The early moments of a child’s life matter – and their impact can last a lifetime. The process of a baby’s brain development begins during pregnancy and is influenced by a pregnant woman’s health, nutrition and environment. After birth, a baby’s brain continues to develop rapidly, impacting his or her physical, intellectual and emotional well-being, learning potential and subsequently, earning capacity and success in adulthood.
The early years (0 to 8 years) are the most extraordinary period of growth and development in a child’s lifetime. The foundations of all learning are laid during these years. Getting the foundations right carries huge future benefits: better learning in school and higher educational attainment, which results in major social and economic gains for society. Research shows that good quality early learning and early childhood development (ECD) programmes help to reduce the chances of dropout and repetition and improves outcomes at all levels of education.
The goal for ECD is that all young children, especially the most vulnerable, from conception to age of school entry, achieve their developmental potential, including in humanitarian settings.
The early childhood period encompasses several quite distinct phases: from ‘conception to birth’ and from ‘birth to 3 years’, with emphasis on the first 1,000 days (from conception to 24 months), followed by the ‘preschool and pre-primary years (3 years to 5 or 6 years, or the age of school entry). While the definition also includes 6 to 8 years of age, the focus of this programme guidance is on the earlier years up to school entry. These are not precise phases, but they are useful categories to ensure policy development and programming responses to the specific sensitive periods along the developmental trajectory.
India has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for State parties to “ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.” The Convention defines early childhood as the period from conception through eight years of age.
Over 43 per cent of children under the age of five are at risk of not fulfilling their full developmental potential.