Plan to help Africa flourish ‘must include support for children under five’

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A newborn baby smiles up at her mother near the city of Benti, South Sudan (UNICEF / Everett)

Child nutrition (Early years), Childcare, Early childhood development, Global Youth Ambassadors, ​Learning through play (Early years)

Theirworld Global Youth Ambassadors from African countries have asked Germany to ensure early childhood development is included in its proposed blueprint, which is a focus of its G20 presidency.

An ambitious plan has been drawn up to help millions of young people in Africa have a successful future.

One of its main targets is to ensure they get the quality education and training they need to help their countries and the continent to flourish.

But the Marshall Plan With Africa – devised by Germany – makes no mention of investing to support the development of children under the age of five.

Theirworld has been campaigning to highlight the need for world leaders to invest in early childhood development.

The early years are vital because 90% of the brain’s development happens before the age of five. It means the journey from birth to school is one of the most important of a child’s life.

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors – our network of young people advocating for education change – have written on the subject to Germany’s development minister Gerd Muller.

“This plan is a significant step forward for sustainable development in Africa and expanded fruitful collaboration between Africa and Europe,” says the letter from 13 of our GYAs in Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Senegal and Zambia.

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Lona Alfren holds her one-year-old son Emmanuel John in Juba, South Sudan (UNICEF / Gonzalez Farran)

“However, we are concerned that the plan is missing any reference to investment in early years support. 

“There is now so much scientific and economic evidence behind investment in early years that it is remiss for any important report to ignore the 0-5 age group.”

The GYAs urge Germany to revise the plan, adding: “We contend that including a call for greater investments in early childhood offers the best opportunity to close the skills gap for children from poor or marginalised backgrounds and give them the chance to reach their full potential.”

They say that, despite the proven benefits, investment in early childhood development remains dismally low. 

In 2015 less than 1% of official development assistance for education went to early learning.

“This gross underfunding and under-prioritisation of early childhood programmes has resulted in nearly 250 million children in low and middle-income countries being at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential, with the highest prevalence of children at risk in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says the letter.

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A young girl starts school in Guinea (UNICEF / Matine Perret )

The GYAs recommend that governments across Africa invest in the following:

  • Ensure two years of free pre-primary education for all children
  • Allocate 10% of domestic health and education budgets to programmes and services for children up to five – in sub-Saharan Africa, an average of just 0.3% of education budgets is spent on pre-primary education
  • Ensure equal access to quality health and education services for all children, tackling inequality through prioritising the needs of poor and marginalised children

They have had no response so far from the German government, which is hosting the G20 meeting of world leaders in July. 

Muller has said a “new level” of equal cooperation between Africa and western countries is needed in areas such as education, trade, business development and energy.

“Germany and Europe have an interest to save people’s lives, to limit the effects of climate change and avoid ‘climate refugees,’ to prevent mass migration and to help create a future for Africa’s youth,” he said.

In 2017, Germany and the European Union are turning the spotlight on Africa. Germany is making the continent a focus of its presidency of the G20 and the EU is working on a new Africa strategy.

The Marshall Plan with Africa is named after the original Marshall Plan when the United States gave aid to help western European countries rebuild their economies after the Second World War.

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