Early childhood development (ECD)
Experiences in early childhood truly shape a person’s future. The first weeks, months and years are the times when every human being’s cognitive, emotional and social foundations are formed. A baby who is hugged, comforted and stimulated has an essential advantage over those who are not. Children who are nurtured and well cared for are more likely to fully develop their learning and language, as well as emotional and social skills.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes are pathways that link a child’s early experiences to later learning and development. Anchored in growing scientific, economic and human development evidence, ECD programmes can not only improve young children's capacity to develop and learn, they can break down the inter-generational cycle that prevents children from achieving their full potential from malnutrition, illnesses, impaired learning, and even school dropout.
While it is difficult to report on ECD access largely due to the age range of children involved, and the varied approaches used; nonetheless, the available data suggest very low ECD coverage across Eastern and Southern Africa. Thankfully, the situation is improving, and more and more governments are now developing ECD guidelines and policies, especially for the most disadvantaged children.
UNICEF in action
UNICEF supports early childhood development in the region through various strategies. These include advocacy with stakeholders on the benefits of ECD, and building capacities at all levels of society - governments, teachers, health and social service providers, communities, parents and children.
At the policy level, UNICEF plays a crucial role in the development of national plans, setting minimum standards, curriculum design, and teacher training, among others, to help countries implement quality ECD programmes. UNICEF also advocates with governments and donors to increase resources to expand the reach of ECD, especially for vulnerable children who are most in need of such programmes.
As a knowledge broker, UNICEF generates new research results on the benefits of early childhood development. Working with partners, such as the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, UNICEF is currently developing new strategies to improve ECD access for children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Results for children
Although ECD programmes are yet to reach all young children in need, many countries are putting policies, systems and resources in place to increase priorities and coverage.
From around the region