PRESS RELEASE – October 26th 2020
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of closing early childhood programs on the long-term well-being and development of children aged zero-six needs to be taken into more careful consideration. In the immediate urgency to prevent the spread of the pandemic, long term risks and impacts are being ignored, whereas the benefits of such closures have not been able to be clearly demonstrated by emerging research. The following arguments offer important points in support of keeping early childhood care programs open, so policymakers can take into account the specific needs of very young children.
It is well established that the early childhood years from zero-six, are an extremely important formative period for neurological development and life long well being. During this period, positive, meaningful relationships, active play, and exploration are essential to children’s well-being and development.
Already, studies in the past years from researchers around the world are finding evidence that screen time damages young children’s developmental outcomes. The World Health Organisation officially recommend no more than an hour of screen time for children between 2-4, and that less is better. However, with early childhood programs closed, many children are now be exposed to far more than these recommended limits.
While online learning may be a viable option for older children that are able to work relatively independently, it is clearly not a developmentally appropriate option for the early years. An NIH (National Institute of Health, USA) started in 2018, already has been collecting data that shows that children that spend more than two hours a day in front of screens score lower on language and thinking, and those spending more than seven hours daily experience a thinning of the brain’s cortex which is related to critical thinking and reasoning. More importantly, the highly addictive, dopamine stimulating effect of games that have short reward feedback loops damages children’s neurological ability to develop patience, reduces their attention span and self-regulation abilities.
Parents that cannot access early childhood services because of closures, must juggle work responsibilities with supervising their own children, often leading to increased exposures to screentime, or even leading to neglect. Many are not in a situation in which it is feasible to hire a nanny or involve grandparents.
In addition, the closure of structured early childhood care options forces many parents to find ways of integrating their children into their work lives. For example, in Bucharest, Romania, in the past week when kindergartens were closed, many parents were found bringing their children along with them to work, to go shopping, or to public playgrounds, all of which present a lot more risk factors than bringing their child to a stable early childhood environment that must carefully respect hygiene requirements.
Meanwhile, the rate of unemployment is much higher amongst women, who are disproportionately involved in childcare. In Romania, two-thirds of those currently unemployed due to the pandemic are women. This has a negative economic impact on the country, but it also represents a backward step in obtaining greater gender equality in the workforce.
The period of the pandemic has created additional stress on vulnerable families that are already suffering from domestic violence, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, or neglect. Indeed, the number of cases of domestic violence has increased considerably since the beginning of 2020 until the present moment. Closing childcare programs both reduces or eliminates the time away from a potential perpetrator while simultaneously increasing pressure on the volatile family units, putting such children at increased risk for traumatic experiences, or even potentially endangering their lives.
Keeping safe, appropriate early childhood care programs open during this period is essential for guaranteeing the long term well being of an entire generation of children. Early childhood programs, that are strictly following the health recommendations for the prevention of the spread of the pandemic, offer a safer, more protected environment that ensures children’s overall development, than when they must stay at home in situations in which parents are not able to offer them the same level of attention, stimulation, and socialization available in a structured program.
Indeed, there is a study from – Enric Alvarez in Spain analyzing data following the reopening of schools across five communities in Spain which did not find any consistent correlation with a spike in cases, as would be expected, had the reopenings accelerated the spread. A study from Yale University also did not find a higher rate of infections amongst early childhood care workers that continued to work with children in the first three months of the pandemic versus those that stayed at home. As young children are at low risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID0-19, these findings would seem to indicate that the benefits of face-to-face early childhood programs, especially in terms of long term impacts, may far outweigh any short term potential benefits in reducing the spread of the virus.
We request policymakers and the emergency committee in Bucharest to keep early childhood education programs open – not only daycare and after schools, but both public and private kindergartens, with, of course, all of the necessary hygienic precautions that have already been defined, and closures to happen on a case by case basis if hotspots emerge in a particular institution.
For more details, you can contact:
President of Neohumanist Education Association
www.neoumanism.org / www.gradinita-rasarit.ro