According to findings from the recently-published ‘The Lancet’s Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale’ an estimated 43 percent—249 million—of children under five in low-and middle-income countries are at an elevated risk of poor development due to extreme poverty and stunting.
The Caribbean regional launch of the series took place immediately following the 32 Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) on Education, and was hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat.
The Series has once again made a strong case for Governments and other stakeholders to work towards designing and implementing effective policies and programmes and allocate the necessary resources to ensure early childhood development.
According to the authors of the Series, early childhood development interventions that promote nurturing care—health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning—may cost very little, when combined with existing services such as health.
Sylvie Fouet, Representative of UNICEF – Guyana and Suriname, was quoted by CARICOM as saying: “The science and economics are clearly on the side of investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. The cost of not doing so is higher. Children fall behind long before they set foot in school.”
There is therefore need for increased global commitment to early childhood development. The consequences of inaction impact not only present but future generations. In the region, there is less public provisioning for early childhood education, especially for the 0-2 year age group, as opposed to the pre-school years. For example, it was explained that the uneven funding distribution across sectors is striking; expenditure on pre-primary as share of government expenditure on education is only 2.9% compared to primary at 34.9% and 40.3% for secondary education.
One of the authors of the Lancet Series, Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, Director of the Office of Public Health Practice, and Director of the Global Health Concentration at the Yale School of Public Health, presented the research findings and recommendations to Ministers of Education from several CARICOM member states, as well as Regional Education officials at the COHSOD Meeting.
The Series authors propose several ways the global community can scale-up support for early childhood development services; these include by; encouraging the adoption and implementation of policies to create supportive environments for families to provide nurturing care for young children, building capacity and strengthening coordination to promote early childhood development through existing health, nutrition, education, social, and child protection services, strengthening measurement and ensuring accountability for early childhood development services, increasing research, and fostering global and regional leadership and action and expanding political will and funding through advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Guyana must be commended for placing the issue of early childhood development high on its national development agenda. In September 2015, the Government, through a US.7M grant from the World Bank, launched its Early Childhood Development Project. The project, which came as a result of intense discussions between early childhood educators and other relevant officials, is aimed at improving the emergent literacy and numeracy outcomes for children at the nursery level and primary Grade one in hinterland regions.
The first component of the project caters for capacity building for nursery and Grade one teachers and is aimed at improving the quality of instruction and learning at the nursery and Grade 1 levels by strengthening teachers’ knowledge, particularly with regard to the implementation of new strategies for the development of emergent literacy and numeracy skills, through an in-service teacher training programme. The second component of the project targets improved supply of teaching and learning materials.
The issue of early childhood development must be taken seriously by all stakeholders as research has shown that a child’s brain develops faster in the first 2-3 years than at any other time in life. It was proven that these early years are also a critical period of adaptability and responsiveness to interventions.