World leaders urged to invest in early childhood development for lifelong results

Early childhood development

If you want children to succeed at school, you don’t just need good facilities and great teachers. You need to start them learning at an early age – a VERY early age.

Early childhood development (ECD) – starting from birth – can have a huge impact on a child’s subsequent education, health and even their earnings as an adult.

It’s key because science shows that positive early stimulation can have a profound effect on brain development. Nutrition is also vital because poorly nourished children are less likely to do well in school.

That’s why World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake called on world leaders this week to act quickly and invest wisely in ECD and nutrition programmes to reach children before primary school age.

It’s why the Hilton Foundation continued to show leadership on ECD by highlighting a $50 million early learning initiative in eastern and southern Africa.

And it’s why the children’s charity Theirworld is focusing on universal access to quality ECD programmes to ensure that all children have a healthy and equitable start in life in order to reach their fullest potential.

The announcements by the World Bank, UNICEF and the Hilton Foundation were made at an ECD event during the bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington, DC.

Mr Kim also warned of the problem of stunted growth that affects one in four children under the age of five.

He said: “The time has come to treat childhood stunting as a development and an economic emergency. How will countries compete in what will certainly be a more digitalised global economy in the future if a third or more of their children are stunted?

“Our failure to make the right investments in early childhood development is condemning millions of children to lives of exclusion.”

He told the event the world “needs a Paris moment” for ECD – referring to the Climate Change Conference in France last year.

Globally, millions of children under the age of five are at risk of never reaching their full developmental potential.

Nearly half of children aged three to six don’t have access to pre-primary education – and in Sub-Saharan Africa, 80% are not enrolled in pre-primary programmes.

Mr Lake said: “What we are learning about all the elements that affect the development of children’s brains – whether their bodies are well nourished, whether their minds are stimulated, whether they are protected from violence – is already changing the way we think about early childhood development. Now it must change the way we act.”

The new alliance will see World Bank Group and UNICEF inviting governments, development partners, civil society, foundations and the private sector to make ECD a global and national development priority.

They want to support country-led efforts to invest in nutrition, early stimulation and learning, and protection, and engage with communities to drive demand for high-quality ECD services for every child.

The Washington event saw a video message from tennis star Novak Djokovic, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for ECD.

He said: “Millions of children around the world are at a disadvantage from the outset… They will never reach their full potential.

“Investing in early childhood development is one of the smartest investments a country can make. With the right start every child can achieve their full potential.”

Hilton Foundation President Peter Laugharn also highlighted the $50 million African investment in ECD at a an event on investing in children’s futures held by the Global Business Coalition for Education. On the role of the private sector, he said: “We can be helpful with the experimental, the things that governments are hesitant to provide. We welcome partnerships with business and welcome their particular skills.”

Whereas the education target of the Millennium Development Goals concentrated solely on getting every child into primary school, the new Sustainable Devlopment Goals for 2030 include ECD and early years education.

Theirworld, the charity behind A World at School, is working to raise awareness about importance of ECD and encouraging increased investment.

Theirworld President Sarah Brown said in January: “2016 will be a big year for ECD and there are many experts waiting to give their voices to support the case. Investing in a tiny person is the way to get big dividends from our future citizens. Watch this space.”

Early childhood is a critical period in a child’s life. Gaps in development during this time can have a life-long detriment on agirl or boy’s physical and mental health, behaviour, learning and success.

In terms of getting ready for school, early learning initiatives such as pre-primary education programmes increase a child’s school readiness and primary school achievement. They also decrease the likelihood that a child will repeat a grade or drop out.

Early learning programmes prepare girls and boys for academic success in primary school and beyond.

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