First day of preschool jitters amid the pandemic

September 01, 2021 by Christin McConnell, Global Partnership for Education

As the pandemic continues to affect the schooling of millions of children around the world, GPE’s technical lead for early childhood education (ECE) reflects on the importance of ensuring that every child has access to quality ECE services and how GPE is supporting partner countries to achieve that.

As GPE’s technical lead for early childhood education (ECE), I spend a lot of my workday advocating for increased access to quality pre-primary education programs for children in GPE partner countries. I help design interactive tools and trainings with partners to help governments and national stakeholders better plan, support, and implement early childhood programs in their education sector plans and policies.

I organize knowledge sharing events for GPE countries and partners on promising approaches to scaling ECE services. I provide technical advice on GPE grants that fund early childhood education activities.

And yet, this week I find myself in new territory: as a parent of a 3-year-old girl starting her first day of preschool. And maybe more surprising to me: I’m nervous about it.

Quality preschool programs prepare children for learning

I’m grateful to live in Washington, DC, where access to free pre-primary education for 3 and 4 year olds is a reality (many more children around the US may soon have the same experience with the push for universal preschool under President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan).

Yet we know that globally we have so much more work to do - prior to the pandemic it was estimated that nearly half of the world’s pre-primary aged children were not enrolled in early childhood education programs. That number has certainly risen as recent reports indicate that ECE was frequently left out of national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and that it was the level of education where children have lost the most days of schooling.

I am grateful that my daughter’s new classroom environment will follow many of the practices that I know to promote a quality preschool experience: qualified teachers with specialized training in early childhood education, a reasonable child-to-teacher ratio, a curriculum that emphasizes play-based learning, a classroom with age-appropriate play and learning materials, student assessment opportunities to track progress.

I know that while we are still in the midst of the pandemic, her school will follow health and safety protocols similar to the global guidance for ECE settings.
My daughter's first day at school. Credit: Christin McConnell
My daughter's first day at school.
Christin McConnell

How the pandemic impacts schooling

And yet I still find myself fighting those inevitable first day of school jitters as a parent. Some of my anxieties seem typical: will she like her teacher; will she make friends; how well will she adapt to school in a different language than the one we speak at home?

And some questions seem heightened by the pandemic: can she really wear a mask all day; will the school remain open this year; how will she adapt after spending most of the past year and a half at home; will learning at least 3 feet apart from other children still be fun?

Although it may be slightly different with COVID protocols in place, my daughter’s preschool experience will undoubtedly build a strong foundation for her future schooling as well as social, emotional, and cognitive skills she needs in daily life. As a parent, I may have some anxieties about her first few days, but ultimately, I’m excited for her to be beginning her school experience with a quality pre-primary education program.

My wish is that every young child across the world has access to similar opportunities, and that many more parents experience the “first day of school” jitters like I do, and ultimately focus on the joy of knowing we’re giving our kids the best start for their future.

While my daughter is in school, I will continue to work every day to promote quality ECE programs in GPE partner countries. So far, GPE has invested US$270 million in more than 35 partner countries to support these programs.

Early learning is a priority area in GPE 2025 and we will continue to advocate for at least one year of quality pre-primary education for every girl and boy.