Early childhood investments

In 2016, the World Bank reported that as many as 250 million children below the age of five (43% of all children in low and middle-income countries) could not reach their expected cognitive or socio-emotional development.


In Ghana, one out of every five children is faced with the challenge of stunting due to poor nutrition, frequent ill health and a less healthy environment. The impact on the development of their brains results in difficulty in learning and consequently poor school performance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 3.65 million children in Ghana live in poverty and 1.2 million children live in extreme poverty. As a result, one out of every 17 children born in Ghana is unlikely to see their 5th birthday sadly.

While these results are produced every now and then and some progress from several interventions put in place is being achieved, many more children still need to be supported to reach their full potential in life.

The early years of a child are the very foundation for success because healthy and well-stimulated children enter kindergarten with a certain kind of school readiness that makes them enjoy studying and makes them desirous of achieving higher heights as they go along.

The more educated these children become as adults, the more job opportunities they can access making it easier to break cycles of poverty that they may have been born into.


Children who live in poverty and start school not as healthy as their contemporaries are more likely to drop out of school. This makes them more likely to be unemployed, with most engaging in all sorts of lifestyles and vices including substance abuse.

A skilled workforce is every nation’s precious asset as these fulfil the labour demand and serve the economy well. In recent times, less developed nations have witnessed the mass exodus of professionals to the more developed nations in search of greener pastures.

Preference is given to skilled workforce by these employers, and Ghanaians have not been exempted as targets of this high-level poaching. There has, therefore, been a rapid decline in numbers among professionals in sectors such as health, education, information technology etc. This is not only alarming but calls for very proactive short-, medium and long-term solutions.


Investment in early childhood programmes is one of the solutions worth considering to mitigate the long-term effect of the ongoing attrition among skilled workers. This is because it is the only proven strategy that produces huge returns after many years.

Studies by the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman have shown that every $1 invested in quality early childhood programmes can yield returns between $4-$16. This return on early childhood investment has been described as extraordinary by other economists.

To invest in early childhood is to fund proven programmes and innovative strategies for children under five, that will promote their survival, thriving, development, protection and participation.

 To achieve this, families must be strengthened in their role as a child’s first teacher, the quality of learning environments and standards of teachers must be improved, access to the learning environment must be enabled, and promotion that seeks to help caregivers detect conditions or health problems that can impact learning later must be ongoing.

The fact is that 90 per cent of the adult brain develops before a child starts kindergarten. The skills and abilities such as focus, self-discipline, motivation, collaboration, patriotism etc which are needed to drive productivity, innovation, creativity and strategic problem-solving in a nation, all start to take root in the first five years of life.

The time to tackle the workforce issues facing us (and to face them well) is now. If not now, when?

The writer is a Child Development expert/Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA
E-mail:[email protected]

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