By: Juan Antonio Pungiluppi, Executive Director, ALAS Foundation
March 17, 2016. Diario La República. Bogota, Colombia.The importance of Early Childhood Development -ECD- is an increasingly known subject of analysis. Scientific evidence demonstrates its benefits in the short, medium and long terms.
Such is the importance of this topic that it was placed at the center of the discussion in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals and, for the first time, this allowed to set a specific goal that stresses nations to ensure universal access to early childhood education programs for population under the age of six.
In Colombia, more than 2.4 million children under age five are living in vulnerable situations (DANE, 2014), of which, 52% still don’t have access to national programs of early childhood comprehensive care that integrates education, health and nutrition. We are not only far from achieving universal coverage but also, based in contractual revisions that ICBF (Colombian Family Welfare Institute) is leading to service providers, we must focus on quality and relevance of running programs.
The National Government is committed with this issue, but we must understand that it requires a collective effort to close the gaps of inequality in access to early childhood comprehensive care programs, with special emphasis on rural areas. Perhaps that is the biggest challenge so far.
In this scenario, local governments have a huge responsibility to expand coverage and investment in these programs. This is the right moment to ensure that the commitment to early childhood makes part of the Territorial Development Plans 2016-2019, to avoid events such as those that occurred with indigenous children of La Guajira, which have been rejected by the national and international opinion, and which make evident the historical flaws in public policy.
We highlight the work of the national government’s strategy referred as “Zero to Always”, which is providing technical support in this matter to the territories through the National Family Welfare System. The inclusion of specific goals in early childhood should be done in a timely and appropriate manner. In this sense, we urge and we invite municipal and departmental leaders to learn about the current situation of this population in their territories in order to define targeted interventions to address their needs.
The role of the private sector is crucial in this joint effort that requires the support of all. In this field there are successful stories to highlight, this is the case of the alliance First Thing’s First (Primero lo Primero), a public-private initiative that ALAS Foundation is part of and that has channeled technical and financial resources for the construction of Early Childhood Development Centers that have expanded comprehensive care coverage in 12 municipalities in Colombia. An example of collective effort and intervention with a quality seal.
Likewise, we highlight the commitment of companies and business leaders such as Cristina Stenbeck, major shareholder of MILLICOM and Chairman of the European Investment Company AB Kinnevik, which has become an ALAS Foundation benefactor for Early Childhood in Latin America, based on her constant concern for improving quality of life for mankind.
One of the greatest lessons learned in the implementation of these public-private initiatives, has been precisely to understand that we require not only increasing investment in comprehensive care programs for early childhood, but we should also strive to develop strategies that allow cost effective and high-impact interventions. This is the only way we can reach the ideal of a developed and prosperous country that ensures all the proper conditions for our children to grow up healthy, happy and develop their talents on an equal footing.
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