Breaking the Poverty Cycle by Early Childhood Development

Insufficient early childhood development is an epidemic in the developing world. It is the engine that propels the cycle of poverty. According to the World Bank, 250 million children around the globe are at risk of not reaching their full potential due to poverty as well as physical and cognitive stunting. Of note, only half of all 3-to-6-year-olds around the world have access to primary school. The Global Partnership for Education reports that there are over 175 million children not enrolled in pre-primary education worldwide. When it comes to breaking the poverty cycle, early childhood development cannot be ignored.

According to a Wyoming Scholars Repository report, childhood poverty can change the structure of a developing brain, potentially impacting the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and neurotransmitter. This means that a child’s attention, inhibition, emotional regulation, motivation, planning and decision-making skills are all at risk of not reaching their full potential. The same report found that low socioeconomic status is responsible for around 20 percent of the variance in childhood IQ.

Furthermore, according to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, approximately 1 billion children will be growing up with stunted mental development by 2020. This is why early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

Two Components of Early Childhood Development

There are two main components of early childhood development that many impoverished children lack which are essential to brain development. The first is education and stimulation. According to UNICEF, early childhood education builds cognitive and language skills, increases social competence and supports emotional development. Early childhood stimulation and care boost the brain’s capacity to function by sparking neural connections across multiple regions of the brain. According to the World Bank, a 20-year study of children in Jamaica showed that early stimulation interventions for infants and toddlers increased their future earnings by 25 percent. In addition, a World Bank Group analysis in 12 countries found that children involved in early education are more likely to be employed in high-skill jobs as adults.

The second component is health and nutrition. Sufficient early childhood health begins with prenatal care. The Wyoming Scholars Repository reports that deficiencies in nutrients such as folate, choline, B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and iron are commonly noted in pregnant women living in poverty. These deficiencies can increase the risk of defects such as oral-facial clefts, spina bifida and stunting in eye and brain development.

According to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, childhood malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies also increase a child’s vulnerability to diseases both in childhood and adulthood, which greatly decreases the likelihood of breaking the poverty cycle. Some gains can be made in adulthood to combat the consequences of insufficient early childhood development, but many effects, especially those related to cognitive development, are irreversible. Mitigating the stunting of children in poverty is crucial to reducing global poverty. According to the World Bank, children in a long-term study in Guatemala who suffered from stunting were much more likely to break the poverty cycle and earned up to 50 percent higher wages in adulthood.

Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Development

Research shows that investing in early childhood development has economic benefits at an individual and societal level. A RAND Corporation analysis found that targeted early interventions like education, health services, parent skill training and child abuse recognition create positive economic and societal outcomes such as:

  • Improvements in educational process and outcomes for the child
  • Increased economic self-sufficiency, initially for the parent and later for the child, through greater labor force participation, higher income and lower welfare usage
  • Reduced criminal activity
  • Improvements in health-related indicators, such as child abuse, maternal reproductive health and maternal substance abuse

Early childhood development proves to be a cost-efficient investment. According to the World Bank, for every $1 invested, there is a return of between $6 and $17. A report conducted by the Copenhagen Consensus and the Indian Consensus Prioritization Project found that implementing cash incentives to increase enrollment in pre-school education and passing policies to improve the quality of pre-school both show positive benefit-to-cost ratios.

Liberia is a good example of a country that has taken notice of the value of the investment in early childhood development.

In 2010, Liberia’s Ministry of Education implemented the Education Sector Plan for 2010-2020 with a grant from the Global Partnership for Education. The plan committed to cross-sectoral efforts around early childhood development and the expansion of access to pre-primary education. In 2011 the government established the Bureau for Early Childhood Education and approved its National Inter-Sectoral Policy on Early Childhood Development.

However, according to the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Early Childhood Development Community Education and Awareness Programme (ECDCEAP) passed in 2012 has been the most effective in raising awareness about the importance of early childhood development. The program trains mental health professionals, pre-school teachers on childhood development knowledge and health workers and midwives to provide proper support to pregnant women and new mothers. There has yet to be a formal analysis of the ECDCEAP. However, the Bernard van Leer Foundation states that anecdotal evidence suggests an improvement in the comprehension and action surrounding early childhood development.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a non-governmental organization that focuses on bringing education and early childhood development to the developing world. The organization has invested $270 million in early childhood education in 35 countries and two-thirds of the organization’s grants in 2018 included support for early childhood care and education. According to a GPE report, enrollment in pre-primary education doubled from 2002 to 2016 in the countries partnering with the organization.

Early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. It gets the root cause of poverty’s cyclical behavior. Although organizations like The Global Partnership for Education are making large strides, early childhood development is not as recognized as it should be for reducing poverty. According to the same GPE report, 40 percent of countries with data allocate less than 2 percent of their education budget to early childhood education and less than one percent of global aid is invested in pre-primary education. To end the cycle of poverty, early childhood development needs to move up the hierarchy of foreign aid, government expenditure and international focus.

Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr


The First Lady of Namibia, Monica Geingos, established the One Economy Foundation in May of this year. The organization’s slogan, “one Namibia, one Economy,” describes its plans to bridge the gap between formal and informal entrepreneurship in the African nation.

Namibia’s economy has been improving recently, with Bloomberg calling it the top emerging economy in Africa in 2012. However, informal entrepreneurship (unregulated, untaxed commerce operating without contracts or laws) continues to inhibit the country’s growth potential.

According to the Namibian Statistics Agency, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 27.4 percent in 2012. Many of the unemployed opt to work informally, due to significant barriers to entry in Namibia’s formal economy. However, informal work offers little in terms of long-term growth at the individual and national level. This is the problem the One Economy foundation wishes to address.

