Photo by Matthew Henry, retrieved from BURST

This post was contributed by Tiago Almeida (ESELx).

The Millennium Development Goals only considered children with reference to child mortality and maternal mortality. While important, both indicators are insufficient to ensure the future well-being of children and families. Beyond survival, children have the right to thrive, to develop their full potential and to live in a sustainable world. Furthermore, we need to raise children’s awareness of sustainable development, in order to make further progress in the coming decades.

The Millennium Developmental Goals were up between 2000 and 2015, and are now replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, as defined by the United Nations. This text aims to discuss the place of young children, and, specifically, early childhood education in these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in two ways:

i. How investment in early childhood education and the development and learning of young children translates into SDG; and,
ii. What can be done in the educational context to raise awareness of the SDGs among future generations?[1].

Relationship between childhood development and sustainable development

Children’s health, learning and behaviour during the early years are the basis for increasing, on the one hand, the likelihood of school success and, on the other, their ability to participate in the community and society. Besides, the growth and development of young children are profoundly influenced by the learning opportunities, education, economic resources and interactions provided by adults – whether these adults are at home, in services or other community settings.

Some of the fields that have contributed most to this evidence are neurosciences, psychology, sociology, anthropology, among others. The neurosciences have illustrated how the architecture of the brain develops in the early years of life through a process that is extremely sensitive to external influence. Experiences at home, in other care settings, such as daycare centres and kindergartens, or communities, interact with genes, influencing the development of brain architecture, establishing an essential basis for the future.

Psychology studies and discusses how children develop a set of skills, for example, cognitive (language, literacy, mathematics), socio-emotional (empathy, pro-social behaviour), persistence, attention, self-regulation and executive functions (voluntary control of attention and action) [2,3,4].

Sociology and anthropology show the role that context and culture can play in child development. Economics illustrates how this investment translates into higher returns and lower spending on fighting disease and crime [5,6].

All this evidence has contributed to the fact that more than 65 nations have developed comprehensive policies for children in the last 15 years. Portugal, for example, has approved the universality of preschool education for children aged 3, 4 and 5 by 2019.

Sustainable Development and Childhood Education Goals. What relationship?

Based on the growing evidence for the benefits of early childhood education for children and societies, investments in early childhood education are considered to be an integral part of sustainable development. Ideally, this investment in early childhood education will translate into better educated, healthier children and a prosperous and peaceful future [7].

Target 4.2, which is in goal 4 – Ensuring quality inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all – states that by 2030 all children should have access to quality early childhood education programmes before formal learning begins. More specifically, target 4.2 specifies two indicators [8]:

1. The proportion of children under the age of 5 who are developing as expected for their age in terms of health, learning and psychosocial well-being;
2. The percentage of children attending early childhood education programmes in the year before formal education.

For those wishing to deepen the SDGs, there is a free online course in Portuguese subtitled by the SGD Academy (UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network initiative) on this theme: ‘The Best Start in Life: Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development’.

For reflection

Access to early childhood education is vital, but it is not enough, and there must be quality and inclusive early childhood education. How do you think child development, early childhood education and sustainable development can be articulated in the promotion of inclusive educational environments? What aspects of sustainable development are part of your educational intentions?

Share your thoughts with us.

[1] Chan, M. (2013). Linking child survival and child development for health, equity and sustainable development. The Lancet. 381, 1514-1515.
[2] Harvard Center on the Developing Child (2007). The science of early childhood development: Closing the gap between what we know and what we do. Cambridge
[3] Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., … & Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental psychology, 43, 1428.
[4] Alves Martins, M., & Niza, I. (2007). Psicologia da aprendizagem da linguagem escrita. Lisboa: Universidade Aberta.
[5] Young, M.E. (2014). Addressing and Mitigating Vulnerability across the Life Cycle: The Case for Investing in Early Childhood. United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report Office, Occasional Papers Series.
[6] Heckman, J. J. (2006). Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children. Science, 312, 1900-1902.
[7] Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development (2012). Placing early childhood on the global agenda. Toronto: Ryerson University.
[9] Dahlberg, G., Moss, P. & Pence, A. (2002). Qualidade na educação da primeira infância: perspectivas pós-modernas. Porto Alegre: Artmed

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Early childhood education and sustainable development goals

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