Early childhood development and school dropout
by Luminiţa Costache - Education Officer, UNICEF Romania
“ECD is at the heart of the social inclusion agenda.”- Steven Allen, UNICEF Regional Director for CEE/CIS
Research has found that increasing investment today in early childhood development (ECD) programmes leads to more educated, prosperous and peaceful citizens in tomorrow’s society. Early childhood is the most important period of development in life, when the cognitive, emotional and social foundations on which the future will be built are being laid. Child brain development depends on stimuli in the environment, especially the quality of care and interaction the child experiences.
Children who are well cared for and adequately stimulated are more likely to develop their cognitive, language, emotional and social skills to their full potential, be healthier and have higher self-esteem. All these areas are crucial for our well-being as adults, as the experiences in our early childhood essentially determine what we will become later in life. Therefore, the groundwork, which can be fragile or sound, is laid in the first years of life. On it the child builds the necessary skills for later life, including in school.
A robust foundation is essential for the child to acquire these skills. To use a metaphor, early childhood experiences are like the foundation of a house. The structure’s stability and the number of floors that can be added subsequently depend on the strength of the foundation. So whether children reach their full potential depends on the robustness of the skills acquired during early childhood. If the development process is neglected in this period, it is much more difficult and costly to recover it at a later stage. Actions taken by parents and society in early childhood have a powerful and prolonged influence on the child’s individual progress and on the progress of the nation at large.
Focus on ECD programmes and pre-school years are vital to reduce the school dropout rate. Children who benefit from ECD programmes stand better chances of increased school participation and performance, planning a family and becoming productive adults with good jobs, as well as educating their own children in turn. Research has indicated that positive intervention during early child education substantially decreases the dropout rate during primary school.
Experts consider the implementation of integrated ECD programmes one of the most powerful weapons against social inequality, poverty and social exclusion. If opportunities presented by early childhood are missed, then it becomes much more difficult for children, in terms of resources and time, to fulfil their potential in life. ECD programmes for small children may counter the effects of socio-economic and gender inequalities.
These programmes are an important tool in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and exclusion and bringing about significant economic benefits. Early childhood interventions in poor communities lead to better school participation rates and performance in school and to greater success in securing and maintaining employment later in life. When children start school late and miss out on the necessary “tools” to learn, their educational progress suffers and it is more likely for them to become school dropouts.
It is crucial that these children be prepared for elementary school, start school on time and receive a quality education. If children are prepared for school, they will have the necessary tools to build a fulfilled life for themselves and become productive citizens in their community. Investment in early childhood, as the first step on the educational pathway, means higher school participation and performance in 5 years, a lower school dropout rate in 10 years and less pressure on social services (fewer people on social benefits) in 20 years. So investing in children as early as possible leads to social development and a stronger implementation of the rights of the child in the long term.