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African countries urged to support development of young children

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Africa's children need more investment in their early years care and education, said experts (Theirworld / Nataliaji Dovanu)

Child nutrition (Early years), Childcare, Early childhood development, ​Learning through play (Early years), Safe pregnancy and birth

A call for increased investment came as experts from 40 countries gathered at an early childhood conference in Tanzania.


Experts in early years care have urged African governments to increase their support for the youngest children in their societies.

They said leaders should “make serious intervention in early childhood development” at a three-day international conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Researchers, educationalists and policy-makers from 40 countries came together to discuss ECD in Africa at the conference organised by the Aga Khan Foundation In partnership with the Hilton Foundation.

They warned that only by offering proper commitment for ECD can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals target of access to early childhood development, care and pre-primary education for every child by 2030.

Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign has been calling for world leaders to invest in early childhood development – and to spend 10% of their education budgets on pre-primary education.

90% of a child’s brain is developed by the time a child is five years old. By nurturing the needs of young children – including proper care, nutrition, stimulation and protection – governments are investing in the future economic progress of their own countries.

After the conference, we caught up this week with Stella Ndugire–Mbugua, Early Childhood Development Coordinator with the Aga Ahan Development Network, in Nairobi, Kenya.

She said: “The ultimate vision of the conference was to create awareness, share evidence and convince all relevant parties to commit to necessary action on behalf of children.

“For the first time in the history of the global development tradition, early child development is part of the UN’s global development goals. 

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“Thus investment in early childhood is recognised as an important part of a transformative global agenda. We must certainly celebrate the historic inclusion of ECD in the Sustainable Development Goals framework.

“For us today, the need is clear. In developing countries, where 92% of the world’s children live, one in 20 children do not survive beyond the first five years.” 

More than 250 million children around the world do not reach their developmental potential due to poverty, malnutrition and deprivation in their earliest years, according to the Aga Kahn Foundation.

“These statistics must cause us to collaboratively confront the challenge with a sense of urgency,” Ndugire–Mbugua explained. 

We’re learning and making collective strides for young children and conferences like this really bolster the movement. Lisa Bohmer, Senior Program Officer, International Programs, Hilton Foundation

“It is time now for governments, civil society, businesses, communities and individuals to come together to ensure that early childhood development programmes are backed by sound research and adequately funded to give each child a fair chance at healthy growth and development.”

Professor Kofi Marfo, Foundation director of the Agan Khan University Institute for Human Development, told the conference: “What will disappoint me the most is if what is done won’t change anything in the country.

“But I don’t have to worry about it because everything I have seen here I know is going to make an impact.

“The best ways that can help the accomplishments of the effects is for professionals in education, health, nutrition and childcare to take what has been discussed during the conference to society in which they live so that they can achieve the envisaged goals.”

Lisa Bohmer, Senior Program Officer, International Programs with Hilton Foundation, said: “We will continue to support field testing of scaleable approaches to integrate responsive parenting with health and nutrition services with emphasis on the first 1000 days and strong collaboration with governments.”

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“Several of our partners presented their work in this space in Tanzania and we appreciate the strides the field is making to embrace parenting support for the youngest children and multi-sectoral action from the health, social welfare and education sectors.”

Bohmer praised the Dar el Salaam conference for bringing experts together to put ECD high on the world stage.

She said: “Conferences like this are important to bring together practitioners, researchers, advocates and donors and for a regional leader – in this case Aga Khan University – to host the effort.  

“We’re learning and making collective strides for young children and conferences like this really bolster the movement and provide opportunities for us to update one another and get onto the same page. 

“A major opportunity that surfaced relates to the nurturing care framework and the efforts that the World Health is making, together with UNICEF and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, to develop guidance and tools for countries.”



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