Fathers, we play a critical role in our child's first years of learning

by Behzad Noubary, UNICEF Philippines Deputy Representative for Programmes

24 January 2024

As a UNICEF staff member, I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of early stimulation for children’s development. As a father of two young children, I am experiencing it firsthand. The first years of life have a profound impact on a child’s future—molding their brain development, health, happiness, ability to learn in school, overall well-being, and even their potential for success in their adult careers.

Many countries around the world are experiencing a learning crisis. In the Philippines, this issue is worsened by alarmingly low enrollment of children in preschool (daycare) and kindergarten. Many parents seem to believe their children are too young to participate in early learning. Around 78% of 3- to 4-year-olds in the Philippines are not enrolled in early learning programs. The situation is worse in the Bangsamoro region, where 90% of children do not have access to early childhood education.

Behzad and kid

When my children were born, I knew I wanted to play an active role in their early stimulation. While it’s not inherently difficult, it required investing time. During the newborn stage, I tried to hold, speak, and interact with my kids as much as possible. As they grew, I involved them in everyday activities like brushing their teeth and preparing a meal, while explaining what was happening. Beyond being a second parent or an extra set of hands, we, fathers, serve as one of the best resources for a child’s development. To provide children with the best start in life, it’s crucial for all of us to recognize and fully embrace this role.

Neuroscience reveals that during the first years of life, the brain develops at an exceptionally rapid rate, a pace that is never achieved again in later stages of childhood. By the age of 3, a child’s brain is already twice as active as that of an adult. Enrolling children in preschool is a no-brainer, as it provides them with an excellent foundation for their learning journey. I observed positive changes in my children when they joined daycare; they seemed happier and more sociable. As a father, I made sure to stay informed and communicate regularly with my kids’ preschool teachers, and this approach helped me follow up at home and build on what my kids were learning in preschool.


This solid foundation, fostering social skills, vocabulary, number sense, and a curiosity for learning, better equips children for elementary school and eventually their education. The Philippine ECCD Longitudinal Study commissioned by UNICEF tracked a cohort of 5-year-old children until Grade 4. The findings affirm that children with preschool experience exhibit higher literacy, mathematical skills, and socio-emotional skills by Grade 4. Enrolling children in early childhood education not only benefits society by promoting economic growth but also reduces expenditures on catch-up efforts. It empowers families to break the cycle of poverty. UNICEF applauds the efforts of the Philippine government to improve access and quality of early childhood education in the country by professionalizing daycare workers, ensuring curriculum appropriateness, and mobilizing action from local government units.

As the world commemorates the International Day of Education, I wish for every child to have a great start to learning, just like my girls. Vulnerable young children, including those with disabilities, experiencing poverty, and residing in conflict-affected and disaster-prone areas, need our special attention. UNICEF recommends the following measures to help our children catch up to learning:

  1. Intensifying advocacy efforts and promoting parental engagement. We need all children to be enrolled in daycare and for parents to be actively engaged in their learning. We support pending bills aimed at extending the paternity leave from 7 days to 15 days with full pay and making this benefit available to all employees regardless of their employment status. There is substantial evidence that paternity leave increases a father’s involvement, reduces gender inequality, and benefits both infant and maternal health.
  2. Improving access and quality in early childhood education. Local governments can learn more about why children are not enrolling and develop solutions to improve both access and quality. Child development workers should be empowered by providing them with decent remuneration, benefits, and job security.
  3. Increasing investment in early childhood education and improving governance. Countries should allocate at least 10% of their education budget to early childhood education. It is also important to strengthen coordination, collaboration, and accountability across all levels. This includes the inclusion of the Department of Interior and Local Government in the ECCD Council Governing Board, the Local Council for the Protection of Children, and the School Board.

To all fathers to young children, like myself, you are one of the best child development resources we have in the world. If all fathers embrace their role to nurture their young ones in their earliest years of life, children will learn better and grow up to become healthier, happier human beings.

Media contacts

Lely Djuhari
Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +639175675622
Marge Francia
Communication Officer
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 858 9447


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.

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