Nov 09, Colombo: A special parliamentary forum highlighting the transformative impact on investing in early childhood could have on Sri Lanka, was organized by the Sri Lanka Parliamentary Caucus for Children in partnership with UNICEF, and under the leadership of the Speaker of Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya.
Open to all Members of Parliament, this session presented new medical and economic research into the impact of early childhood development on economic and social development across Asia and Sri Lanka.
In his keynote address, renowned economist Dr. Michael Samson, Director of Research at Economic Policy Research Unit and author of British Medical Journal Global Health Paper entitled 'Cognitive capital, equity and child sensitive social protection Asia and the Pacific' presented his groundbreaking research on how, by implementing and investing in a set of proven 'early childhood development' polices and activities, parliamentarians and policymakers can achieve a substantial increase in health outcomes, productivity and 'cognitive capital' of future generations of Sri Lankan's and support the achievement of Sri Lanka's vision 2025 for sustainable development.
"Childhood investments in cognitive capital generate the highest social and economic returns governments can achieve" said Dr. Samson. Adding that there's no other investment that raise productivity fast enough to address the demographic challenges that Sri Lanka and many other countries are facing.
Speaking at the forum, the Honorable Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya said "As representatives of the people, we formulate policies for the development of the country including so many projects exclusively for the children. Yet, early childhood development is a subject on which we have to focus our special attention. We should allocate more funds for early childhood development in the budget process in order to harness maximum benefits for the future generations."
The special parliamentary forum was chaired by the Dr. Mrs. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Chairperson for the Parliamentary Caucus for Children. Dr. Fernandopulle highlighted that key follow-up actions to be taken up by the Caucus including the need to fast track the Early Childhood Development Policy; increase the salary allocation for pre-school teachers; promotion of parenting and community-based programs on early stimulation including the need to boost the role of the Public Health Midwives beyond health and nutrition to also cover the cognitive development of children.
The UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka, Tim Sutton said "Investment in Early Childhood Development have been proven to shape the educational success, health and productivity of individuals, ensuring that they are skilled and better prepared to take on the future challenges of a global and digital economy. In fact its rate of return can be as high as 13.7 per cent" adding "we all want a stable and prosperous Sri Lanka, achieving its full potential. Through smart investments in Early Childhood Development, we can secure Sri Lanka's economic wealth, we can ensure that Sri Lanka is rich in its most important and precious resource – its human capital."
Several key Ministers including Hon. Eran Wickramaratne, State Minister of Finance; Dr. Harsha De Silva – Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development and Development Partners including Ms. Valerie Layrol, World Bank Operational Advisor provided valuable inputs at the forum.