News Column

The First Seven Years Are Key to a Successful Life

June 5, 2014



WASHINGTON, June 5 -- World Bank issued the following news release:

Bulgaria has increased the enrolment rate of children aged 3-6 from 73 to 83.6 percent over the last seven years. However, more should be done to provide early childhood education and care - especially for vulnerable and poor families. A 2011 World Bank/UNDP/EC Roma survey shows, for example, that only about 40 percent of Roma kids aged 3-6 are enrolled in kindergartens.

Scientific evidence suggests that the first 1,000 days are the most important in a child's life. Providing quality services and reaching out to parents with tailored support during this critical period pays off with increased cognitive skills, significantly improved education outcomes, drastic reductions in school dropout rates, and better starts to life.

How to improve public services related to early childhood development; who does what; and what could be done to reach a wide consensus in favor of applying a more integrated approach to child development? These were the main questions that brought together representatives from the Bulgarian government and civil society at a conference in Sofia called "The First 7", an event organized by UNICEF Bulgaria and the World Bank.

Participants at the conference on early childhood development included Prof. Daniel Bobeva, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria in charge of Economic Development; Mrs. Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative for Bulgaria; Mr. Markus Repnik, World Bank Representative for Bulgaria; Mrs. Mukaddes Nalbant, Deputy Minister of Education and Science; Prof. Chavdar Slavov, Deputy Minister of Health; Mr. Lazar Lazarov, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy; Mrs. Eva Jecheva, Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection; as well as a number of other Bulgarian and international experts on child policies focusing on early childhood and children's families, including representatives from academia and the NGO sector.

A positive start in life helps every child to develop to their fullest and is critical for the advancement of an entire society. According to recent analysis by the World Bank called "SABER Early Childhood Development", and also to UNICEF analyses, Bulgaria needs an integrated national policy and a better coordination of existing policies and services in this sphere in order to provide every child with an opportunity to develop to the fullest. Uniting behind a common vision and strategy for improving the wellbeing of children in their early years would enable the creation of an integrated approach towards both planning and provision of the respective services for children and their families. "The First 7" conference is the first step towards building a national consensus on the need to enhance investments in young children and families, by reviewing existing policies and the institutional framework, and considering the opportunities for integrating them into an all-out strategy.

"The first years are the most important in life of every child as they set the basis for overall success in life. They are also very important for every society as this is the best chance to influence future prosperity, inclusiveness and social stability. Early childhood development is considered to be the most powerful tool to address inequities, a chance to provide opportunities to all children to develop their full potential. Every child is needed, and every child has the right to get a good start", declared Mrs. Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative for Bulgaria.

"As parents we all know that investing early in our kids means not only giving them food and clothes: it means giving them attention and love. As economists we are all convinced that each dollar spent in early childhood development pays off. In return, all these investments are transformed into better life choices and wealthier society", Markus Repnik, World Bank Country Manager for Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia said.

Bulgaria's deputy ministers of health, labor and social policy, and education and science presented the main opportunities and challenges to providing the best care for young children in Bulgaria. Jane Barlow, Professor of Public Health in the Early Years at Warwick University in the UK, presented the contemporary scientific understanding of the early childhood period, its influence over a person's life overall, and its reflection in public policies.

Chile's experience in designing and putting into practice an integrated system for early childhood development that unites educators, health specialists and social workers for the benefit of young children in Chile was presented by Veronica Silva, Senior Social Protection Specialist at the World Bank. Prof. Maria Trifonova from the Institute for Population and Human Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences discussed the challenges for early childhood development caused by the socio-economic conditions in Bulgaria.

To ensure consistency following the consensus reached at the Conference on Early Childhood Development Policies "The First 7", UNICEF and the World Bank will continue in their joint efforts to promote the understanding of early childhood as a critical period in a child's life, and the need for a new approach to child and family policy within the framework of an integrated strategy for early childhood development.

About the World Bank The World Bank is the world's largest external financier of education projects. Over the past 50 years, the Bank has invested over USD 70 billion globally in education, 40% of which since 2000, via more than 1,500 projects. As of January 2013, the Bank manages a portfolio of education projects totaling USD 9 billion in 71 countries. The World Bank's Education Sector Strategy 2020, launched in 2011 lays out a ten-year agenda focused on the Bank's highest priority in education today, improving learning for all students, through three guiding principles: Invest early, invest smartly, and invest for all.

About UNICEF:

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

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