“What is one of the best ways a country can boost shared prosperity, promote inclusive economic growth, expand equitable opportunity, and end extreme poverty? The answer is simple: Invest in early childhood development (Nurturing Care Framework, World Health Organization, 2018, p. 1).
Early Childhood is a crucial time in a human’s life to lay strong foundations for lifelong learning and good health. Especially pre-natal to age eight are considered most crucial for formation of brain and intelligence among children. A vast body of research has demonstrated that Early Child Development (ECD) programs benefit children, families, and communities; the reduced dropout and repetition rates, improved school achievements, greater adult productivity, and higher levels of social and emotional functioning encouraged by ECD programs make them a highly cost-effective means of strengthening society as a whole by ensuring that its individual members live up to their full potentials . However, Pakistan lags many developing countries in meeting the SDGs for young children.
The alarming situation of Early Childhood Development in Pakistan
National Nutrition Survey Report (2018) reveals that in Pakistan four out of ten children under five years of age are stunted while 17.7% suffer from wasting, whereas, more than half (53.7%) of Pakistani children are anaemic and 5.7% are severely anaemic . The situation of education is not encouraging either, with 22 million children out of school. This indicates that we are not doing enough to save the lives of children who are our future hope.
It is important to understand the ecology of early childhood development where all the factors including family’s level of affordability, family structures, parental education and work, neighborhood and culture, access to mother child health care services and child protection laws and their enforcement, all these factors have an influence on child development. Therefore, it is important to view child well being from a holistic perspective.
Nurturing Care Framework
WHO (2018) has introduced nurturing care framework which provides clear and comprehensive guidelines for both policy makers and practitioners to understand the whole ecology of ECD to initiatie programs for child development and wellbeing. As per the report, “Nurturing care refers to conditions created by public policies, programs and services. These conditions enable communities and caregivers to ensure children’s good health and nutrition and protect them from threats. Nurturing care also means giving young children opportunities for early learning, through interactions that are responsive and emotionally supportive”. The diagram shows the following key components of nurturing care framework:
1. Good health
2. Adequate nutrition
3. Responsive care giving
4. Opportunity for early learning
5. Security and safety
Encouraging the Local Good Practices in Pakistan
Many international and national development actors are playing a key role to support the government of Pakistan’s commitment to promoting child rights and SDGs. There are local good practices which show modest results in realizing child development goals for health, nutrition and education at community level. These good practices need to be explored and success stories and lessons learnt need to be shared for wider impact.
Hashoo Foundation has been engaged in promoting ECD in Pakistan since 2004. Since then around 7000 women have been trained in ECD certificate and diploma courses. These graduates are working as ECD facilitators /teachers and educators and are making a key difference in terms of contributing to nurturing care services for children and parents at community level in neglected populations specially. There are many success stories to tell how women are making an impact in developing a sustainable society. Here is as example of how a big dream is translated in to reality through taking one step at a time:
“Rozina, a visionary and passionate woman, joined Hashoo Foundation ECD Diploma Training Program in 2013. She had a dream to do something for her society. Soon after completion of her training program, she started working on her dream and with her family support, she opened a free Montessori school namely Maa Jee School for those children who could not afford school fee and were out of school. She opened this school in a less privileged area in the outskirts of Rawalpindi city. Through her hard work, passion and positive relations with parents and mothers, soon she enrolled 30 children. Parent happily paid a minimal fee as they saw their children happy and learning. The school continued to grow and now has more than 400 children up to class 5. As she learnt in her ECD training, Rozina not only focusses on education, but also prompts healthy nutrition and hygiene among children through parental education programs. She specially educates children and parents on the importance of breakfast and a carrying lunch box to school. She says that a hungry and sick child cannot learn. Child’s physical and emotional needs have to be satisfied first to motve them for learning.
Her professional approach certainly makes a positive difference in the lives of the children. Pakistan needs many more women like Rozina to overcome the challenges of child well being in Pakistan.