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Early Childhood

ECD and Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is a fast emerging theme in education and early childhood. Just as Early Learning prepares young children for the challenges of school and sets the foundation of lifelong learning, starting peace-building education in early childhood is of paramount importance. In early years a child’s brain architecture is developing most rapidly, habits are formed, differences are recognized and emotional ties are built through social relationships and day-to-day interactions in homes and neighborhoods. The role played by early childhood development programmes can be critical to promote the skills that enable children to become agents of change in building peace in their societies. There is evidence that integrating peace education into Early Childhood Education has a positive impact on child’s social and emotional development, and reduction of behavioral problems later in life. Evidence shows that well-designed programs can help children’s willingness to play with others (including those different from themselves), ability to understand how being excluded makes one feel, and ability to recognize instances of exclusion without prompting.

In a world of increasing violence and prevalent fragile contexts, innovative partnerships that are at the vanguard of science, programme, and policy are needed. Strategies and practices must be generated to offer mechanisms for sustained peace. The links between ECD and peace-building are crucial, complex and multi-faceted:

  • Parental practices and the environment that are most proximal to children are key determinants of their physical, social and emotional development. Proximal contexts, such as the home, family, early learning programmes, and community protection programmes, play a key role in the child’s ability to manage conflict, reduce violence and shape key characteristics of the child’s moral behavior.
  • Early childhood years play a critical role in the definition of the child’s emotional expression and regulation, psychosocial and cognitive development, cultural norms, identities and prejudices in terms of a child’s behavior towards others.
  • Children who experience extreme and adverse stress in their early years are at greater risk for developing cognitive, behavioral and emotional difficulties, which also reduces and delays their overall developmental processes. Their parents and caregivers are more likely to be stressed and depressed, and thus less able to provide young children with positive and emotionally nurturing environments. 
  • There is also a growing body of evidence which shows that the beneficial effects of ECD may have a transgenerational impact so that not only will the participating children have greater peace in their lives, but their life experience with deeply inform their behavior when they become parents themselves.

In recent years, an “Ecology of peace Conceptual Framework” has been developed (by Yale University Child Study Center and ACEV Foundation) that provides a set of hypotheses to explore the viability of promoting peace through early childhood. Assumptions which still require further testing indicate the need for programs that (a) promote the positive development and well-being in young children; (b) promote peacebuilding by improving interactions within the home and the classroom, and among peers, and (c) promote peacebuilding through the formation of culturally diverse parenting groups, particularly groups of fathers.

ECD programs that address the family context while acknowledging the larger economic, social, cultural and political contexts have the potential to act as preventative measures and to ameliorate harmful environmental risk factors that promote violence ("Starting early to build stronger and more peaceful societies"- FR/SP).

Currently UNICEF is engaged in a large-scale Peacebuilding project called the Peacebuilding Education and Advocacy (PBEA) project, funded by the Government of the Netherlands. As part of this project, UNICEF along with partners launched the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) on September 20th 2013 in Labouisse Hall at 3 UN Plaza. For information about the launch, please visit the Early Childhood Peace Consortium page.

There are still plans to enable governments and UNICEF to contribute to policy as well as institutional and individual capacity development for the promotion of: a) positive pro-social development and well-being in young children; and b) Peacebuilding by improving interactions within the home and the classroom, and among peers. 



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