Early childhood development
© UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Mugabe
Early childhood development, defined as the period from birth up to eight years of age, is a critical window of opportunity for a child’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.
The familial environment has a critical influence on child survival and development. Strengthening the capacities of primary caregivers to provide effective care and to stimulate child learning can greatly improve a child’s chances of survival and lead to optimal growth and development. When effective and responsive care by the primary caregiver is coupled with access to and use of quality ECD services, a child’s chances of flourishing and attaining an optimal level of development are greatly increased. The reach of ECD services can go far beyond young children and it is also important to stress the benefits to caregivers and society at large:
- Benefits for children: improves child’s literacy and numeracy skills & social and emotional development & Enhances school-related achievements
- Benefits for caregivers: Allows women to enter the workforce; increases family & family and community cohesion
- Benefits for society: Can cut poverty rates, increase GDP and public revenues - opportunity to break the cycle of poverty (cost-benefit ratio 1:2 to 1:17)
Effects are larger for children from disadvantaged circumstances (i.e. the poorest children, children with disabilities).
Understanding the importance of investment in young children and their families, the Government of Rwanda developed and approved ECD policy and strategic plan (2011). However, the effects of the policy are yet to reach the most disadvantaged young children and their families. The latest data showed that only 12 % of children between the ages of 3-6 have access to any type of early learning and development services, and these tend to be in urban areas and too costly for poorer parents. Additionally, the KAP survey in Rwanda (2013) showed that, although most of the parents are aware of the importance of early childhood development, the practices are not conducive for all young children: more than half of children are denied support for early learning; majority of them are subjected to violent forms of discipline.
UNICEF believes that a focus on “ECD and the Family” will not only give young children the best possible start in life but is also the best investment that Rwanda can make in order to achieve its national goals; including poverty reduction, reducing infant, child and maternal mortality, eliminating malnutrition and improving access to quality education.
UNICEF in Action
UNICEF supported the Government of Rwanda in developing its ECD Policy and Strategic Plan in 2011 which aims to promote the holistic development of all children in Rwanda through the provision of integrated health, nutritional, early stimulation and learning, and protection services to families, communities and children between 0-6 years and consists of three complimentary programmes:
1. Strengthening the capacity of families and care givers to care for and support the development of their children through Early Childhood Development and Family community hubs that provide: family-support services such as parenting support, play-based learning, psychosocial support; community-based nutrition programmes as well as economic empowerment initiatives.
2. Providing targeted family services to most vulnerable families including families with children with disabilities.
3. Establishing a system for child wellbeing monitoring and operational research through real-time monitoring by community child care workers and community health workers via RapidSMS as well as tracking different cohorts of children and their caregivers that access the holistic services at different times.
- UNICEF has developed architectural model designs for ECD&F and pre-primary facilities. Construction of 9 ECD&F centres and 5 pre-primary facilities has been on-going since July 2013 in partnership with Plan International, Imbuto Foundation and ADRA.
- In July 2013, ECD&F centre in Kayonza was launched by the First Lady Jeannette Kagame and Ministers and attracted government interest for the national scale up strategy.
- Thanks in part to UNICEF advocacy, ECD has been included as one of the foundation issues in the EDPRS 2.
- UNICEF has supported the construction of 8 pre-primary classrooms in Kigeme refugee camp in partnership with ADRA and provides ECD services which include daily meal of porridge and home based support for approximately 2,500 children. Additionally, UNICEF established ECD services for 2000 refugee children between ages of 0-6 in Nkamira Transit Camp in partnership with CARE International.
With the successful launch the first ECD&F centre in Kayonza District in July 2013, UNICEF will continue to play a leading role in the modelling of additional ECD&F centres in 10 districts throughout the country as part of the national ECD policy and strategic plan to insure the following outcomes:
- Expanded access to quality integrated child and family services
- Antenatal, maternal and newborn care strengthened
- Infant and young child growth and nutrition improved
- Psycho-social, emotional and cognitive development of young children strengthened
- Early detection and treatment of HIV, developmental delays and disabilities, abuse and neglect
- Reduced violence against children and gender-based violence, emergency psychological support, reduced risk of family separation gender equality in families and communities