Basic education and gender equality

Early Childhood Development and School Readiness

© UNICEF/HQ06-1348/Versiani
Girls and boys play in a daycare centre in Bairro da Paz, a slum area on the outskirts of Salvador, capital of the eastern state of Bahia.

Imagine early childhood without learning. Imagine school as a luxury, not a priority.

For nearly half the world’s children – especially girls and those from marginalized populations – early childhood education is not guaranteed. This despite the fact that early childhood is the most significant period of development in our lives, establishing the cognitive, emotional and social foundation upon which we build our futures.

The development of a child’s brain depends on environmental stimulation, especially on the quality of care and interaction that the child receives. A baby who is hugged, cooed to, comforted and visually stimulated has an essential advantage.  Children who are nurtured and well cared for are more likely to fully develop cognitive, language, emotional and social skills; to grow up healthier; and to have higher self-esteem. Each one of these areas is crucial to our well-being as adults; our experiences in early childhood truly shape who we ultimately become.

Indeed, studies in developing countries link early childhood development (ECD)  programmes to higher levels of primary school enrolment and educational performance, which later affect opportunities for employment.

When children start school late and lack the necessary tools for learning, their educational progress suffers and they are more likely to drop out, contributing to the intergenerational cycle of poverty. It is crucial that children be adequately prepared for primary school, begin school on time and receive a comprehensive, high-quality education.

In addition, societies must address gender discrimination from birth. By the time they enter preschool, most children have adopted socially-accepted gender roles and models of behaviour, which have an enormous impact on their education and their lives.

By getting children ready for school, we arm them with the tools necessary to build fulfilling lives, become productive citizens and take their place in the global community.



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