The One Economy Foundation will focus on entrepreneurship, early childhood development and health. The most crucial components are professional economic coaching and collateral-free lending. These strategies will help young Namibians—particularly those without preexisting connections to the nation’s high-powered financial sector—get a foot in the door.

According to Geingos, “One Economy is about providing fair opportunity. It’s about providing people with talent with opportunity.” She went on to explain that the need for the One Economy Foundation exists at both ends of Namibian commerce, as many enterprising Namibian bankers need the means to tap into the population of informal workers.

Prior to her involvement in the state, Geingos was one of the key figures in Namibia’s growing economy, possessing major holdings in Namibian mining, banking and media corporations. Her most recent endeavors, as a member of the Economic Advisory Council and First Lady, have been part of a larger effort in Namibia’s war on poverty.

The First Lady’s husband, President Hage Giengob, has also made poverty his focus in recent years. Despite a report in the Journal of Economic Structures stating that Namibia has “one of the most unequal income distributions on the African continent,” the President and First Lady remain hopeful that the nation’s wealth can be redistributed to address the nation’s poor.

Late last year, the president declared an “all-out war on poverty,” after receiving an impressive 87 percent of votes in the Namibian general election.

One Economy has already raised over N$4.5 million for implementation later this year.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Today more than 700 people are impoverished because of a lack of meeting basic needs and human rights. Innovative solutions provide different routes to solving the issue of global poverty.

Canadian student, Salima Visram, set out to revolutionize the way of life for those who live in deteriorated conditions with an ingenious solution that literally sheds light on the lives of students. Her invention: new solar backpacks equipped with a source of light that will charge all day and can be activated at night in order for students to study.

Instead of using toxic kerosene lamps, alternative technology allows for clean energy to be used. Not only is this a green solution, but also an economic one, as households can grab a backpack as their energy source instead of constantly replenishing their kerosene supply.

These solar backpacks have the potential to positively impact states that struggle with poverty, especially Kenya, where 92 percent of households utilize kerosene lamps.

The first to receive Visram’s backpacks were the residents of Kikambala village, where she raised enough money to produce 2,000 solar backpacks. Each backpack consists of a solar panel, battery pack and light.

This occurred in January after she raised money via crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. Since then, Visram has said she wishes to “expand the project to a hundred schools in the county within the next year and a half.”

Sticking to her own agenda, in September, Visram delivered 500 backpacks to the students of Kikambala Primary School, marking her business’ first official order. This is not the only milestone Visram wishes to achieve, however, as her goals go hand in hand with Masomo Bora—Kenya’s mission to provide education to all children.

Visram’s dream began as a public funding project on Indiegogo, but continues today in hopes of bringing as many students “into the light” as possible.

Fortunately, the costs of production are cheap, and in two months alone an additional $50,000 has been raised—more than doubling the initial capital of $40,000 required to manufacture the first 2,000 solar backpacks.

The backpacks are able to provide between seven and eight hours of light using only three to four hours of sunlight. As more and more solar backpacks become available, the hope is that the 4,000 deaths that occur daily due to kerosene-induced illness will be significantly reduced.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: Indiegogo, IT News Africa, Compassion International
Photo: Conscious Living TV

Early childhood development is extremely important, but it is hard for children to get this sort of development when they are living in poverty.

UNICEF is making an effort to make sure that kids living in poverty reach their full potential. UNICEF works with governments, civil society, communities and other partners to make educational programs to help children develop to their full capacity.

The early years of childhood are some of the most important years of a person’s life. These years are when physical development, cognitive development and social development are the most crucial. It is important to break the poverty cycle at a young age.

Many children around the world are not going to school, learning to their full potential and performing poorly in school because of poverty, poor learning environments, malnutrition and poor health.

UNICEF is making sure to educate families on nutrition and how to interact with each other. UNICEF is also making sure children are being prepared by the time they reach the age to attend school. It is also developing strong children care programs within families and communities. Other programs are developing systems so that all children are included in activities and never excluded.

It is important that children begin to be their own individuals, make their own choices and feel empowered at a young age. UNICEF is working with its partners to make sure that families and communities feel empowered to make sure that every child gets the best start in life. It is important that every child gets nurturing and loving care from their parents and caregivers. The way parents are shown to nurture their children is through parental guidance, properly feeding their families, showing positive emotions and avoiding harsh and physical violence toward their children.

It has been proven that young children grow and learn the most when they receive affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition and proper health care.

— Priscilla Rodarte

Photo: Institute for Child Success

Adopt an ECD
Early childhood development (ECD) is an aspect of life that kids in Africa can’t afford to take for granted. Only 43% of children under five in South Africa have access to these crucial programs either at home or in a specialized center. Exposing children to ECD programs is an important factor in their ability to grow into intelligent adults, and also plays a crucial role in lifting them out of poverty.

To change the vicious cycle of poverty, the National Development Agency is launching the Adopt an ECD campaign to allow more kids the chance to participate in early childhood development programs. The most prevalent reason children do not have access to these programs is because their families simply cannot afford them. And without early childhood development programs, most kids will grow up without the education and skills necessary to raise themselves out of poverty, thus continuing the cycle.

The Adopt an ECD campaign allows individuals and organizations to donate money, supplies, or work hours to help create more accessible programs for kids. The donations will go toward building new schools and daycare centers, buying school supplies, or renovating buildings to be more child-friendly. When individuals and businesses help contribute to the campaign, they are not only helping educate children, they’re also helping end global poverty.

Katie Brockman

Source: Mail & Guardian
Photo: World Vision