The transformative power of early childhood education

Yet more evidence on the importance of early years development has been released by the influential medical journal The Lancet.

Its series, Advancing Early Childhood Development, from Science to Scale 2000-2015 shows an increase in the number of scientific publications relating to early childhood and its benefits.

Looking specifically at developing countries, the studies show overwhelmingly that early intervention has long term benefits for society at large.

The Lancet researchers write: “First, new research in early human development shows that epigenetic, immunological, physiological, and psychological adaptations to the environment occur from conception, and that these adaptations affect development throughout the life course.

“This knowledge calls for an approach targeting caregivers and children with effective interventions during sensitive times across the life course, with the period from conception to age two to three years being of particular importance.

“Second, evidence on long term outcomes from low income and middle income countries shows that a program to increase cognitive development of stunted children in Jamaica 25 years ago resulted in a significant, 25% increase in average adult earnings.

We must act now to lay the foundation for a lifetime of health and wellbeing— for the benefit of today’s children, tomorrow’s adults, and for future generations.

“Conversely, long term follow up of children from birth shows that growth failure in the first two years of life has harmful effects on adult health and human capital, including chronic disease, and lower educational attainment and adult earning.

“Moreover, deficits and disadvantages persist into the subsequent generation, producing a vicious inter generational cycle of lost human capital and perpetuation of poverty. These findings shine light on the transformative potential of early childhood development programs in low income and middle income countries.

“Only by breaking this cycle will the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) be achieved.

“Nurturing interactions are crucial to mitigating these risks. A young child’s developing brain is activated and patterned by the nurturing care of trusted adults.

“Nurturing interactions comprise attentive responses to young children’s efforts to connect to and learn about their world, and involve efforts to present children with age appropriate learning experiences in a safe and mutually enjoyable way.

“Nurturing care takes place in the context of families and through service providers across many sectors — health, nutrition, education, child and social protection — that provide the essential care for children to survive and to thrive.

“Nurturing care can break down under conditions of extreme poverty, family and societal conflict, discrimination, and other forms of individual and social stress.

“As lead authors of this series, we call upon all stakeholders to step up strategic and equitable investments in early childhood development. The SDGs provide the vision and the multisectoral framework, while the findings of this series map pathways for action towards ensuring that every child can realise their right to development and to achieve their full human potential.

“We have the knowledge, the resources, and the opportunities. We must act now to lay the foundation for a lifetime of health and wellbeing—for the benefit of today’s children, tomorrow’s adults, and for future generations.”

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