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Chapter 38
Early Childhood Education and Development
in Latin America
Rebeca Mejía-Arauz and Gloria Quiñones
Abstract This section presents the state of the art of early childhood education and
development through history and to date in several countries in Latin America.
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru give us an idea of the specifics as well as their shared problems and developments regarding how they provide
attention, care, and education to their young children. The authors of the different
countries and chapters that follow, offer historical accounts on how early childhood
has been framed, how social and educational policies have developed, and the challenges they still address and face. They also discuss main research in this area and
the research that is still needed.
Keywords Latinamerica • Brazil • Colombia • Guatemala • Mexico • Peru • Early
child development
38.1 H
istorical Accounts of Early Childhood in Latin
America and Brazil
In this section we provide a comparative view of the state of early childhood in
several countries of Latin America and Brazil, distinguishing the specifics as well as
the shared situations of these countries.
It is considered that the recognition of infancy as a social group started in the
XVIII century, but the idea of childhood as a social construct with its vulnerability
and need for care was more thoroughly developed in the twentieth century (Marre
2014). From the beginning of the 1900s, throughout the whole century, different
countries in the world organized conferences and meetings that led to movements
R. Mejía-Arauz (*)
Department of Psychology, Education and Health, ITESO University, Guadalajara, Mexico
e-mail: rebmejia@iteso.mx
G. Quiñones
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
e-mail: gloria.quinones@monash.edu
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018
M. Fleer, B. van Oers (eds.), International Handbook of Early Childhood
Education, Springer International Handbooks of Education,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-024-0927-7_38
789
790
R. Mejía-Arauz and G. Quiñones
for the protection and consideration of children’s rights. The well-being of children
was discussed in terms of health, nutrition, protection, institutionalization, and
eventually children’s rights. In Latin America perhaps the first conference on this
topic started in 1916 in Argentina with the participation of several Latin countries,
which continued with some periodicity until 2009 (Marre 2014).
In the case of Latin American countries, although it is important to consider that
they each have very particular and in many ways different socioeconomic and political histories, they also share some common problems regarding attention to early
childhood. On the other hand, despite all the impressive theoretical contributions of
some of the most important scientist in the world with regard to children’s and
human development, such as Piaget, Vygotsky, and Freud, to name a few, and the
sociopolitical movements in the twentieth century in favor of childhood development, it seems that there is still a lot to do for the children in the world, particularly
in Latin America.
In the chapters that follow, we find some commonalities that are important to
consider, which will give us a better understanding of the current conditions of early
childhood education and development, its struggles, and further research and practical needs. There are also very specific contributions in each chapter that emphasize
those aspects that are of particular concern in each country.
38.2 E
ducation for Young Children: A Focus on Intellectual
Abilities
In the following chapters, the countries that we include in this section being Brazil,
Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, México, and Perú report that their main focus of interest in childhood is through providing formal education and institutional childcare.
Most of them point out how recent is the provision of childcare centers and the
establishment of social policies regarding early childhood care and attention; some
of these countries indicate that it was well advanced the second half of the twentieth
century when social policies and public actions took place to provide childcare services for children younger than 6 years of age and that before it was formal education only that had been provided for children entering primary or elementary
schools. Preschool education in several of these countries was more a privilege for
few given that this level of education was provided by private centers.
It is a common factor among the countries presented here that the need for childcare centers increased as higher proportions of women than in previous times
entered the labor force. With such an increase, childcare centers also increased in
numbers; however, most of the countries included here report that there is a low
expenditure for the provision of better services, with a need of better training for
employees in charge of children and need of better material conditions. However,
although social and educational policies regarding early childhood in these countries seem to be strong and appropriate in terms of worldwide advances, ideas on
38 Early Childhood Education and Development in Latin America
791
paper do not seem to translate into consistent actions that in turn show real benefit
for the development of children. As several of the chapters discussed, quality of
services and better training of personnel are common problems to face and
overcome.
In other words, in the region there are still some aspects that need to be improved
or addressed according to the 2010 Latin American regional report for UNESCO
(2010) and WCECCE, such as inequity in the access to services and programs for
children, there is lack of quality in the services and poor qualifications of those who
take care of children, few services for children less than 3 years old, and deficiencies
in following up the extent to which children’s rights are exercised.
In most of the countries reported in this section, the main focus of the attention
provided for children has been formal education. Schooling in these countries is not
much different than in other Western countries in terms of age segregation and an
emphasis on intellectual or cognitive domains as the main focus of education. At the
level of preschool and earlier care, there are some attempts to cover other areas such
as social and emotional; however the authors of these chapters conclude that there
is still a lot to work in the area of socio-emotional development in public programs
for early childhood.
