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SARID, November 14, 2006

The first five years of life are most important for child development, and the stage at which negative gender stereotyping must be addressed if many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are to be reached, says the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) meeting on Gender and Early Childhood Care and Education in Cairo yesterday.

The MDG agenda aims to slash a host of social ills such as extreme poverty, hunger, maternal and infant mortality, major diseases, and disempowerment of women, all by 2015.

Although universal primary education is one of the eight MDGs, the majority of the estimated 115 million children not attending school around the world are girls, a shocking statistic that will have negative repercussions on an entire generation.

Girls who are kept out of schools are not only denied their own right to education, but if they later become mothers, are more likely to raise children who remain uneducated, unvaccinated and more likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

Thus, the MDGs of universal primary education, promoting gender equality and global development are intimately connected.

The meeting, which brought together other UN agencies, donor governments and non-governmental organizations, placed particular emphasis on supporting families and gender-focused policies and scaling up of quality early childhood care programs.

Good programs focus on well-trained teachers, well-informed parents, and child-centered community care. By covering issues ranging from pre-school and parenting techniques to school nutrition and breastfeeding advice, they particularly benefit children who need them the most: girls living in poverty. For instance, pre-school programs are crucial to enabling older sisters charged with caring for younger siblings to pursue their own education.

By setting children out early on the road to learning, says UNGEI, early childhood education can be instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty and preparing children for success in school.



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