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Early Childhood Development (ECD): A step towards a better future
- Shamsa Amin Hussaini
Gifted with countless skills and abilities, every child enters this world with a fresh, fertile, sponge-like brain, ready to be exploited. The critical years of every child begins from the conception through birth to the 8 years of age and according to developmental psychology, this is the time of significant physical, cognitive, social and emotional development for every person. Incidents and experience in these first few years of life, and even before birth leave their impressions throughout children’s life, signifying the influence of external environment on a child’s development. Dr. Hiam Ginnot says, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Therefore, these early years are said to be the best time for children to learn and should be maximized to lay a foundation of a brighter future. The explosion of research in this area of Early Childhood Development (ECD) has gained public attention and has become a topic for discussion. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Missouri (2012), states that researches over the years indicate that significant short-term and long-term benefits are gained by children who participated in early education programs. Additionally, three meta-analyses of over 120 research studies indicate that around eighty percent children with ECD programs scored better on school entry as compared to those who did not experience such programs. Moreover, Tribune (2013) reveals that globally the enrolment in primary school has increased,from fifty-three percent in 1990 to eighty-one percent in 2011.This signifies the benefit of ECD children are receiving. However, there are a lot of people who are unaware of this knowledge or do not make ECD initiatives a part of their lives and eventually remain deprived of its benefits. According to UNICEF (2013), each year, 7.6 million children under the age of five die worldwide and more than two-hundred million children do not reach their full potentials. This in turn makes their countries lose approximately twenty percent of the adult productivity. Besides, in Pakistan there exist a lack of significant data and statistics about ECD implementation, however, it was reported that about 86 children every 1000 live births were reported to die in 2012 (Tribune, 2014) and no one knows how many of the living children may not have achieved their developmental milestones. Researchers have proved that a positive Early Childhood Development can open a world of possibilities and opportunities for a child but many children in Pakistan are never exposed to it. Similar to Pakistan, there are several other developing countries where children less than eight years are suffers multiple things which negatively influences their development. There could be several reasons due to which many children are unable to maximize their potentials in developing countries like Pakistan. These may include poverty, gender biasness, economic status, ethnicity, disability and poor health. All these factors prevent these innocent beings from receiving adequate nutrition, care and opportunities to learn as their environment is non-stimulating for a positive growth. Such circumstances make the poor families focus on keeping their children fed and neglecting the other cognitive, health, emotional and social needs of their children. Concurrently, researches prove that children without exposure to ECD programs lack in their social, emotional and cognitive skills. Therefore, the significance of this issue in countries like Pakistan cannot be denied. . If these children are provided with appropriate Early Childhood Development, may become a source of the country’s development in future and bring prosperity. This article aims to provide a basic understanding about Early Childhood Development, its statistics, the importance of investing in it and the ways to promote it within the society.
Understanding of Early Childhood Development varies from people to people and is affected by several factors including local and family traditions, culture, national policies, schooling systems, awareness etc. However, increasing discussions about early childhood activities and development had familiarized people with the concept to some extent. ECD is not just confined to schooling and education, but, it is concerned with holistic well-being of a child. While it stresses on providing a joyful learning environment at schools, it also caters child’s health, nutrition and hygiene. ECD also entails cognitive, social, physical and emotional development. Therefore, Early Childhood Development may not just be conducted at school environment or a formal setting, it may occur at an informal setting as well, provided by anyone from governmental organizations (NGOs), governmental organizations to communities and parents. Literature reveals that the major concept behind the ECD programs is that every child is unique with different growth and developmental needs to be addressed. Moreover, ECD programs does not just develop children, it also compensates for any kind of negative influences or experiences in any aspect of life like social, emotional, nutritive, cognitive et cetera. In addition, ECD also supports Child Rights Convention, according to which every child has a right to be provided with opportunities to develop his personality and his mental and physical abilities.
Scientific researchers have proved that about ninety percent of the brain develops by the age of five years and during early childhood, genetics, environment and experiences together work to build integrated circuits in the brain. Additionally, a stimulating environment, adequate nutrients and social interaction are said to be the major requirement for optimal brain development. ECD programs focus on these factors and emphasizes on providing stimulating environments to children ad meet all their needs for the betterment of their future lives.
However, children’s development is often ignored in our society where they are seen as smaller versions of adults due to which advances in physical, psychological and social development remains unimportant. The normal development of children is categorized into three aspects; physical, psychological and emotional. Physically, the rate of development increases as children passes infancy. With increasing age children develop different gross and fine motor skills. As discussed earlier, both genetic and environmental factors affect the child’s normal development. Growth of a child depends on certain hormones in the body. The particular hormone responsible for physical development of a child is sensitive to environmental stressors. Environment with less stress and more care, love and stimulation favors the growth of children. Thus, environmental factors play a significant role in children’s physical development.
Apart from physical, normal psychological development of children includes cognitive and emotional development. Psychologist, Jean Piaget adequately explains the cognitive development during childhood. According to him children play an active role in gaining, constructing and understanding the knowledge of the world. He developed four stages of children’s cognitive development. According to which, early cognitive development involves processes based upon actions whereas in later stages there are changes in mental operations of children. As they grow, their thinking becomes logical, abstract and their learning abilities improve. Moreover, children begin to use deductive reasoning and abstract ideas as their age increases. Also, children experience enhanced concentration, judgment and attention span with age.
In addition to cognition, children also exhibit emotional development like increase in self-awareness and feeling empathy and pain. Further, children begin to appreciate the feelings and perceptions of others, contributing to their moral development. Hence, psychological development enhances children’s moral reasoning and abilities.