At the level of policies and design of programs, the main focus of early childhood education in these countries follows a perspective of integral development of
children. However, it seems that in practice, the main emphasis in educational programs still is on those intellectual or cognitive aspects connected with school
performance.
Why is Latin America focusing on children’s cognitive and intellectual capacity?
Campos Velez et al. (2014) explain how interventions made in Latin America focus
on cognitive abilities as these will equip and allow children to have success in their
future work life. However, in the case of Brazil, Branco et al. (in this section) advocate how early childhood programs need to foster not only intellectual capacities in
children but socio-affective and moral development too. In order to improve societies, research also needs to focus on children’s moral and social development.
We—as scientists in charge of investigating the issue and of contributing with
significant knowledge for the improvement of our societies—must bring to light
empirical and theoretical evidence on the role of educational contexts to provide for
moral and social development (Branco 2016, cited in Branco 2009).
Branco et al.’s explanation of how important is for researchers to investigate
beyond children’s intellectual capacities to include as well as how to nurture children’ social and affective development as an important component to improving
societies applies to all our countries in this region.
In a different line also shared in the countries of this region, there seem to be
important gaps in the living conditions that could promote a healthy development in
families of low and higher SE; therefore it is important to continue recognizing this
problem in order to orient more efficient ways to insure that children in hard living
conditions could have the services that help providing better developmental
conditions.
792
R. Mejía-Arauz and G. Quiñones
38.3 Future Research in Latin America and Brazil
Research challenges are many for all these countries. While the relevance of better
conditions for children’s development is equally important all over the world, the
development of children in itself could no longer be considered universal; there are
very important aspects of cultural diversity even within countries and regions that
need to be taken into account in guiding social policies and programs for care and
education and for promoting better life conditions for children’s development. Thus,
much research is needed on how diversity in values, social practices, and socioeconomic and geographical conditions influence the development of children. In doing
so it is also important to consider contemporary trends in life, such as the current
stressful conditions in the organization of everyday practices in the family which
makes it no longer a stable entity, or the particular ways in which urban and rural
contexts place high demands on the family and on children, the violent conditions
of many of our countries in this region, and the value of the economic demands
above the emotional and social stability. All of this added to the importance of recognizing that more and more, some contexts become multicultural, and this also
needs to be taken into account for better care and education for our children.
An important note to make is that authors in these chapters rarely mention play
as something that takes part and should be considered in studying children’s learning and development, contrasting with Western countries in which play is considered an important developmental task. The only country that acknowledges play as
relevant in a research agenda is Mexico and still there is a lack of it in the curricula
and childcare programs of institutions in this country. Play seems to be a natural
expression and manifestation of children’s lives that should be taken into account as
part of pedagogical activities. This is an area that could be researched more extensively recognizing the importance of play in children’s well-being and
development.
International comparative research also should be encouraged. This could provide rich knowledge in all areas of early childhood development. It is interesting to
note that while in Colombia there is clear preoccupation for children’s development
in the context of war, guerrilla, and forced displacement, other countries in Latin
America that have severe security issues due to the narco-conflict do not report the
relevance of conducting research of children’s development under these circumstances. Lack of a secure context for development must be a preoccupation of all
countries in terms of policies and developing real actions to solve this problem.
References
Branco, A. U. (2009). Cultural practices, social values, and childhood education. In M. Fleer, M.
Hedegaard, & J. Tudge (Eds.), World Yearbook of Education 2009 – Childhood studies and the
impact of globalization: Policies and practices at global and local levels (pp. 44–66). London:
Routledge.
38 Early Childhood Education and Development in Latin America
793
Campos-Vázquez, R., Domínguez Flores, C., & Vélez Grajales, R. (2014). Movilidad social e
intervenciones sociales [Social Movility and social interventions]. In L. Santibañez Martínez &
D. E. Calderón, Los Invisibles –las niñas y los niños de 0 a 6 años- [The Invisibles – the boys
and girls of 0 to 6 years] (pp 47–58). México. Retrieved from http://www.educacionfutura.org/
wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Los-Invisibles_estado-de-la-educacion-en-mexico_2014.pdf
Marre, D. (2014). De infancias, niños y niñas [About childhoods, boys and girls]. In V. Llobet
(Ed.), Pensar la infancia desde América Latina [Thinking infancy from Latin America]. Buenos
Aires: CLACSO.
UNESCO. (2010). Atención y Educación de la Primera Infancia. Informe Regional. America
Latina y El Caribe. UNESCO/WCECCE.
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