Early Childhood and Education
The Open Society Foundations believe all children should have the developmental support they need, and the fullest possible educational opportunities.
2020 Early Childhood and Education Budget by Region
Our support for early childhood and education is grounded in a commitment to social justice and human rights. We focus on supporting children and parents who face profound disruption, or systemic discrimination—including refugees and migrants, children with disabilities and developmental delays, and those from the Roma community.
Our early childhood work takes a broad developmental approach, backing the provision of services such as parenting support, as well as mother and baby well-being initiatives. We also invest in building networks and institutions to share best practices and new models for early childhood development at a global, regional, and country level.
We continue to promote child-centered high-quality schooling and teacher training, while seeking to strengthen good governance and accountability across educational institutions and systems.
In Liberia, the Early Childhood Program supports Big Belly, an NGO that promotes good nutrition and health care during pregnancy, while our Healthy Start for Roma initiative seeks to reduce infant mortality rates in Central and Eastern Europe that are twice as high as for non-Roma populations. In Zimbabwe, we are supporting a local NGO that is creating a local model for Reach Up!, a global training approach for home visitors aimed at supporting new parents, and improving the health and well-being of children up to two years old.
Our early childhood work dates from 1993, when George Soros launched a $100 million initiative to respond to the rapid collapse of state-run preschool systems in 15 former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This led to the creation of the Step by Step early childhood curriculum and training program, now advanced by an independent association whose members include over 80 educational groups and active in over 40 countries.
Around the world, our Education Support Program, together with the Human Rights Initiative and the Open Society Justice Initiative, support efforts to promote inclusive education. These efforts include ensuring that children with disabilities are included in mainstream classes whenever possible, and changing the view that they should be placed in separate schools. In Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, we fund groups that provide legal advice to Roma parents who want to ensure that their children are not shunted into schools that offer a segregated and inferior education.
We believe that early childhood learning should be given the same level of professional training and attention as other parts of a child’s education, and fund training and development schemes for early childhood teachers around the world. In Pakistan, we took a leading role in the creation of a national center of excellence for early childhood care and education—working closely with the Ministry of Education in Islamabad.
How Civil Society Can Best Support Inclusive Education
Throughout Central Asia and Eastern Europe, parents of children with disabilities are struggling against bureaucracy, ignorance, and neglect. To fix this, civil society must build more spaces for advocacy and collaboration.
A Brighter Future for Refugee Kids, Through Learning and Laughter
Syrian refugee children—now living in uncertain conditions in multiple countries—are in dire need of both educational and psychological support. A new and unique partnership is trying to help.
Helping Teachers Create More Inclusive Classrooms
Although the inclusive education movement has more supporters than ever, turning theory into practice can be the hardest part. A new initiative seeks to help teachers by giving them practical advice.