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The Best Start in Life: Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development

SDG Academy via Independent

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Children are the common basis for all dimensions of sustainable development. No advances in sustainable development will occur in coming decades without multiple generations contributing to societal improvement. Moreover, beyond sheer survival, children have a right to thrive, develop to their full potential, and live in a sustainable world. 

Around the world, governments, organizations, and communities are working to improve the life chances of young children, from universal prekindergarten programs in the United States, to the Integrated Child Development Services in India, to the Madrasa Early Childhood Program in East Africa. In spite of these efforts, it is currently estimated that 250 million children under the age of 5 worldwide are failing to meet their development potential.   

A range of powerful risk factors lead to this incredible loss of human potential. Malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, lack of stimulation and learning opportunities, and many other challenges result in high odds of early mortality, school failure, early pregnancy, joblessness, and costly disease.  The levers for change rest in local and community strengths that promote resilience, as well as national and global action. Recognizing the interconnectedness of poverty reduction, health, education, agriculture, energy, gender equality, social inclusion, and development within planetary boundaries should place children and an inter-generational vision of development at the heart of the work of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

This course draws from research in neuroscience, psychology, economics, anthropology and program implementation and evaluation in order to discuss Early Childhood Development and explore its role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Completing the course will lead to understanding: 

  • The ways in which children grow during this most rapid phase of development (physical, social, cognitive, emotional)
  • How the environment interacts with the body to build brain architecture and influence children’s growth and development
  • Milestones of child development, what is it that children know and can do at birth, by the second year, by preschool age
  • How child development and its contexts vary across cultures and societies 
  • How can programs and policies support children’s development?  
  • How can they best be implemented to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals related to children and youth? 
  • How can innovation push forward the field of ECD program development and how can you participate? 

Join Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa (New York University, Global TIES for Children), along with Professors Jack Shonkoff (Harvard Center on the Developing Child), Catherine Tamis-LeMonda (New York University), Aisha Yousafzai (Harvard Chan School of Public Health) and UNICEF Senior Advisor and Chief of Early Childhood Development Pia Rebello Britto for the newest course offering of the SDG Academy!


Course Structure and Requirements 

The course is structured around a series of pre-recorded lectures, readings, quizzes, discussion forums, and other activities. Each of these course components can be completed at a time that is convenient for the student, and most quizzes and timed activities are given a two-week window for completion. The material for each week is made available each Monday, and once the material has been opened, it remains open for the duration of the course. There are no written assignments for this course.


In addition to the asynchronous components of the course, the instructors will hold 8-10 real-time Google Hangouts to encourage students to ask questions and engage directly with the instructors. These Hangouts will be announced 1-2 weeks in advance. The estimated time commitment to complete all course components is 4-6 hours per week, though this depends heavily on the student and his/her objectives in taking the course.


All students who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate of completion, signed by the instructors. In order to successfully complete the course, students must score an average of 70% or higher on the quizzes and final, all of which are multiple choice. Students that score 85% or higher will receive certificates of completion with distinction. While this course is not credit granting, we encourage students to work with their own institutions to explore the option of granting credit for online coursework. 




1.1 Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development

1.2 The State of the World's Children 

1.3 How Brain Architecture Develops

1.4 The Impact of Adversity & Toxic Stress 

1.5 Resilience & How to Foster It 


Child Development: Prenatal to Age 3  

2.1 Development in Culture & Context

2.2 Physical Development 

2.3 Cognitive Development and Perception 

2.4 Language Development 

2.5   Social Development 

2.6 Emotional Development &Temperament


Child Development: Ages 3 to 8  

3.1 Physical Development 

3.2 Cognitive Development & Executive Function 

3.3 Language 

3.4 Socio-emotional Development 


Tour of ECD Programs and Sectors Part I 

4.1 Introduction to Multi-sector Aspects 

4.2 Health Programs

4.3 Nutrition & Parenting Programs


Tour of ECD Programs and Sectors Part 2   

5.1 Social Protection Programs

5.2 Early Care & Education Programs

5.3 Child Protection Programs


Communities and Situations of Conflict and Migration 

6.1 Uganda Case Study 

6.2 Community Based Programs 

6.3 Conflict & Migration 


From Programs to Policies 

7.1 How is Policy Created?   

7.2 Quality, Governance & Sustainability

7.3 Financing ECD Policies


The Future: Innovations and Growth  

8.1a Innovation in ECD

8.1b Innovation in ECD (contd.)

8.2 Innovation from Around the World 

8.3 Conclusion: The Future of ECD 

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