Over the past 50 years, The Bernard van Leer Foundation has invested over half a billion dollars to benefit early childhood development around the world. Through partnerships, the Foundation has played a pivotal role in influencing public policy, providing both financial support and expertise. Recently, Bernard van Leer commissioned journalists to write a series of six case studies discussing the organisation’s impact. Each article focuses on a country where the Foundation was once active, but no longer has a strong presence in, highlighting the work of funded partner organisations.
The buried seed: How Nicaragua came to have one of the most progressive early childhood learning policies on the planet by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky is among the articles in this series. Working in Nicaragua, the Bernard van Leer Foundation helped establish six preschools, as well as a community educational model to reframe the traditional way of thinking about educators. This article highlights the impact of the Foundation, as well as the government, towards creating progressive Nicaraguan learning policies.
As a foreword, the Bernard van Leer Foundation says, ‘The period in which we worked in Nicaragua – from 1981 to 2008 – spanned two political upheavals coinciding with major shifts the country’s approach to public policy. Throughout this time we tried to build local organisations’ capacity to provide preschool services and conduct advocacy in early childhood.’
The article highlights Los Cumiches, a preschool in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua that identifies as ‘a participatory space where children can grow and share experiences’. First established in 1922 by the Centre for Grassroots Communication and Education (CANTERA) with financial help from the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Nicaraguan government assumed responsibility of educational facilities such as Los Cumiches in 2008, following the election of President Daniel Ortega. ‘The government considers early childhood education as vital and necessary, and the state is now responsible for programmes and services,’ reports Friedman-Rudovsky.
Luz Danelia Talavera, Director of Pre-school Education during the 1980s, points out that the Bernard van Leer Foundation deserves recognition for ‘planting the seed’ of this educational reform. Friedman-Rudovsky comments, ‘They initiated a practical, equitable and just model for early childhood education; a model that is based in the community, and does not feel institutionalised.’
‘The community education model operated on the principle that anyone with a love for children could be a gifted educator, through basic training and workshops. This community education model was central to Bernard van Leer policy and practice, and the Foundation was crucial in the development of a training curriculum and strategy for youth service …,’ reports Friedman-Rudovsky.
On top of identifying the positive aspects of the educational system in Nicaragua, this article concludes with current issues and concerns from educators today. ‘Community educators are still not valued as much as they should be. Even after more than 30 years of community education throughout the country, the women who lead this model are still seen as second class educators—despite many of them now having the exact same level of training as formal teachers.’ Additionally, in transferring the responsibility of education to the government, Friedman-Rudovsky highlights that there are current problems with accessibility: ‘There is a wide gap between the number of kids needing to be covered and those who have access to preschool.’
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