This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 9
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Title: Leave no child behind: Invest in the early years
Author: Pinnock, H
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2020

In 2020, Light for The World published the Leave No Child Behind report. In this article, Helen summarises the key points: about good quality inclusive early childhood development (ECD), how it should be supported, and where more investment is needed.

What should everyone know?
Children’s brains grow quickly in the first eight years. By age three, major cognitive gaps between the poorest and wealthiest children can result and worsen by six. These gaps often do not reduce later and contribute to high school dropout rates.

To reach their potential, a child needs nurturing early care in a safe and secure environment. This includes healthcare, immunisation, nutrition, learning, and supportive, stimulating interactions with adults and other children.

The most marginalised children, especially those with disabilities, face the biggest risks and obstacles to ECD. In 2018, donors promised to improve ECD funding but little of this has reached children with disabilities. From 2014 to 2018, projects targeting people with disabilities received less than 2% of aid spending.

COVID-19 has worsened ECD services and home environments. Before the pandemic, 43% of the world’s young children were at risk of falling behind in development. Closures of schools, health services and feeding schemes removed even more support. The virus strained caregivers by causing illness and death of loved ones, cutting income, and reducing childcare.

What can we do to fix this situation?
Take a twin-track approach. Ensure system-wide improvements so that ECD provision is inclusive for all, and provide individualised responses for children with disabilities.

Increase young children’s access to healthy food. Early malnutrition can severely damage physical growth and the capacity to learn later in life.

Encourage adults to help children interact and play with other children. Play builds skills across all developmental domains.

Improve early detection of disability through training community health workers in outreach, early detection and referral.

Provide rehabilitation – early stimulation and rehabilitation can reduce children’s impairments.

Improve access to early childhood and preprimary education for children with disabilities and the poorest. Enabling children to interact develops critical social, cognitive and
physical skills through play and learning.

Make ECD and pre-primary centres inclusive and nurturing environments to support children’s needs, protect them from harm, and provide age-appropriate stimulation. Inclusive ECD centres are child-centred, play-based and integrated with health and nutrition services.

Expand parenting programmes. Parents often need help to create a nurturing, stimulating environment. Support includes giving families age-appropriate and ability-sensitive play and learning materials, including for distance learning.

Develop early childhood intervention (ECI). ECI systems provide multi-disciplinary services for children with disabilities from birth to age three to five, supporting them in their everyday environments.

Push for well-trained and well-paid ECD and pre-primary staff. On-the-job training and salary increases are needed for a skilled and motivated workforce.

Advocate for multi-sectoral early childhood development policy, which cuts across different ministries and prioritises marginalised children.

The report is available in accessible formats, and multiple languages:

Helen is a consultant at EENET