Early childhood is considered the most important phase in life, laying the foundation for physical, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing. What happens to a child in this period can determine his or her developmental trajectory through life.
Brain development is most rapid and sensitive in these early years. During the first years of life, a child’s brain has the potential to connect 700-1000 brain cells every second. These connections serve as the building blocks for a child’s future, impacting their physical and emotional wellbeing and learning as well as success in their later lives, in school, work and their communities. New research indicates that nature and nurture interact with one another, so a child’s social environment is as important as genetics in influencing how they develop into adults.
Therefore, good parenting, strong families, and enriching, nurturing environments are critical to a child’s early development.
Dietary deficiencies, inadequate feeding practices, chronic infections, exposure to violence and low levels of stimulation during this period jeopardize a child’s chance to reach his or her full potential and increase the risk that poor health and poverty will follow that child into adulthood. Without a stimulating, nurturing and responsive environment, children are at risk of being deprived, which leads to toxic stress that can hamper their development.
Quality early childhood education has a critical impact on children’s future school retention and learning, particularly in the early grades of primary education. When children enter primary school directly without quality preschool education – and thus, without school readiness they are more likely to drop out and not learn to their potential. Much thus depends on how well children start their education and how prepared they are for school.
Children from the most disadvantaged quintiles of society are at the greatest risk of being deprived during this important early period of life. Interventions in the early years can partially compensate for early disadvantage, and are therefore critical from an equity perspective.
Early interventions for disadvantaged children lead to promoting education, enhancing the quality of the workforce, and reducing teenage pregnancy. Remedial action later in life is less cost effective. There are also much higher returns to investments in early childhood than in later years. Available cost-benefit ratios indicate that for every dollar spent on improving early