Early Childhood Development (ECD) is an integrated approach that encompasses policies and programmes that target specifically children from birth to eight years old along with their partners and caregivers.
By Tariq Al Gurg
The ECD has received tremendous global attention in the last two decades especially after the Unesco-led Education for All movement that was launched in year 2000 in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where the first out of the six universally agreed goals was on “Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children”.
The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also greatly emphasise the overall well-being of children with two of the targets (2.2 & 4.2) directly related to child development.
The vast body of research has shown that half of a child’s intellectual potential is developed between a child’s birth till about the age of five years. Therefore this stage is crucial for the development of a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional and physical capacities.
Furthermore, the brain of a child is constructed through a continuous process that starts from pre-birth and continuous into adulthood. As such, the environment that surrounds the child is key to his/her brain growth and development which requires quality support, stimulation, and nurture offered through good nutrition, health, education, continuous love, care and encouragement.
Some of the more recent figures published by Unicef and the Consultative Group for Early Childhood Care and Development show that about 7.6 million children under the age of five die every year, and while over 200 million survive, they are not able to realise their full potential due to the absence of the aforementioned adequate childcare factors.
As the importance of effective ECD becomes more and more evident, the interest in investing in the sector has become a major priority for countries and policy makers as it yields significant results in the expected long-term outcomes for children and the communities that they live in, such as, for example, higher economic growth.
A longitudinal study of children’s exposure to preschool has revealed that every one dollar that is spent on ECD can lead to a return of between seven to sixteen dollars; and combining nutrition and stimulation along with other early childhood interventions can increase future earrings by up to 25 per cent. The ECD stimulates the child’s learning capacity and may help in increasing school readiness and minimising repetition rates.
Moreover, ECD can potentially also help in breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty and inequality as it helps in identifying children who are most marginalised and disadvantaged at an early stage. In addition to the positive effects on children, the ECD also benefits parents and caregivers by giving them the opportunity and flexibility to join the labour force.
Children are the future resource for any country or nation and protecting their right to a healthy well-being and growth needs to be at the core of the global agenda, development polices, and national level implementations.
(The writer is the CEO of Dubai Cares