Early childhood development
UNICEF supports Early childhood development (ECD) in Belize because getting it right from the beginning helps children, families and the nation.
In Belize, children officially start school at age 5, but the years preceding this are critical for meeting developmental milestones and school readiness.
Yet only 50 percent of Belize’s children currently attend a quality early childhood education center. Most these are in urban areas where 66 percent of children aged 3-4 are enrolled compared to 48 percent in rural communities.
Attendance is highest in Belize City, the country’s largest population center, and lowest in the Cayo District, near the western border, only 37 percent .
While overall numbers up from only 32 percent of Belizean attending ECD centers in 2011, the most vulnerable continue to lag behind in terms of access: only 29 percent of Belize’s low income children compared to 72 percent for their richer counterparts.
Developmentally, many young Belizean children score lower for linguistic and numeric fluency, perhaps because families often lack stimulating toys or books for young children in their homes.
Only 44 percent of children aged 0-59 months live in households with even a handful of books. Again, these numbers are lowest, only 23 percent, in rural areas, and among children whose mothers have the least amount of education. Many children have no toys at all, besides household items or things they find outside to play with.
2018 data shows that 3/4 of Belizean children get no stimulating, nurturing care from their fathers and only 2/3 get it from their mothers.
UNICEF recognizes that at-risk families need support to nurture their children.
In a country where food seems abundant, a startling 15 percent of young children have stunted growth, and 5 percent are under-weight.
Only 33 percent are exclusively breastfed and many children lack access to clean drinking water, 82 percent live in homes with untreated water.
This is a problem even in schools where 27 percent of those tested had contaminated water. Proper sanitation continues to be an issue, with only 16 percent of Belizean children’s waste disposed of properly.
Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Sustainable Development Goals and in partnership with the Government of Belize, UNICEF Belize’s work for Early Childhood Development is cross sectoral with tight coordination among the sectors of health, education and human development.
Together with our partners we are focused on the 3 Core Commitments for Children:
- Children are born and remain healthy during their early years
- Young children’s environments are nurturing, responsive, safe, inclusive and culturally appropriate
- Young children must have the skills and opportunities for success in early learning.
A national ECD Technical Working Group (TWG) has been established to oversee the implementation of the national ECD strategic plan launched in 2017. The TWG includes representatives of the Ministries of Education, Health and Human Development, and Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation.
A recent example of key collaboration is the “Art of Parenting,” a comprehensive guide for Belizean parents featuring positive parenting strategies, including non-violent ways to correct behavior and encourage strong family bonds.
This project started in 2013 and was carried out with UNICEF partners in Belize, the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC) and the National Parenting Task Force.
UNICEF provides support to early childhood development programmes, focusing on basic health, nutrition and education. We support parents and pre-school educators, roving caregivers, and health centers across the country.
ECD providers give information on infant and child brain development, and the need to create quality parent-child and care giver-child interactions, by engaging in stimulating activities for babies and young children.
As the 2017 Lancet Series has shown, 90 percent of human’s brain development takes place before age 5. The infant brain is literally “wired” by their adult-child interaction so Early Childhood education is crucial.
UNICEF promotes Early Childhood Development center enrollment and attendance because early stimulation increases children’s growth and development--especially for at-risk children – to enhance literacy, language and math skills.
Investing in Early Childhood Education yields both short and long term benefits. When children attend a quality pre-school, it decreases the need for special education placement by 50% and reduces grade repetition by 30%
Not only does it lead to better schooling outcomes, access to early childhood education means increased productivity later in life.