The globe united for early childhood development

In 2002, the Secretary General of the United Nations commissioned the UN Millennium Project ‘to develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.’

The 8 Millennium Development Goals were established in 2000, covering a range of key areas including halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

In September, the United Nations will meet to decide new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Children’s advocates, business and politicians globally have been lobbying for years for early childhood development to be included in the new SDGs. They argue that the evidence on the neurobiological development of children has reached a ‘tipping point’ and that the benefits of investing in early childhood development deserve to be recognised in the global approach to tackling poverty and supporting the development some of the world’s poorest communities.

Dame Tessa Jowell, a politician who oversaw the establishment the Sure Start integrated early childhood centres in the United Kingdom, has led the charge:

‘The humanitarian argument and the interests of hundreds of millions of children and their parents around the world are compelling in themselves, but there is also an additional economic argument about the future of Africa and all developing countries.’

This month a final draft of the goals was released, including:

“By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”


This was a huge win for advocates.

‘On Sunday we saw the results, when the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon confirmed that the world had listened and was going to act. The success of governments’ aid programmes will be judged by their impact on children’s early years. It’s a commitment which brings us all together, globally, in our desire to see the best for our children,’ Dame Tessa Jowell said.

If the report is approved at the UN General Assembly in late September, early childhood education will be established as a target under the education goal. Of course , including early childhood development in the SDGs are just a first step and there are many challenges along the way in term of implementing the agenda on the ground by practitioners and ‘advancing the evidence’ on early childhood development (Britto et al., p.513).

However, Assistant Professor Pia Britto from Yale University believes there is room for optimism:

‘If appropriately advanced and incorporated into the global agenda , [early childhood development] will provide a major advance in human welfare – including a reduction in disparities – and will thereby improve our chances for managing the predicted doubling of our number in the next century.’ (Britto et al., p508)

If the world agrees in September,  the commitment will also be an important reminder for all Australian Governments that the world is recognising the importance of early childhood development for policy in improving children’s lifelong outcomes, benefiting the whole of society and the globe.


Britto, P. R., Engle, P. L. & Super, C. M. (Eds) (2013). Handbook of early childhood research and its impact on global policy. Oxford University Press. Available from:

Chris Steel'
Chris Steel BA, LLB (ANU) is Policy and Research Manager at Early Childhood Australia. Before coming to ECA, Chris worked as a policy adviser on early childhood and youth to the Australian Government and ACT Government covering the implementation of the National Quality Agenda and Government Child Care Assistance. Chris is currently a Director on the Board of YMCA Canberra.

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