Davos, January 16, 2017. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez
Last week world leaders gathered together in Davos, Switzerland for the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. Education—and early childhood development in particular—received prominent mention as both the best way to unlock the full potential of every child and to ensure that the future workforce is equipped with the skills needed for tomorrow’s job market.
In the lead up to the Forum, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake wrote on why and how the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are essential to our collective economic success. Ages zero-to-three represent a critical window of brain development for a child, with as many as 1,000 neural connections formed every second. Children who receive adequate nutrition, stimulation, and protection are better able to make these connections impacting their ability to learn, grow, and thrive to their full potential.
Sadly, around the world as many as 250 million children are not receiving the care and stimulation they need and this collective failure “come[s] at a great cost to all of us. A cost measured in poor learning, lower wages, higher unemployment, increased reliance on public assistance and intergenerational cycles of poverty that weigh down economic and social progress for everyone.”
According to Lake, businesses can play a key role in promoting access to quality early childhood development for all children in a number of ways: “from policies that give parents more time to support their children’s development; to early childhood development facilities in their workplaces and beyond, especially in the communities in which they operate.”
On Tuesday, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and world-renowned musician Shakira echoed these sentiments in her acceptance speech for the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award.
“Today’s babies will drive tomorrow’s businesses,” she said. “It’s proven that children who receive proper care, nutrition, and stimulation in the first five years do much better at school and in life.”
— GBCEducation (@gbceducation) January 17, 2017
Shakira is also a member of the Education Commission whose influential report, The Learning Generation, was released at the UN General Assembly last September. In the report, the Commission called for increased investment in early learning, including two years of pre-primary education for every child. Education Commission Chair Gordon Brown and Shakira also met together this week to discuss early childhood development and the future of financing for education.
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova also spoke in Davos on the urgency of ensuring education systems keep pace with changing technology and the needs of the job market. “The stakes are high: poor quality education will not provide economies and societies with the right skills for a bright future — uneducated generations will throw all development into jeopardy,” said Bokova.
— GBCEducation (@gbceducation) January 19, 2017
While millions of children continue to be left out of quality education and access to early childhood development programs, the future of tomorrow’s economies and societies is at risk. As Anthony Lake concluded: “We cannot fail tomorrow’s citizens, tomorrow’s consumers, tomorrow’s workers, thinkers and innovators, for their abilities will drive tomorrow’s businesses. Their productivity will fuel tomorrow’s economies and their capacity to contribute will shape tomorrow’s societies.”
To learn more about how business can promote early childhood development, see our report Opportunities for Impact: Business Case for Engaging in Early Childhood Development.