By Cynthia Hobbs. 

Hillary Clinton used this African proverb in her book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, to illustrate the need for a network of families, community members, values and relationships to support the development of our children. This is true in so many ways. We live in an interdependent world, and we have a multiplicity of needs as we move through life from babies to children to men and women. These needs cannot be met by one person or by one specialist. They are not just education needs or health needs or social or psychological needs. They require a multi-sectoral or multidisciplinary response, a “village” as it were.

How can we demonstrate this point? It takes a team of teachers and school professionals to discover and encourage a child’s strengths and learning styles. It takes a network of family and friends to nurture and support a child’s physical and mental requirements. And it takes a number of different agencies or government ministries, at the institutional level, to respond to all the developmental stages of a child as they grow. In the early years, it is about learning to walk, talk, eat, communicate needs and wants, and form social skills to develop relationships with other people. And it is about developing their senses, an immune system, and a healthy body that is growing at the right pace. It is about eating the right foods and being parented on moral values, self worth and the power of love. And as children enter pre-school and school, it is about recognition of letters and numbers, reading, writing, arithmetic and more.

When governments decide to finance Early Childhood Development (ECD) they have to think about how the sectors – education, health, social protection – will work in harmony. The best example of cross-sectoral collaboration that I know of is Jamaica’s National Strategic Plan (NSP) 2008-2013 for Early Childhood Development, which guides the programs offered to children ages 0 to 8. The NSP is overseen by Jamaica’s Early Childhood Commission (ECC). The 5-year plan includes five strategic areas for early childhood development: (i) Effective parenting education and support; (ii) Effective preventive health care; (iii) Early and effective screening, diagnosis and intervention for “at risk” children and households; (iv) Safe, learner-centred, well-maintained Early Childhood Institutions (ECIs); and (v) Effective curriculum delivery by trained ECD practitioners (ECC, 2009). Here are some of the achievements of the NSP in 2010/11, to illustrate the range of cross-sectoral activities: (i) an approved Standards and Accreditation System for early childhood parenting education and support programs; (ii) a spatial analysis of Early Childhood Education (ECE) Services; (iii) development of Level III (vocational) competency standards; (iv) introduction of a Child Health Passport to monitor children’s development from birth at public health clinics; and (v) design of a Management Information System (MIS) which is being populated with data coming from the inspections of ECIs.

The NSP recognizes that many sectors are responsible for the care of young children and they must all work together. The Government ministries and agencies responsible for carrying out the NSP activities include the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Finance, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), and the national HEART Training Agency. The ECC signs an annual or bi-annual Memorandum of Understanding with each of these agencies. A carefully crafted monitoring and evaluation framework ensures that all the Government ministries and agencies involved in the ECD sector are moving together, in a coordinated fashion, towards the achievement of the goals and objectives laid out in the NSP. Finally, the NSP guides coordinated support from international and local development partners or funding agencies and reduces duplication of efforts.

This is one example of a “village” that has come together to raise the children of Jamaica and to improve their education and health outcomes. Do you know of other examples?

Cynthia Hobbs is a Senior Education Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank.

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