Early Childhood: a golden opportunity for international development

There's been quite a buzz about early childhood education lately in popular media and among the Obama administration. A national conversation about new approaches to international development is also picking up steam, thanks to President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Undersecretary McHale. But I haven't seen any overlap between these two important policy areas. Such connections should be made as soon as possible: private and public American institutions have a great deal of expertise to offer in the field of early childhood. And there is no better way to make systemic and sustainable change in a community than by working with its youngest members. When you work with a four-year-old, his mom pays attention! As well as his dad, older brother, and grandmother. Hillary Clinton herself asserted that It takes a village to raise children right!

In the media, scientific interest in the neurological and cognitive aspects of developmental psychology has produced robust evidence for the power of early childhood programming, and the nature of the most successful programs. For example, a Scientific American article demonstrated the importance of Play (February 2009) for healthy social and intellectual development. A few pieces in the New York Times have addressed the professionalization of pre-school as a competitive prep school environment, and a long profile described singer Shakira's admirable commitment to the field and her work in Latin America.

President Obama has shown himself to be an advocate of the field since the election. He is taking action with the recent SAFRA Act regarding student loans, which includes $10 billion over 10 years for early learning challenge grants. Just this week, Obama addressed his interest in children's "most formative years" in a speech to the NAACP:

we should raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs. It's not enough just to have a babysitter. We need our young people stimulated and engaged and involved. Today, some early learning programs are excellent. Some are mediocre. And some are wasting what studies show are by far a child's most formative years.

Though USAID remains without a chief, Secretary Clinton and Undersecretary McHale, among others, have cited their commitment to change the way the US promotes development internationally. The combination of scientific evidence and Obama's domestic commitment to quality intervention in early learning make international early childhood development programs a powerful opportunity to pursue our international development goals.

There are already some organizations trying to realize this potential. For example, the Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings is hosting a series of international conferences to cultivate Business Champions of Early Childhood Development. Teaching Strategies is working to bring their top-quality resources to like-minded partners in the Middle East and other regions of the world.

Here at TYO Nablus, we hope to offer evidence from the field about the potential of early childhood programs as high-impact development and public diplomacy initiative. We see the need for the high quality materials and resources like the Creative Curriculum of Teaching Strategies for at-risk kids in Palestine, just like those that Obama's Challenge Grants seek to support.

What international early childhood initiatives do you know about? Tell us about them! And encourage them to join the discussion in the Children of the World group within the Early Learning Community. The achievement gap created before kindergarten in the US is equally deserving of attention on an international level in pursuit of a peaceful and prosperous global community. Bookmark and Share