By the time a child reaches school age, most key brain wiring, language ability and cognitive foundations have been set in place. The early years are critical in the formation of intelligence, personality, social behaviour and physical development. Investment in the early years offers outstanding returns – both in human and financial terms. If children become confident and enthusiastic for learning early on in life, they are more likely to be better students. Children who get a good start do better in school, are healthier and function better as adults.
Recent studies, including those by Nobel laureate James Heckman, have shown that investments in childhood education are more efficient – and cost effective – than remedial programmes for adults. A 2007 UNESCO paper suggests that “one of the most compelling arguments for investment in early childhood development is that failure to do this perpetuates social and economic disparity and waste of social and human potential”.
The Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) early childhood efforts help children get a head start in life by bringing together international best practices in early childhood development and the needs of local contexts. The Foundation focuses on creating locally relevant curricula, experimenting with different types of training and support for parents, caregivers and pre-school teachers, and identifying successful and sustainable ways of mobilising and involving communities. Special emphasis is placed on ensuring programmes reach girls and other disadvantaged groups. Collaborative efforts with the health sector work to improve the health and nutritional status of children and mothers. The Foundation also supports the establishment and strengthening of local resource centres (governmental or non-governmental), which, over time, evolve into sustainable institutions that meet the needs of young children and their families.