Early Childhood Development (ECD) is a right recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (articles 6, 18, 29 of the Convention of the Right of the Child, 1989).
By definition, ECD is a comprehensive approach to young children’s development that enhances their physical well-being, cognitive and language skills and social and emotional development.
EFA goal 1: “Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children”, a call to nations, civil society organizations and development partners to expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged (Dakar Declaration 2000).
Early years: a time of remarkable brain development that lays the foundation for later learning (State of the World’s Children, ECD, UNICEF, 2001).
2007 EFA GMR recognizes that ‘Early childhood programs are vital to offset social and economic disadvantage. ECCE is an instrument to guarantee children’s rights that opens the way to all the EFA goals and contributes powerfully to reducing poverty, the overarching objective of the Millennium Development Goals (p. 6)’.
Currently ECD programs have low priority in national budgets and most donors are yet to recognize ECD as a priority for investment.
2007 EFA GMR concludes “We will not achieve EFA or MDGs without early year’s programs”.
Recent reports on young child development programs worldwide highlight that youngest children have been neglected. Almost half the world’s countries have no formal program for children under three. Enrolment in pre-primary education has tripled since 1970 though coverage remains very low in most of the developing world especially in sub Saharan countries while most OECD countries have at least two years of free preprimary education.
Referring to the Dakar Declaration 2000 towards realizing the Millennium goals in basic education by 2015, one of the priority goals (Goal 1) concerns the development of programs that will ensure the realization of basic rights of children through focused actions addressed to satisfying their basic needs in Early Childhood Care and Education – vaccination, nutrition, stimulation, education and protection – with parental involvement and full community support, offered during the early years1.
Since the Dakar Declaration, several forums have addressed issues related to ECCE in Africa. A series of International Conferences on ECD in Africa organized with support from ECCE/ECD sponsors (World Bank, ADEA, UN agencies, and several International NGOs (Plan International, Bernard van Leer, Save the Children, Aga Khan Foundation to name but a few…) brought together stakeholders – governmental and non governmental – to take a closer look at young child survival, development, education and protection. The first of these meetings held in Kampala, Uganda in 1999, were followed by other meetings held in Asmara, Eritrea three years later (2002) with the most recent one held in Accra, Ghana 20 May to 4 June 2005. The first meeting (Uganda) had for objective to share “good practices” on ECD in the region to demonstrate that it’s possible to respond to the needs and rights of the young child in S.S.A region.The second one (in Eritrea) had for objective to share lessons learned, “what works and what doesn’t”. The theme of the third conference was to “Move ECD forward in Africa” by placing ECD on the political agenda of S.S.A countries.
All the attention given to ECD development at regional level over the last years seem to have resulted in greater awareness at national level about the importance of ECD: while by the end of the 1990’s only three countries were having an ECD policy, in November 2006 it was reported that 22 of 53 countries in sub Saharan Africa have firmly engaged in informed policy dialogue and are actually developing ECCE/ECD policies. Eleven of these countries have now clear objectives and plan of action to achieve ECCE with a view to ensuring Education for All (“Learning begins at birth”, Jomtien, Thailand, 1990).