Early Childhood Development in Africa
In Africa, you will find the world’s youngest population. The World Bank Group estimates that there are around 130 million children in Africa who are below the age of six. Childhood development in this region is an important topic because approximately 20 percent of those children are at-risk. Africa currently has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, with 105 deaths per every 1,000 births. The high number of orphans and malnourished children in the country are also responsible for the focus on early childhood development.
The AIDS pandemic has not been kind to African families, with one in four households having a child with a parent who dies from AIDS. As of 1999, there have been approximately 10.6 million children orphaned as a result of parents dying from AIDS. But AIDS is not the only thing resulting in an increase in family upheaval. In 1999, the number of displaced African refugees reached 35 million, with women and children making up 85 percent of that number.
Malnourishment is a serious problem for the children in Africa. In the children who actually make it to their sixth birthday, approximately a third of them, or around 30 million, are severely malnourished. These kids weigh only about 75 percent of the amount that is standard for their age. By the time these children reach age three, approximately 35 percent of them are irreversibly growth stunted from the chronic malnutrition. Reasons for this extreme malnourishment include poor child caring practices, high morbidity and inadequate child feeding practices.
Many children under the age of six are actually left without the type of care and attention that they need and instead are left to fend for themselves. In some instances, children are left in this state even when they are ill. These children are getting little to no stimulation and end up being ill-prepared both mentally and physically for the challenges of everyday life, including getting an adequate education.
Low access to early childhood development resources can result in lower school completion rates for the children who do survive past age six. Some organizations, such as UNICEF, are working to offer programs and resources to the communities in Africa so that the children can get the best possible start in life. Such programs offer nutrition, health, psychosocial and early learning care for the children. Other organizations, like Education Africa, support caregivers of preschoolers to ensure that the younger children are getting the attention needed so that they can thrive and be well-equipped with the necessary skills upon entering the education system. This includes focusing on motor skills, emotional intelligence, reading and math skills in kids up to age six. This ensures that most 6-year-old children in Africa are school ready.