For millions of the world’s most disadvantaged children, we are missing a window of opportunity to provide them with the best start to life. Why? Because governments worldwide spend on average less than 2 per cent of their education budgets on early childhood programmes.
Recent advances in neuroscience show us that early childhood is critical in shaping a child’s development. The brain growth that happens during this period is remarkable. Brain connections are formed giving shape and depth to children’s cognitive, emotional and social development.
Unfortunately, many millions of children around the world are deprived of the key ingredients to foster brain development. This needs to change. I have two toddlers myself, a two-year-old and a three-year-old, so I get to see first-hand the difference you can make in a child’s life, and bring that experience to my job every day.
However, you do not need to take this from me. Research across a range of sectors and demographics shows that children without access to nutritious food and healthcare miss opportunities to learn. Children who are exposed to violence, conflict and extreme stress have underdeveloped neural connections. Studies have even shown that children from lower income households who received high-quality stimulus at a young age earned 25 per cent more in later years. By giving an additional US$0.50 per person, the rate of return on investing in early childhood programmes can be as much as 13.7 per cent.
In line with the UN General Assembly taking place this week, UNICEF has launched a report on early childhood development; Early Moments Matter for Every Child. At the Novak Djokovic Foundation, we support the work they are doing, calling on governments and policy makers to back up the pledges they have made in support of early childhood development with six concrete actions:
- Investment in services which help give children the best start to life
- Improved access to essential early childhood development services in homes, schools, communities, and healthcare centres
- Bringing family-friendly early childhood development policies to the top of government agendas
- Collecting data on the topic and tracking academic progress
- Providing dedicated leadership for early childhood education programmes
- Driving demand for high quality early childhood development services
Early childhood development is something close to Novak Djokovic’s heart, even more so now he has become a father for the second time. He grew up in Serbia, a country torn apart by war where half of all children still do not have access to pre-school education. Novak’s family supported and invested in his future and the Novak Djokovic Foundation is his way of giving back and enabling other children to reach their own dreams, whatever they may be.
When looking to drive policy change, one voice is not enough. It is the hope of all those who work at the Novak Djokovic Foundation that we will be able to realise the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals; giving every child an equal opportunity to reach their potential. This can be achieved when governments invest adequate resources, drive policy changes and engage in meaningful research in support of early childhood programmes. The time to act is now. The evidence is unequivocal and early childhood development needs to be at the top of every government’s agenda.
You can access the full Early Moments Matter for Every Child report via this link.