As we emerge from the lockdown, nurseries across the UAE eagerly await the announcement as to how and when we will open our doors. The past few months have been a time to reflect for many of us and I am no exception to this. I could not help but think back to what prompted me to get into the area of early years education when I was still a teenager. Having spent a considerable amount of time in Africa during my teenage years, I felt honoured to have witnessed the benefits of an early childhood education on the lives of so many children who were disadvantaged by poverty.
Whether it is literacy, numeracy, cognitive development, socio-emotional development, or motor skills, the early years is critical for a child’s developmental needs. Research has also shown that interventions during early childhood can act as a protective factor against the future onset of adult disease and disability. Preschool-aged children experience profound biological brain development and achieve 90 per cent of their adult brain volume by age 6.
However, all this means very little in light of any risk to the life of a child. As an educator, I cannot knowingly take a risk of opening our nursery settings to full capacity if there is even the slightest risk that COVID-19 could turn its ugly head towards the early years. In the UAE, we are in a beneficial position to watch the experiences of the rest of the world before the government and the sector arrives at a well-informed decision. Last week, as schools in England, welcomed back children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, TES reported feedback from school and nursery leaders that were telling on how next year may look like: new arrangements during pickup and drop off times, additional support for children as they get used to this new environment, and celebration of the return that was both measured yet profound. All this while continuous risk assessments were taking place internally and externally at nursery settings. Similarly, there was hope as Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand opened schools. Denmark’s opening had, fortunately, no impact on the progress of the epidemic and there was no increase in infections observed in Austria as kindergartens opened there.
As the case for the opening of nurseries gets stronger by the day, I urge all of us to prioritize just one consideration: the wellbeing of our children. Every Early Years’ Educator that I know of entered our world for the love of children. As tough as these times are for nurseries, we need to do what we can to put the children before our finances. Nurseries will open sooner or later but we must keep faith in the forward-thinking government of the UAE to do what is right for the children.