Sustainability is a term that is predominantly used in development work for the past thirty years. The initial realization of providing adequate food, proper housing, and safe water was discussed in a meeting among industrialized and developing nations. Recognizing the need to revitalize the connection between humanity and nature led to the onset of UN global institutions (UN, 2011). For twenty years, the symbiotic relationship between nature – the resources it provides and humanity was magnified by the escalating problems on poverty. Thus, the need to take care of the environment to achieve sustainability was finally conceptualized during the first UN Convention on Environment and Development in 1992.
The idea of sustainability has rippled through the early childhood education sectors in the Sub-Saharan region when the Early
Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU) was established in collaboration with The University of Victoria in Canada. The conception of this project was borne out from the concept of “brain drain” when many scholars who go to universities in industrialized nations do not come back to serve their community after finishing their degree. Reversing the concept to “brain-gain” to build the capacity to meet the needs of early childhood leadership and development in Africa, a comprehensive method of educating nominated individuals who would work with development initiatives in their local areas was created. Choosing participants is part of an inter-committee on early childhood development screening of participants interested in the identified early childhood goals of a country. The program employs innovative approaches to learning. It includes face-to-face and distance learning methods including two to three-week seminars; web-based learning; video-conferencing; a “community of learners” strategy within cohort countries. As the UN (2011) indicates,
“a key feature of the program is that the students continue to live and work in their own country while they study. The cohort will be able to apply what they are learning directly to their daily work; this will benefit the work of their employer and will contribute to ECD capacity development within and across participating countries.”
Contextualizing the concepts by investigating and applying them in their local communities requires research studies to understand local contexts and explore ways to promote early childhood development. One of these research was conducted in Malawi. Based on previous finding so of research and conducting his own as well, Day (2004) reported on “A Community-driven Rural Early Childhood Development (ECD) Project, with Emphasis on Culturally and Developmentally Appropriate Exploratory Learning Concepts”. This project explored ways on how to improve learning in poor communities when a large percentage of the population drop-out of school. Exploring the many aspects of learning by employing strategies such as using local resources co-constructed by families and other community members, the importance of using the environment to explore concepts and co-construct knowledge with the children, as well as inclusion of the parents in the training on how to engage their children. These were corroborated by surveys to gain a better understanding of the present predicament to bring about a change to achieve sustainable early childhood development in the local community. Through this project, the community was engaged in deciding what they want for their children; teacher training was conducted through modelling, observations, and reflective practice; learning kits composed of local materials were constructed; and an early childhood development shelter was constructed to promote experiential approach to learning.
Many projects that were completed through a combination of studies through experimental work and research include “Involving Fathers in Early Childhood Care and Development” in Nigeria, “Professional Associations in Support of Child Well-Being in Uganda: Establishment of ECD Newsletter Series’” in Uganda and “Assessing the Influence of Different Early Childhood Development Models On Pre-School Children’s School Readiness in Kenya” among many others. These studies were completed through the funding support of different organizations. The World Bank, Unicef, CIDA, the Norwegian Educational Trust Fund, and Bernard Van Leer Foundation are just some of the organizations who have supported the ECDVU program.
The news and publications section of the website provides more details and stories of the ECDVU journey. Going through every topic of studies conducted in the Sub-Saharan Africa gives a picture of hope that development can be sustained through comprehensive research studies to identify and analyze issues and present viable solutions.
Early Childhood Development Virtual University. (2005). About ECDVU in Sub-Saharan Africa. Retrieved from http://www.ecdvu.org/ssa/about.php
United Nations. (2011). The History of Sustainable Development in the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.uncsd2012.org/history.html