Over 800 early childhood professionals from more than 80 nations converged on San Juan, Puerto Rico, two weeks ago. The 2014 World Forum on Early Care and Education is held to share ideas on how to care for and educate the children of the world and to gain new perspectives on the work of early childhood professionals. Some of the topics addressed throughout the World Forum included connecting children with nature, HIV/AIDS and young children, immigration and young children, and preserving indigenous culture.
ICRI’s Executive Director, Ken Jaffe, attended the World Forum, as did several of ICRI’s international staff including Maggie Kamau-Biruri, Leonard Chumo Falex, and Dhirendra Lamsal and Mukunda Kshetri (who both spoke on various panels to show their breakthrough work with orphaned children), as well as new ICRI board members Leslie Falconer and Ellen Hall. Ken has been involved in the leadership of the World Forum since it’s inception and has attended all the World Forums since the first one in Hawaii 15 years ago. He has watched the World Forum grow from a small conference to one now hosting hundreds of people from all over the world. But the nature of the World Forum conference is that it’s really an “unconference” in that:
- There are no papers presented, but rather the voices of those who least frequently speak are sought out and given an international forum. People from more often represented countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom, take a less prominent role in favor of ensuring that panels are populated by people from less often represented areas, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia.
- Each speaker is asked to share the deeper details and issues of how they’ve been able to accomplish their goals, and while research reports are presented to give an eye as to how continuing change can be made for children around the world, most presentations feature the individual’s own studies that express their findings in a practical way to the field of early childhood.
- There is great value placed on connection. As important as the hundreds of various sessions are, the deep level in which people from all around the world can connect is what separates this conference from others. Breaks between seminars are longer than usual in order to encourage communication between parties, and the lunches and no-host dinners organized by the conference encourage people to connect.
Many new partnerships are formed; perhaps two groups that have long admired each other’s work can finally connect and start working on a project together. At ICRI we have begun to develop new potential partnerships which may include the design of state of the art buildings for children in Montenegro, new collaborations with Zambia, and the cementing and expansion of our work in Nepal, Ghana, and Kenya. The joy of the World Forum is that it encourages spontaneity and silliness, and makes it easy to connect with other early childhood professionals. We hope that in the years to come the World Forum continues to grow and bring together the community of those working to improve the care and education of children around the world.