As a follower of ChildFund Ireland, you probably know that a core part of what we do is Early Childhood Development (ECD), but what does it really mean and why is it so important?
What is ECD?
ECD is a holistic approach to caring for children. Interventions are not restricted to a single sector, such as health, but overlap with others, particularly education and child protection. Simply put, it is not just about ensuring infants grow into healthy children, or about helping children prepare for learning at school, or about protecting them from harm. It is about investing in all of these areas in the knowledge that real life cannot be divided up into sectors – that children will not learn if they are ill, that they will not embrace healthy practices without education, and that none of this matters if they are being abused or exploited.
How early is ‘early’?
Definitions on ‘early childhood’ vary from 0-3 to 0-8 years old. In ChildFund’s case, our ECD programmes address children from 0-6 years of age, up until the point they begin school.
Why is it so important?
While there are different views on when exactly ‘early childhood’ ends, it is universally recognised that these early years are both the most crucial and vulnerable period in a person’s life. The pace of brain development is astronomical, and the foundation is laid for future physical, cognitive, social and emotional functioning. Extensive care and stimulation is essential to ensure that these functions are maximised – if children are neglected during this stage of their life, no level of intervention later in life can truly ‘make up’ for it. And as the Pan African Forum for Children has stated, “Today’s investment in children is tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy and sustainable development.”
So what does ChildFund actually do in its ECD programmes?
In ECD, as in other programme areas, sustainability is key – we are seeking to help communities make lasting positive changes, not to lock them into dependence on ChildFund’s services. As such, the vast majority of our efforts are in training local populations. We do of course make capital investments, such as in building ECD centres or, where possible, renovating existing facilities. In these cases, we train locals to form a management committee to help the community generate and allocate resources to ensure the long-term sustainability of the facility.
Through regular workshops, we teach parents why and how to:
ECD centre staff receive similar trainings, particularly focussing around stimulating children’s minds. For example, carers learn how to teach — through play, song, story and art — what “how many” really means. Understanding this concept means children are much better prepared to learn about numbers once they start school, and it is this kind of preparation which can help children take advantage of education instead of falling behind and dropping out, as is too often the case in communities without ECD services.
Is it working?
Yes. In communities which have benefitted from ChildFund ECD services, we are already seeing tangible results. Health check-ups find children are more nourished, school reports show greater attendance and performance, and mothers tell us their children are much more lively and happy since they began the programme. But as the Pan African Forum quote above illustrates, the greater benefits of ECD will reveal themselves in the long run, as this generation of children grow into adults who will use their empathy, intelligence and affluence to promote wider development in their communities and countries.
What can I do?
This one’s easy! We are currently fundraising for a Direct Action project to build a new ECD centre and provide the aforementioned trainings to a rural community in Mozambique. In Zavala District, there is a complete absence of pre-schools and parents lack the knowledge to provide adequate nutrition and care. As a result, many children are malnourished and ill-prepared for education when they reach school. Many drop out and are restricted to the same life that their parents endured. You can help to change this. By funding this project, through a one-off or monthly donation, you can help to bring all the benefits of ECD to this community. Please, think about it.