To the point - Strive for the best

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A recent international study found that UK pre-school provision is among the best in the world (Starting Well, The Economist Intelligence Unit 2012), says Nancy Stewart

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Judged on quality, availability, affordability and social context, the UK ranked fourth out of 45 countries, behind only Finland, Sweden and Norway.

That may be hard to credit, given the frequent complaints and concerns about UK provision on all those measures. The current economic squeeze brings debate about how to stretch short resources, as centres face closure while vulnerable families are hit hardest by economic policies.

We are always quick to point to examples abroad where things are better they are here - and so we should. There is much to be learned from the best elsewhere.

But this is a good time to recognise that early years in the UK is in a strong position, and we have much to celebrate.

Last year, I visited poverty-stricken, war-torn Liberia, where more than 80 per cent of the population is unemployed and illiterate, and life expectancy is short. I was taken to the new flagship children's centre opened by a government that is convinced that this investment can bring hope for the future.

It broke my heart to see 30 children aged three to five crowded into three small rooms, sitting at tables with no materials available to them, doing rote learning and identical handprints. The outdoor area was bare dirt with two items of fixed equipment. And parents were clamouring to get a place there, where their children were clean and fed.

On return to the UK I wondered why I devoted so much care and energy to the quality of what we do in the UK. What luxury our children experience already. I think the answer is that it's each person's responsibility to strive for the best in our own context. As a nation we can and do serve as a centre of excellence to inspire and support others.

So keep working to improve, while applauding where we stand now.

Nancy Stewart is an associate of Early Education.

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