ECD contributes to a productive workforce: UNICEF

WINDHOEK: Investing in the maximum potential of children in the first 1 000 days of their lives can contribute to a more skilled and productive workforce when they grow older.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative to Namibia, Micaela Marques de Sousa said this in her closing remarks during discussions on “Investing in pro-poor Early Childhood Development (ECD)” hosted by the Economic Association of Namibia (EAN) here on Monday.

The EAN is the first professional association of economists in Namibia formed in 2012 by a group of like-minded economists, who believe that there is great scope for the development of economic discussion and thought in Namibia.

ECD involves the improvement of a child’s lifelong health, productivity and high education levels. It includes physical, cognitive, social and emotional development from the time the child is born.

She said despite Namibia’s upper-middle income country status and favourable human development rankings, not all children are receiving the proven benefit of ECD.

Citing Namibia’s 2011 Population and Housing Census, De Sousa said only 13.9 per cent of children between the ages of zero to four have been in an ECD programme.

She added that a great number of children between the ages of zero to eight in Namibia are not reaching their maximum developmental potential due to poor health and nutrition, poor sanitation facilities, lack of adequate stimulation and neglect, while many children are experiencing violence and abuse on a daily basis.

The UNICEF representative said a child’s first years of life play a crucial role in shaping the lives of individuals and societies.

However, investments in ECD remain inadequate and ECD programmes are often among the first to be cut in times of dark economic times.

“Limited allocation of resources to strengthen ECD provision is visible throughout Namibia through ill-resourced centres, uncoordinated programmes and limited human and financial resources. These challenges are magnified among children living in the midst of social and economic inequalities,” said De Sousa.

She emphasised that integrated interventions for children aged zero to eight can be a highly effective way to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and violence, malnutrition, address social exclusion and enhance school readiness.

These early interventions, according to De Sousa, include health care, social protection and welfare, early stimulation, and positive parenting and pre-school education.

“Together they can mitigate the effects of lower household income, poorer educational attainment of caregivers, attitudes and practices that perpetuate violence and abuse, and help break the cycle of inequalities that dominate the lives of many children and families in middle-income countries, including Namibia, and promote socially transformative norms change,” she said.

De Sousa pointed out that the success of an integrated ECD programme is dependent on creating models and policies which are incorporated within and across Government ministries to assimilate the aspects of early learning, health and nutrition, safety and security across the board.

“This would ensure cumulative investment and better monitoring and evaluation of services such as ECD centres, community outreach programmes, social grants, parenting and family support as well as home visitation programmes,” she suggested.