ARUSHA, March 2, 2012 -- The first eight years of a child’s life are the most critical. It is during this period of early childhood development (ECD) that children’s brains develop and grow the most and when habits are formed. Research shows that children who receive proper health and nutrition interventions and consistent carein their early years fare better -- both at school and later in life -- increasing their quality of life in general. Returns on ECD interventions can be greater than tenfold the resource spent.
In Tanzania, the numbers tell a different story. Forty-two percent of children under five years old are stunted, three out of every five children between the ages of five and six years old do not attend preschool, and many of the country’s children are not developing to their full potential.
In an effort to change this sobering statistic, Tanzanian government officials signed a declaration during the first Forum on ECD held on Feb. 21 - 23. A key element of the declaration is the Tanzanian government’s recognition that ECD is a pre-requisite for economic and social welfare.
As a result, the government has committed to ECD policy as a matter of priority, with action including increasing resources for ECD, including a budget line for ECD within key minister’s budgets. It also includes strengthening partnerships for ECD and using modern technologies to build capacity, deliver and monitor services, and reach communities and families.
The declaration came at the conclusion of the three-day Forum, which drew more than 170 participants from around the world who took on ECD from an integrated, multi-sectoral approach, reviewing important factors in shaping a child’s life such as child nutrition, healthcare, early learning and violence.
By the end of the forum, Tanzanian ministers for finance; community development, gender and children; education and vocational training; health and social welfare; and regional administration and local government signed the declaration to bolster support through policies and programs.
The Honorable Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa, Minister of Education and Vocational Training, stressed the importance of ECD and the government’s support.
“This is the only forum I can remember where we’ve had this number of [government] ministers and deputy ministers for three days,” he said.
The forum was organized by the Tanzanian government, the World Bank, the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, the Aga Khan Development Network, Children in Crossfire, the Tanzanian Early Child Development Network (TECDEN), and UNICEF.