Early years care is high on the agenda for countries at World Bank meetings

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Proper nutrition is vital for children under five (UNICEF / Ferguson)

Child nutrition (Early years), Early childhood development, ​Learning through play (Early years), Sustainable Development Goals

Early childhood development and the reasons why countries should invest in the under-fives will be in the spotlight during this week's Spring Meetings in Washington.

They’re called the Spring Meetings. An annual gathering in Washington, DC, of finance ministers, government officials, civil society, academics and businesses.

Hosted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, they focus on the big global issues. The economy, international development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

This year early childhood development (ECD) will feature prominently too. That’s great news because Theirworld has been campaigning for world leaders to invest in early years care.

Here’s a quick guide to why that’s important and what’s happening at this week’s Spring Meetings.

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Children facing a tough start in Bangladesh play at an ECD centre (UNHCR)

What is early childhood development?

Helping children’s development from birth to age five – it includes programmes and services that support nurturing care including health, nutrition, play, learning and protection.

By the time a child reaches five years old, 90% of their brain has already developed. That’s why it is vital for countries to invest in the early years if children are to fulfil their potential.

Every dollar invested in preschool education has been shown to return up to $7 – and investments in nutrition programmes more than double this.

In the long run, support for ECD improves child development outcomes and school readiness, laying the foundations for a more skilled, equal and empowered workforce.

Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign is all about taking small actions, which could have a big impact.

When are the Spring Meetings?

Officially, they are from April 21-23 – but there are plenty of side events, starting with a civil society forum today. 

There are also seminars, regional meetings and press conferences throughout the week.

What does the World Bank say about ECD?

At last year’s Spring Meetings, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told an ECD event that early years care was “both morally right and economically smart”.

He added: “Depending on the path we choose, the journey to a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential can be long and arduous. 

“But the path has shortcuts. One is supporting early childhood development. So join us in this movement. It’s what every girl and boy born today deserves.”

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With a little help children can reach their full potential (Leo-Rivas Micoud)

Investing in the Early Years event

Investment in young children not only change their lives – it can alter the development of a country and help to make it more competitive.

The Partners’ Roundtable on Investing in the Early Years event in Washington tomorrow will bring together leaders from global agencies, civil society organisations, foundations and the private sector.

It will feature Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Chief Executive Anthony Lake and Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

Why Businesses Should Engage Early event

The Global Business Coalition for Education hosts an annual breakfast event during the Spring Meetings. This year’s, on April 20, is titled ECD Roundtable – Why Businesses Should Engage Early.

It aims to highlight the leading role of the private sector in building effective partnerships, developing innovative solutions and mobilising resources and financing to deliver quality and comprehensive ECD programmes and services.

The event will be hosted by Sarah Brown, executive Chair of GBC-Education and President of Theirworld.

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Preschool children in Ecuador receive lunch (UNHCR)

Spotlight on Nutrition event

More than 150 million children worldwide haven’t grown properly because of lack of proper nutrition.

Young children who receive good nutrition will do better at school and increase their future wages by up to 50%.

This event – full title Spotlight on Nutrition: Unlocking Human Potential and Growth – is on April 22 and features Jim Yong Kim, British International Development Secretary Priti Patel and Nigeria’s Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun.

What is the message for the 2017 Spring Meetings?

Invest in quality care for young children and your country will reap the rewards.

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Yale School of Public Health Professor, said a few days ago: “The social cost of inaction is enormous. 

“The key message to decision-makers is, if you are really serious about your country attaining the Sustainable Development Goals . . . early childhood development should be the foundation of your effort.”

He went further and said it was essential to invest much more in the first three years of a child’s life, when the brain is forming at an incredible speed.

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