By Priya Anaokar 

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In developing countries, at least 219 million children under the age of 5 fail to reach their cognitive and socio-emotional potential because of poverty, poor health and nutrition, and non-stimulating care, as reported by the Global Child Development Group (GCDG)

The degree of loss of potential is calculated by the discrepancy between the children’s developmental levels and what these same children could have achieved in a more nurturing environment with adequate stimulation and nutrition. This means that these disadvantaged children enter school with cognitive and behavioral deficits, do poorly in school and are likely to transfer this poverty to the next generation, setting forth a cycle of poverty. Actually, this loss of human potential is estimated to lead to more than 20% deficit in adult income with implications for the development of the whole country.

So what is needed for a fair start for all children? According to studies published in The Lancet by the GCDG, interventions such as parenting support and pre-school enrolment have clear benefits for development with the impact being greater in programs that are of higher quality and aimed towards the most vulnerable children. Other promising interventions include children’s educational media, and combining the promotion of early childhood development with conditional cash transfer programs.

It has been estimated that the increased access to just one early childhood intervention and increased preschool enrolment have reduced the gap in attained schooling between disadvantaged and higher income children. In numbers, it translates into benefits for adult income 6-17 times the cost of providing early childhood development programs.

We have made progress in understanding what needs to be done but we still have a long way to go. The poorest and the most vulnerable children continue to be least likely to have access to needed programs. Effective investments in early childhood development have the potential to reduce inequalities perpetuated by poverty, poor nutrition and limited early learning opportunities. Although, the key issue is to develop better knowledge on how to take proven strategies to scale and how to scale up advocacy in the challenge of making early childhood development a global priority.

Priya Anaokar is a Knowledge Specialist working at the Global Child Development Group at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Jamaica. The GCDG is  a group of multi-disciplinary early childhood development professionals involved in the scientific review, evaluation and dissemination of information on child development. The group encourages engagement between researchers, program and policy makers to facilitate translation of research to policy. The Steering Committee of the Global Child Development Group led the group of researchers and policy makers that authored the series ‘Child Development in Developing Countries’ in The Lancet (January, 2007 and September, 2011).

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