|A girl learns to identify numbers on her first day at a UNICEF-supported preschool in the Baliqchilar settlement, Azerbaijan.|
By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, USA, 23 April 2012 – Every year, more than 200 million children under age 5 are not able to reach their full potential in cognitive development potential due to poverty, conflict, malnutrition, inadequate care and lack of educational opportunities.
Early childhood care and education – a cornerstone of every child’s development – is one of the most neglected ‘Education For All’ goals, and is unlikely to be achieved by 2015. This year, during Global Action Week, from 22-28 April, advocates are calling on world leaders to ensure that early childhood care and education take place right from the start for every child.
Podcast moderator Kathryn Herzog spoke with Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, and Chloe O’Gara, Program Officer for the Hewlett Foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the importance of early childhood care and education and the issues around early learning.
Positive experiences promote effective learning
According to Dr. Shonkoff, neuroscience suggests that stronger returns on investment could come from programs that not only provide rich learning experiences for children but that also build the capacity of parents and other caregivers to protect young children from the consequences of toxic stress.
“The circuits in the brain are very vulnerable to toxic stress, so even in the presence of good education later, children will not achieve as much as they would have if they’re not protected from this adversity early in their life,” said Dr. Shonkoff.
More investment needed in early childhood care and education
Discussing some of the challenges to promoting effective early childhood education and care programs, Dr. O’Gara pointed out that there is an immediate need for joint investments from diverse sectors.
“Africa invests less than 1 per cent of its public education resources in early childhood education, Latin America 9 per cent, and 10 per cent in Western Europe. There is a lot of room for growth in awareness and investment in early childhood care and education, particularly for children who benefit the most – the least advantaged children,” said Dr. O’Gara.
She added that schools need to become outreach agents, assisting families and communities in implementing small-scale early childhood development programs that focus on getting children ready for school.
Empowering families and communities
Both guests stressed the importance of enabling families and communities, especially those in low-income countries, to provide early childhood care and learning opportunities.
“Children that come from illiterate households don’t know what to expect, and neither do their families, so we can help them have a better success rate in the early years of school, which are years when failure is highest,” said Dr. O’Gara.
According to Dr. Shonkoff, evidence shows that the best return on investment comes from programs that not only provide a rich environment for children but that also build the capacity of their parents – both through information and practical advice about child development issues and through helping them protect their children from the effects of toxic stress.
“This is not just about stimulating minds. This is about protecting brains,” concluded Dr. Shonkoff.
'Beyond School Books'
The following stories are part of the 'Beyond School Books' series focusing on education during emergencies.
Segment #75: UN Special Adviser says gender equality and girls' education critical in post-2015 goals
Segment #74: Young people provide strategic advice on education issues
Segment #73: Girls advocate for girls' education and gender equality