Growing prominence of early childhood development
Early Childhood Development (ECD) has been gaining prominence internationally in recent years. Most notably, this is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, which states that: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”.
While parents have conventionally held responsibility for their children’s development in the early years, governments worldwide are increasingly assuming greater responsibility in ensuring that the needs and rights of children are met. For instance, several countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are beginning to develop specific ECD strategies or policy frameworks to address this issue in a more targeted manner.
Current challenges in policy and programming
Despite global efforts to promote ECD, it has been found that governments continue to operate in siloed a manner, treating issues relating to education, health, nutrition and protection as distinct, rather than inherently interrelated. Coupled with a lack of understanding and insufficient incentives to integrate such work across multiple sectors, this undermines existing efforts to deliver early childhood services and interventions in an efficient, effective, and equitable way.
Overcoming barriers to achieving change
In this vein, the Institute for Reconstruction and International Security through Education, with the sponsorship of UNICEF, UNESCO, and Association for the Development of Education in Africa, has distilled a set of policy guidelines for national governments, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders to better address ECD issues. Three key characteristics of a well-integrated approach to ECD policy planning were identified:
- Provision of comprehensive services spanning multiple sectors
- Local community participation
- Cultural appropriateness of programmes
First, the provision of comprehensive services is essential; services should be closely interlinked, coordinated, and complementary to each other in order to adequately address the wide-ranging needs of children. Second, it is critical to ensure the local participation of both caregivers and the community at large. Communities should be engaged as partners in the design, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of integrated ECD programmes. This serves to build strong community ownership of the programmes, and ensures their sustainability in the long term. Third, ECD programmes should be culturally appropriate and serve all people in an inclusive manner. Access to these services should not be denied to certain segments of the population on the basis of their ethnicity, language, income, or religion. The contents of educational programmes should be rooted in local cultures, with cross-cultural resources adapted in relation to local cultures and languages.
‘From Birth to Forever’
With one of the largest ECD investment budgets in Latin America, Colombia has seen strong political will for ECD since it began policy planning for ECD in the 1970s. Its government has adopted an integrated approach, involving relevant government entities in the design of the national ECD strategy that is comprehensive, participatory, and culturally appropriate. This is manifested in the national conditional cash transfer programme Cero de Siempre, which translates to ‘From Birth to Forever’. While Colombia has been successful in developing a comprehensive ECD plan, there remains a lack of resources to support the implementation of its strategy.
Within Southeast Asia, Myanmar have likewise launched their national ECD strategy in April 2017. The process of developing a strategy necessitated participatory policy planning with the objective of integrated policy implementation spanning multiple sectors.
Save the Children’s commitment to ECD
ECD is one of Save the Children’s three key Centenary Commitments, with the goal of ensuring that all children are able to access services which facilitate their overall growth and development. Save the Children believes that appropriate interventions and investments can lead to a real improvement in the outcomes of our children. This change has already begun to occur – an impactful change that can be catalysed should more individuals, communities, and governments choose to commit to this cause.