In a landmark event, marking Policy Makers Day of National Early Childhood Care Week 2018, Building Brains, Building Futures, The Sri Lanka Early Childhood Development (ECD) High-Level Meeting presented early childhood-centric budget proposals to the Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera, for his consideration in the 2019 National Budget.
Heart of empowerment is education
Addressing the event, Minister of Finance and Media - Mangala Samaraweera said that Early Childhood Development (ECD) is of great importance to Sri Lanka as it has the potential to improve school learning outcomes, which can have long lasting effects on the well-being of the population.
“At the heart of empowerment is education. It is education at all levels that endows people with the necessary skills to actively participate in the economy”, Samaraweera added.
The Minister pointed out that as Sri Lanka positions itself as a highly competitive knowledge-based economy, robust cognitive development from an early stage becomes essential. Furthermore, he said that the government will spend 6% of its GDP for education by 2020.
“In 2014, the previous government spent only 1.46% of its GDP for education. Today, we have increased this percentage to 3.5%. Our aspiration is to allocate 6% of the country's GDP for education by 2025”, Samaraweera said.
Building Brains Building futures
Investing in health, nutrition, education and protection from birth through to age five - known as Early Childhood Development (ECD) - enables all children to reach their full brain capacity, and is one of the most effective and proven drivers of sustainable economic growth.
Budget proposals focused on Health and Nutrition, Protection and Early Childhood Education were presented by the Ministries of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Women and Child Affairs and Education, to the Minister of Finance and Mass Media for his consideration in the National Budget for 2019.
For Sri Lanka, the cost of not investing in critical interventions that ensure a child's full brain development could be substantial including a generation with poorer health, fewer learning skills and even a reduced earning capacity resulting in a weaker economy with a greater burden on social welfare systems.
Speaking at the event, Tim Sutton, the UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka said the proposals presented today have the power to transform the lives of children, and drive Sri Lanka's economic growth.
"Evidence shows that this investment is one of the most cost effective ways to build this country's human capital, with a return on investment of as much as 13.7 per cent. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka and the Members of Parliament to support this call for national budget investment in early childhood, to ensure that every child in the country reaches their full potential," he said.
The event was attended by Prof. Edward Melhuish - Professor of Human Development, University of Oxford and Ms. Jean Gough - UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia among other parliamentarians, ministry officials and members of the diplomatic corp.
The High-Level Meeting, was organized by the Department of National Planning and supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, The Parliamentary Caucus for Children and World Bank.
Building Brains, Building Futures, follows a series of sectoral consultations on health, education and child protection, that were held to identify new and additional investment priorities and budget asks for ECD that the Government can make through its National Budget for 2019.
In November 2017, UNICEF, together with Sri Lanka's Parliamentary Caucus for Children, organized a Parliamentary Forum on Early Childhood Development (ECD). The Forum, led by the Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament and representatives from ministries underlined the importance of committing to increased investments, leadership, coordination, program integration, policy coherence and, promoting a continuum of integrated ECD services.