Early Childhood Development in the SDGs

Martin Woodhead
Early childhood development
Policy paper

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.

The emphasis on ‘quality’ in Target 4.2 is crucial. The strongest evidence demonstrating the potential of ECD comes from well-planned and well-resourced programmes that:

  • are ‘developmentally appropriate’ respecting children’s rights, needs, capacities, interests and ways of learning at each stage of their early lives;
  • recognise the interdependencies between nutrition, health, care and education, from the ‘first 1000 days’ onwards;
  • build on and support children’s key relationships, especially with their mother, father and wider family in the specific physical, social, cultural and language contexts that are the foundation for well-being.