Early childhood development: luxury or necessity

by Agnes Chew, Save the Children

Perceptions of early childhood development

Early childhood development is often perceived as a luxury that is only accessible and applicable to the more economically affluent, rather than the poor. Given the latter’s struggle to ensure their basic survival each day, investing in the physical, cognitive, linguistic and socioemotional development of a child from conception up to eight years of age can appear to be an extravagant, even superfluous, notion. Even where child development is prioritised, primary education tends to take centerstage. As such, early childhood development is commonly neglected, especially in developing countries.

Consequences of underinvesting in early childhood development

The acute underinvestment in early childhood development has resulted in 7.6 million children under the age of 5 worldwide dying each year . More than 25 times that number – 250 million children – do survive, but are unable to achieve their full potential . Weak foundations laid during the first years of a child’s life hold a permanent, detrimental impact on children’s long term development. At a broader level, this holds negative implications in the form of a projected 20% loss in adult productivity for their respective countries . Essentially, this boils down to a lack of appropriate nutrition, healthcare, and learning opportunities for children.

Importance of early childhood development

This situation needs to be addressed, and to be addressed urgently. There is strong evidence to underline the importance of early childhood development. Research shows that brain development occurs most rapidly in the early years of life, with over 700 new neural connections formed every second .

Early interventions for disadvantaged children can be an equitable approach that contributes to improvements in child survival, health, growth, and cognitive and social development, thereby leading to better health outcomes and higher-paying job opportunities in their adulthood. Studies find a range of returns between $4-9 (£ 3-7) for each US dollar invested in early learning programmes .

Fundamentally, early childhood development is a basic human right. This is evident from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which declares that each child has the right to develop to “the maximum extent possible”.

More needs to be done to ensure that each actor at the government, organisation, community, household, and individual level is committed to raising and engaging children in a holistic manner by incorporating multi-sectoral approaches including education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation in order to enable children’s full development.

Save the Children’s commitment to early childhood development

Early childhood development is a necessity, not a luxury. Save the Children is strongly committed to early childhood development. Our goal is to make a measurable contribution to ensuring that all children – including the poorest and most marginalised – have access to services which support their physical growth and overall development, and that they begin primary education at the right age and well-equipped to learn. This starts with early childhood development.

We can all play a part in globally advocating for early childhood development and shape the way in which children’s early development needs are being understood and responded to. Rather than being a luxurious expense, early childhood development is in fact a necessary investment.

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  • Anne Craddock

    However children need to be ready for school and brain development starts in utero.
    Are any of your progects supporting early brain development?

  • Hi Anne, Save the Children UK currently do not have any UK programs focused on early brain development in utero. Thanks, Yvette.