A vision for post-2015

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Dame Tessa Jowell calls for renewed efforts on international commitments to early childhood development

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On Monday 16 June I met with Amina Mohammed, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on post-2015 development planning, to present to her the global petition calling on the UN to ensure that a commitment to early childhood development is enshrined in the new global development framework after 2015.

Nursery World and many of you reading have been supporters of this campaign from the beginning, and I thank you for that. The petition has been a phenomenal success - it has been signed by more than 11,000 people from 170 countries, and this is growing every day, forming a chorus of voices coming together at this crucial time for change.

The campaign must continue to September and beyond so that when countries consider progress between 2015-2030 early childhood development and improving the lives of children is a baseline against which they will measure success.

At an event on early childhood development at the UN, hosted by the Permanent Missions of Colombia, Ecuador and Italy, and sponsored by the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development, Open Society Foundations, SOS Children's Villages and CINDE, this crucial baseline for success was re-emphasised. The event gave us all the sense that it is possible to achieve a holistic agenda for early childhood and scale up with quality in all countries around the world.

The scale and the robustness of the evidence base we have on the effectiveness of early childhood interventions are unprecedented. At the event we heard from Colombia's ambassador to the UN Maria Emma Mejia, Ecuador's social development minister Cecilia Vaca Jones and the secretary-general of the China Development Research Foundation Lu Mai about how a combination of political will, a legal frame that supports investment in early childhood development, and backing from civil society has shown positive results. We hope that developing countries will be given necessary support in capacity to implement a core of those interventions.

We also underlined the fact that as we look to developing countries to accelerate their economic growth to realise the demographic dividend, the possibility of doing either while this generation of children are physical and emotionally compromised and weakened by the collective failure to realise their life potential is something that will bear a very heavy cost.

Former World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn said that unless we focus on early childhood development there will be no change in poverty levels. And we can measure the long-term and short-term impact of early childhood development interventions through a combination of quantitative and qualitative indicators. UNICEF has been collecting data in more than 60 countries to measure what a child should know and be able to do physically and mentally by age five, the quality of a child's immediate environment and its access to childhood development service, and there have been other long term linear studies that have looked at variations in levels of drug taking, prison population and university attainment.

Language acquisition is one of the most universal of all tests of child development. In the UK children from middle class families can expect to have heard 30 million words by the time they are three. The comparable figure for children from poorer families is 20 per cent of this. Minister Vaca Jones also revealed how in Ecuador's national policy a key measure of child development is the amount of words indigenous children can recognise in their native language by age five. While targets for development will be different in most countries, talking to your children is a universal part of building their capacity, capability and reinforcing the family relationship.

Member states have done a remarkable job of bringing early childhood into the UN Open Working Group framework. We need to support them to ensure the targets for child and maternal survival, nutrition, reduction of violence and - crucially - on access to quality pre-primary and early childhood development programmes remain in and compose a comprehensive picture of early childhood development.

We are optimistic because of the strength of the argument, the power of the movement and the ever-increasing number of people who want to be part of the choir of voices in support for early childhood development being enshrined in 2015 development programme.

I am constantly struck by the parallels between the mothers I have met in London and the mothers I have met whose playgroup is a rural shack in Malawi. There is a universal language of childhood and entitlement - that every child should not only survive, but develop and thrive to fulfil their full potential.

Thank you for your support, and let's keep the campaign going to September and beyond to ensure that we have the best provision for young children possible in the world's new post-2015 development programme.

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