Investing in our Future in a COVID Complex World
43% of children under 5 years of age in low-income and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential. This is set to increase as a result of socio-economic, physical and mental health consequences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 29, 2020, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), ChildFund International, the Global Campaign for Education-US, Light for the World, PATH, Save the Children International and UNICEF, with support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), hosted the virtual session Investing in our Future: Nurturing Human Capital in a COVID Complex World at the 2020 IMF/World Bank Group Annual Meetings, Civil Society Policy Forum. The event examined the impact of major disruptions in services for the nurturing care and development of all young children as a result of COVID-19, presented a new Cost of Inaction for Young Children tool, and identified pathways to increase investments for young children.
Strategic investments in early childhood development (ECD) need to be prioritized in COVID-19 response. Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of Programme Division at UNICEF, shared that children's brains develop the fastest in the early years and COVID-19 has brought a crisis of care with far-reaching consequences. Six recommendations were given including the need to prioritize ECD services with focus on equity and access, provide practical support to parents & caregivers on COVID-19 protection, prioritize inclusive ECD funding, and reaffirm human rights and the rights of children during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I miss studying and playing,” said a 5-year-old girl who lives with her parents and brothers in a refugee camp in Rwanda. Children around the world said that education is what they missed the most from the pre-COVID-19 world, in interviews conducted by Save the Children. Their analysis shared the urgency to act to address the hidden education emergency during COVID-19. The research showed that 10 million children could be out of school forever by the end of this year, marking the start of a surge in dropouts. Save the Children’s new Vulnerability Index identifies 12 countries where children are at an extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns are lifted. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to leave a gap of at least $77 billion in education spending in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next 18 months.
Nafisa Baboo, Director of Inclusive Education at Light for the World, emphasized the need to Leave No Child Behind from the onset by hardwiring inclusion of the most marginalized including children with disabilities into early childhood interventions and programs. ECD is massively underfunded, despite verbal commitments and overwhelming evidence of its transformative power. Vulnerable children, particularly children at risk of developmental delays and disabilities are being left out. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence (66%) of children at risk of not meeting their developmental potential. This is set to increase as a result of socio-economic, physical and mental health consequences related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which are felt even more by families of children with disabilities.
The cost of inaction and not providing ECD services has a negative effect on countries and can have a lifelong impact on children and youth. Other knowledgeable presenters at the session included Dr. Jere Behrman, Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, Zoila Cristina Llempen Lopez, Director of Public Budget in the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Peru, and Dr. Hana Brixi, Manager of the Human Capital Project at the World Bank. All presenters shared the current need to prioritize young children and highlighted that the cost of inaction is huge. Inclusive ECD needs to be brought to scale and strengthened to be more inclusive and resilient for the future.
To learn more about the event, click here.