Brussels, Belgium, 7 November 2001 - "We need to stimulate all the world's children to become global thinkers," said Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, at a landmark roundtable on Early Childhood Development (ECD) organised by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the World Bank. Emphasising the role of culture and the local context in fostering the creative capacity of children, Mr. Wolfensohn stressed the need to prepare all children for a multi-cultural world.
"Development is about starting young and about delivering basic needs, but also about children's rights," said Mrs. Glenys Kinnock, Member of the European Parliament, Vice-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament's Rapporteur on basic education in developing countries. "These are fundamental issues of equity and social justice," she continued, noting that "investment in the early years will reap huge personal and developmental dividends." Mrs. Kinnock pointed to the fact that "the Aga Khan Foundation's work in the field of ECD is carried out through its Young Children and the Family Programme, which is part of the broader Education portfolio, and also through its Health Programme."
"We heard a spectrum of arguments for investment in early childhood development," remarked Kathy Bartlett, the AKF Senior Programme Officer for the Young Children and the Family Programme, "from field experience, like the Foundation's successful Madrasa Pre-school programmes in East Africa, to a quantitative study of the net economic return on investment of ECD programmes. It was exciting to see the direct link -- in credible, measurable terms -- between ECD programmes and overall social and economic development."
The meeting, which was the first ever organised by the AKF and the World Bank was addressed by leading international experts, European decision-makers, foundations, NGOs and representatives of the private sector. Among them, Portugal's Secretary of State for Development Cooperation, Luis Filipe Amado and Robert Shaw, General Manager of the Aga Khan Foundation.
The Aga Khan Foundation's Young Children and the Family Programme, which includes a range of community-based programmes -- often led and promoted by locally established early childhood resource and training centres -- focuses on improving the overall care and development of children during the first years to ensure their "readiness to learn". The programmes develop locally relevant curricula, find appropriate types of training for caregivers and pre-school teachers and identify successful and sustainable ways of community mobilisation and involvement in the early childhood development process.
In Health, support has ranged from community health programmes (implemented by local NGOs or Government), to specific initiatives that improve the health of mothers and children, to research and monitoring of the health and nutrition status of children.
Among specific ECD projects supported by the Foundation are:
- Madrasa Resource Centres, East Africa. Over the last 15 years, the three resource centres have evolved into a high quality and culturally relevant community pre-school programme aimed at poor Muslim communities. Since 1995, over 180 communities established pre-schools benefiting over 10,000 children. In addition, 1,000 local women were trained as teachers and 1,000 community members were trained to manage and supervise their pre-schools. In the future, the regional programme will incorporate approaches to nutrition, health and HIV/AIDS.
- Community Health Programmes and Maternal and Child Health Centres in Pakistan, India and Kenya. These centres currently serve more than 1 million women and children, offering preventive and curative services including a home visiting programme carried out by locally trained 'lady health visitors' in remote rural areas of Northern Pakistan.
- A Community-based and integrated ECD programme in three Districts on the Coast of Kenya, which is part of a World Bank/Government of Kenya ECD pilot project. Apart from the Madrasa Resource Centre work in Mombasa District, this programme supports an additional 22 pre-schools serving some 760 children and 8 home-based and day care centres serving around 130 children in Taveta District. New activities are also being planned for Tana River District.
The Aga Khan Foundation, which focuses on health, education, rural development and the enhancement of non-governmental organisations, is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, which consists of eight non-profit, non-denominational development agencies. The other agencies are: Aga Khan Health Services, which provides primary and curative health care in India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, and Syria; Aga Khan Education Services, which operates more than 300 schools and advanced educational programmes at the pre-school, primary, secondary and higher secondary levels in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Tajikistan; the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, which provides material, technical assistance and construction management services for rural and urban areas; and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which focuses on culture as a means to enhance the physical, social and economic revitalisation of communities in the Islamic world. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, a for-profit agency also registered in Switzerland, works to strengthen the role of the private sector in developing countries by promoting entrepreneurial activity and supporting private sector initiatives. Two universities are also part of the Network: Aga Khan University, Pakistan's first private, autonomous university, which is headquartered in Karachi; and the University of Central Asia (UCA), which is the world's first university dedicated exclusively to education and research on mountain regions and societies.
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