Pre-school education (0-4 years) in Chile is undergoing a rapid process of expansion, as it is in a number of Latin American countries. However, the construction of new kindergartens and day nurseries does not in itself guarantee a positive result in the development of very young children, as the quality of the educational processes is not always guaranteed.
In other words, extending access without improving the quality of the education programs will probably not result in the social benefits hoped for. In sectors where there is poverty this often means frustrating the dreams of thousands of families of seeing their children grow up with a real chance of development.
This problem is what four years ago spurred companies in the BBVA Group in Chile to create the program Niños Adelante (Forward, children), in partnership with the Fundación Hogar de Cristo. The program is an innovative initiative that aims to ensure the quality of pre-school education in the poorest areas of the country.
During this time, as one of the coordinators of this program, I have had the chance to experience the progress made by Niños Adelante in kindergartens and day nurseries: appropriate physical environments; furniture and materials that are suitable to needs and cultural resources; and educators who are instructed by technical teams that move around the country providing advice and continuous assessment on the work in each educational centre. The results in terms of coverage and social integration have also been successful: more than 10,000 children benefiting throughout the country; 1,000 educators trained in new methodologies; and a community of 25,000 people involved, including children, parents and educators.
But what has really made the difference? A working program with families in which parents participate in their children’s educational process.
From the start, we have tried to involve parents in Niños Adelante and provide them with information so that they could have an idea about the most relevant subjects in the program; we consulted families and took their opinions into account; and with advice from Unicef we created a basket of educational materials that enabled parents to help in their children’s educational process at home.
But we felt that we had to formalize the relationship with the families and make it even closer. As a result, together with experts from Hogar De Cristo and Unicef, we decided to take a further step in this direction with two actions: the development of a policy of work with the families; and the implementation in each educational centre where the Niños Adelante program is taught of a ludoteca (children’s library) that operates as a centre for lending educational and didactic materials aimed at boosting the parents’ collaborative work. In some kindergartens a parent was also designated as responsible for the operation of the library.
We expect these libraries will be in operation across the country by the end of 2010 and that the work with the families will be in place in 2011. This will involve new activities designed to ensure the full integration of parents in the children’s educational process, such as continuous training workshops, visits to homes and the exploration of learning communities.
The participation of companies in the BBVA Chile Group (Banco BBVA Chile, AFP Provida and Forum Servicios Financieros) in this project is part of its Social Action Plan focused on fostering education, as the BBVA considers this to be one of the most valuable tools for ensuring the development and progress in societies.