Furthermore, children’s social development occurs as they grow and come in contact with the people around them. This aspect of their development includes relationship of child with their parents, siblings and friends. Literature underlines that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in children’s development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life. According to psychologist Albert Bandura, children learn new behaviors from people each time when they interact with their social environment. By observing the actions of others, they tend to develop new skills and acquire new information which they practice later. Also, with increasing age, children become more socially active and participate in different activities where they have hands-on experiences, helping in developing higher brain functioning. Also, children love to play different games and as they grow, they move from solitary state to playing in groups and respecting others’ opinions.
ECD is an initiative which aids the normal development of children and fulfils their developmental milestones that are related to their physical, social and emotional aspect. It also guarantees outstanding returns not just for the individual alone but for the society and the country too. Therefore, the developing countries are seen to support the idea as it provides them, a hope of overcoming the darkness of poverty and other problems. Also, literature says that learning experiences in early years of life has lasting impacts on the holistic well-being of an individual and the development missed at this stage can hardly be replaced in later life. And if replaced, it is expensive and challenging, therefore, Early Childhood Development should be focused as a preventive and secure measure for each child.
Arguments exist that children have always grown up to be intelligent and reliable young adults without the benefits of an intentionally planned proper early childhood development programs. But in today’s vast and challenging world there is a need to provide children with environment of learning opportunities so that our future generation could grow up into successful people and in turn benefit our country. For the same, several initiatives have been taken at community, national and international levels. UNESCO and UNICEF are two of the several international organizations which work to close the knowledge gap and promote ECD initiatives throughout the world to improve children’s life. Furthermore, it has been observed that in developing countries, effective ECD facilities and services are available mostly to the high profile and rich areas leaving the poor deprived and dwelling in the cycle of poverty. However, there are still several governmental and NGOs working throughout Pakistan, in urban and rural areas, to benefit the population with ECD initiatives in all aspects. Some of them are; Ali Institute of Education, Aga Khan Development Network, Children’s Global Network for Pakistan, HOPE, and PAHVNA, Health and Nutrition Development Society. Even though organizations are working to promote ECD programs in Pakistan yet, a lot needs to be done. We need to ensure that the possibilities of the world remain open to every child and this could be achieved by providing a safe stimulating environment in early childhood. Today’s children are the future of every nation; they will become tomorrow’s citizens, workers, and parents. So, society, parents and government should invest wisely in ECD initiatives as they play a vital role in preparing the younger generations for a lifetime of productivity and prosperity. Several strategies could be adapted to progress towards the goal of providing healthier learning experiences both at home and in community too. Primarily, parents need to be aware of the concept of ECD and its importance as they control their children’s life. They should be empowered to nurture their child’s development and in absence of professional ECD programs and services, parents could independently be a source of a positive early childhood development for their child by paying attention to young children’s emotional, social, cognitive and health needs. Community, governmental and NGOs could do this through informative programs, advertisements, discussions and parents’ education initiatives. Moreover, society at large needs to be educated about importance and benefits of investing in ECD programs as well. For the purpose of spreading awareness and knowledge, not just amongst parents but also for the society as a whole, media could be beneficial as it reaches out to large number of people at diverse places, belonging to different cultures, in shorter time. Besides, adopting interventions respecting the economic, social and cultural aspects of the community would make it easier for the community people to accept and practice them, ultimately promoting Early Childhood Development. For example, healthcare professionals could support parents to integrate their child-rearing practices with the recent, scientific recommended approaches to bring up their child more efficiently. Additionally, teachers should be empowered and informed about ways to blend the concept of ECD with their teaching learning practices. This could be done through training programs, supervisions, and monitoring children’s development with time. Moreover, community people could be empowered to establish low-cost community based centers in order to enhance the development of the children in the particular community. Apart from community, NGOs and government together could play a vital role in promoting ECD throughout the society. They could join hands and work in partnership to provide holistic ECD services to the country. Furthermore, at governmental level, policy initiatives like promoting rich learning environment for young children can provide a basis for their future productivity and success in the society.
As highlighted above, low socioeconomic status is one of the factors leading to ineffective childhood development of several children in Pakistan. Therefore, there exists a need to adopt simple, cost-effective measures which could be implemented at home or anywhere to promote a healthier ECD and minimize the negative effects of the economic status. In community, ECD can be best promoted by mother, family especially grandmothers and cousins. Mothers could engage their children in different activities at home like playing with objects, singing poem, showing colorful pictures, making origami or involving children in fruits or vegetable identification. These activities can help in promoting children’s cognitive development. Also, children love to play with their grandparents, who can tell stories to the kids and play with them at free time. The more children listen to people, they improve their own language and vocabulary, so, communication and storytelling can help parents develop language skills of their children. Moreover, parents could be trained regarding different activities they could plan for their child at home. Besides, physical development of children could be achieved though several ways including provision of proper nutrition.
All in all, children’s growth and development should be a primary focus of community as well as government as these young people are the ones who will form the workforce of the country in the near future. To bring about prosperity and success, every individual needs to get active. One should start with his own home; one simple act can create a big effect. It is hoped that a better understanding about the rapidly growing concept of Early Childhood Development can ignite a thought to work for ECD of children at every level possible. Today, when the world is speedily moving ahead, there is a compelling need for the adults to choose and act wisely to create better, competitive and capable individuals within the available, limited resources in Pakistan. Therefore, make a wise decision, support and invest in Early Childhood Development programs to nurture optimal growth and development of the children in our country.
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