Never before has the world had so many children as it has now. According to UNICEF, by 2017, there existed 2 billion children below the age of 15 years in the world. Children are a common basis for all dimensions of sustainable development. No advances in sustainable development will occur without multiple generations contributing to societal improvement.
Beyond sheer survival, children have a right to thrive, develop to their full potential and live in a sustainable world. Children’s health, learning, and behavior during the early years are the foundation not only for later school success and completion but also their capacity to participate in the community, workplace and society.
Children are affected by current and future social, economic and environmental sustainability. Over 400 million children are currently living on the African continent -and the number is rising. The United Nations estimates that Africa’s population will double to 2.4 billion by 2050. That is one-quarter of the world’s population.
Africa is considered as the continent where most children are born each year. The proportion of under 15s was 41% in 2014 across the continent. In some African countries such as Uganda, Angola, Mali, Niger, half of all inhabitants are still under 5 years of age. This indices proofs that children make up the larger percentage of the population in Africa hence the most important in any advancement in sustainable development.
Embedding sustainability in children’s programs is therefore an important aspect of development. Through hands-on experience and relevant education, children can explore and learn about their local contexts and environmental issues. They can develop the creativity and critical thinking skills necessary to make informed decisions for change, improving the quality of life of those of the future generations.
Practicing sustainability empowers children to construct knowledge, explore values and develop an appreciation of the environment and its relationship to their worlds. Educating children on sustainability matters lays the foundation for environmentally responsible adulthood. The need to have a resilient and stable society in the future, therefore, advocates that focus should be put on early child development.
Education is key for children to foster skills and impart knowledge for future use. Sue Elliot, a senior lecturer from the University of New England, stated that early childhood education for sustainability is a transformative and empowering process actively engaged in by children, families, and educators who share an eccentric world view about sustainability.
For Africa to address the growing challenges of environmental crises, poverty and inequality, the transformative approach to sustainability, early childhood development is required. The economic benefits of investing in young children globally are well established. Quality pre-primary education has shown substantial economic benefits.
Children are the potential agents of change for sustainability. They need cognitive stimulus to fully unfold their capacities and this stimulus is often not given in most African societies. Children can have an influence on their social, environmental and generation of public goods.
A critical age to shape productivity is from birth to age of five when the brain is developing rapidly. This builds the foundation of cognitive character, skills necessary for success in school, health, career, and life. It fosters important skills along with attentiveness, motivation, self-control and sociability- the character skills that turn knowledge into know-how and people into productive citizens.
Moreover, the best way to reduce deficits is to invest in quality early childhood development. It creates better education, health, social, and economic outcomes essential for sustainability that later increase the revenue and reduce the need for costly social spending.
Therefore for Africa to achieve sustainable development goals by the year 2030, efforts should focus on the first years of child development. This is through ensuring all children get access to quality education, improved health care and food, provided with shelter and are not adversely affected by harsh climatic conditions occurring in the continent. This will, in turn, result in the greatest efficiency and effectiveness of sustainability and achievement of the vision 2030.
Train up a child in the way that he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it. In order to achieve sustainable development, children- the future of Africa- should be well trained at an early age on matters pertaining to sustainability.
As stated by agenda 21 the plan of action of the United Nations for the organization of the UN system, government and major groups in Africa in which human impacts on sustainability, children comprise nearly 30% of the world’s population and their involvement in sustainable development decision making and implementation of programmes is critical to the l9ng term success of sustainable development goals.