Early childhood development in the SDGs

Agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals signals that early childhood development (ECD) will be a priority focus for the twenty-first century. Explicit mention is made in SDG Target 4.2 which states that by 2030 countries should: ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’. But SDG commitments to ECD are much broader than this education-focused target. Strengthening early childhood development is key to achieving at least seven of the SDGs, on poverty, hunger, health (including child mortality), education, gender, water and sanitation and inequality.

This policy brief offers five key messages that can underpin delivery of the SDGs through the transformative potential of accessible, inclusive, quality ECD – for all young girls and boys, and for their families: 1) early deprivation affects the growth and changing structure and function of the brain; 2) inequalities emerge – and are best prevented – early in life; 3) early child development programmes are cost-effective; 4) the first three years matter too and; 5) it is important to ensure that programmes are targeted, equitable and inclusive.


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