of Education and Skills carries out inspections of ECCE providers to ensure the quality of education. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, inspects services from a health, safety and development perspective.
Workforce Education and Training: There are various qualifications for those wishing to work in the field, ranging from awards in Early Childhood Care and Education to Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Early Childhood Studies.
Childcare Services: These services are offered through a combination of private, community and voluntary providers. This includes full day care, part-time care, sessional services and childminding.
The significance of ECCE is monumental—it forms the bedrock for all future learning and development, influencing a child's trajectory in life.
One of the critical aspects of ECCE lies in its influence on brain development. The initial years of a child's life are pivotal for brain development as the brain is incredibly responsive to experiences during this period, forming neural connections at an unprecedented rate.
High-quality ECCE can offer enriching experiences that contribute to healthy brain development.
In addition to intellectual growth, ECCE plays a crucial role in fostering a child's social and emotional development.
It provides an environment for children to interact with their peers, learn social norms, and develop emotional intelligence. These experiences are essential for cultivating empathy, self-esteem, and necessary social skills.
Furthermore, it aids in the development of cognitive skills. Through play child-led learning activities, children in ECCE programs hone critical thinking, problem-solving, and language skills. They begin to grasp foundational knowledge in domains like math, reading, and science.
Early childhood care and education can also act as a powerful tool in levelling the playing field. It can ensure that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, get a robust start in life, helping to bridge the achievement gap even before it begins to widen.
The benefits of ECCE extend beyond individual children and their families—it impacts society as a whole.
Children who attend high-quality ECCE programmes are more likely to excel in school, secure good jobs, and contribute positively to their communities.
“Studying with Portobello allowed me to achieve my dream of opening my own early years setting and this is something of which I am very proud.
“I now own and manage a full daycare setting. I was able to pursue my dreams and that is worth everything in my opinion. I am content and happy working in the early years sector. My qualifications ensure I have an in-depth knowledge of early childhood care and education,” she said.