The importance of early childhood development

The first years of a child’s life set the tone for future growth.

30 March 2021 | Youth

Rivaldo Kavanga

Early childhood development (ECD) is the physical, psychological, logical and social development a child experiences between birth to school-going age. From birth to the age of seven is considered a child’s most vital years for their future. Developmental areas include language, cognitive, motor and social and emotional skills. By identifying the progress in these areas, we equip our children with the correct tools to achieve certain milestones, giving them an optimal chance at independence and inclusion.

A child's early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development.

Huipie van Wyk from the Side by Side Early Intervention Centre said ECD is by no means a standard by which children should be compared to one another.

“Understanding ECD and the reason why it is important will help us in identify any area where a child might need help to develop,” she said.

By understanding the different areas of development and equipping yourself with the information will support you regarding the identification of these areas and empower parents to take the necessary steps to find help.

This prepares the child and parent for the challenges they might face, but also supports parents in understanding their child’s struggles and strengths. Van Wyk advised parents to continuously read up about the different developmental stages, support their community by advocating for ECD and help distribute charts that are available to all Namibians through the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) platform and the health ministry.

Nutrition, protection and stimulation from talk, play and responsive attention from caregivers encourage healthy brain development. The nutrition, protection and stimulation a child receives at a young age all contribute to their future growth. Robust development in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, lifetime health and great parenting of the next generation.

However, there are also setbacks that can hinder ECD. Poverty is the biggest cause of stunted ECD. In Namibia where inequality remains at staggering proportions, a large number of children are at risk of stunted ECD. The most disadvantaged children are least likely to have access to the essential ingredients for healthy development. Frequent exposure to stress, neglect or abuse can stimulate response systems that can interfere with brain development. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic also negatively contributes to poor ECD as children are kept in isolation from peers, meaning play time is reduced and the stress caused by the pandemic on parents may rub off on children.

Diyeve Rositha from the Mutjiku Early Childhood Development Centre in the Kavango East Region said the importance of ECD is that it develops children holistically.

“ECD aids children to develop more rapidly than any other time in their life before they start formal school,” she said.

Problem areas are important to identify during ECD, not to highlight your child’s weakness, but to teach your child and yourself endurance. We all need help in some areas of our lives. Identifying this early just gives our children a fair start in life.

What the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) does:

Child protection and inclusion: Every child has the right to grow up in a safe and inclusive environment. Unicef works with partners around the world to promote policies and expand access to services that protect all children.

Child survival: Every child has the right to survive and thrive. Unicef has helped reduce child mortality all over the world by working to reach the most vulnerable children everywhere.

Education: Every child has the right to learn. Unicef works around the world to support quality learning for every girl and boy, especially those in greatest danger of being left behind.

Social policy: Every child has the right to an equitable chance in life. Unicef works around the world to reduce child poverty and shield girls and boys from its lifelong consequences.

Unicef in emergencies: Reaching every child in emergencies. Unicef is on the ground before, during and after emergencies, working to reach children and families with life-saving aid and long-term assistance.

Gender: Every girl has the right to fulfil her potential. Unicef works all over the world to empower girls and women, and to ensure their full participation in political, social and economic systems.

Innovation for children: Innovating to drive results for every child. Unicef works with partners in every sector to co-create innovative solutions that accelerate progress for children and young people.

Supply and logistics: Delivering solutions to reach every child at risk. Unicef delivers sustainable access to life-saving supplies where they are most needed, accelerating results for the most vulnerable children.

Research and analysis: Using data to drive results. Unicef’s global programmes and initiatives are grounded in rigorous research and thoughtful analysis about the situation of children.

Actively involved in ECD and IECD

Throughout their early childhood, it is vital that children are given quality healthcare and nutrition, early stimulation, ample opportunities to learn and play, and a safe and nurturing home environment, so that they are better able to fulfil their potential later in life.

Those who lack these vital foundational inputs are at risk of not reaching their development potential.

To help ensure that no child in Namibia lacks any of these vital inputs, the government offers a combination of services referred to as Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) services.

These encompass healthcare, nutrition, early stimulation and learning, early care, civil registration, childcare and protection, and education. In Namibia, IECD falls under the mandate of four ministries. Strengthened coordination is required to enhance their service delivery.


Ministries involved:

Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture

Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare

Ministry of Health and Social Services

Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration


Early learning

Parenting and nutrition

Child grants

Access to services

Further breakdown:

Education for ages five to eight

Play, stimulation and early learning Welfare and grants for ages zero to eight

Birth registration and identification documents for all children and parents

Health and nutrition for all mothers and children and early identification of disabilities

Unicef and education ministry

Unicef has been supporting the education ministry in its efforts to ensure that children in Namibia have access to quality education.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) defines inclusive education as: A process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all children through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children.


90% of a child’s brain develops before age five.

Up to 75% of each meal goes to build your baby’s brain.

15 minutes of play can spark thousands of brain connections in your baby’s brain.

Lack of nutrition in early childhood leads to stunting, which globally affects nearly one in four children younger than five.

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