Film offers a powerful medium to shape people’s awareness and inspire action. An effective film can create positive change. While at a World Bank showing of The Beginning of Life, a documentary film about the vital first years of human development, Aga Khan Foundation Fellows Sayfullo Nusayriev and Laila Jiwani reflect on the implications of investing in early childhood development (ECD).

Laila: The Beginning of Life offers diverse perspectives on what is essential in the initial years of a child’s development. With insights from economists, parents, educators, policymakers and cognitive scientists, the film encompasses the numerous elements that affect human growth and early learning. Although the producer looked at many families around the world – in an attempt to show difference – she found more similarities in their emphasis on care, support and love for their children.

The film reflects the work showing that ECD is not only learning how to read and write or classroom experience from three to eight years old, but also how learning and development begins from the moment of conception. Another, short film that speaks to the subject is “The Long Reach of Early Childhood,” produced by the Science of ECD at Red River College, a collaboration involving the Aga Khan Development Network.

Sayfullo: Child development happens not only between a child and the nursery caregivers; parental engagement is critical to the process. That is what I learned from the work of Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Tajikistan, helping remote and isolated communities in both rural and urban areas to realize their potential. AKF’s work in ECD is elaborated upon in my previous blog.

Although I am far from Tajikistan, the topic of ECD has become much closer to me during my fellowship with Aga Khan Foundation in the U.S.A. During my time in DC, I’ve focused on AKF’s work in education, attended talks and seminars on the topic and widened my understanding of the importance of ECD. Scientists have proven that it is very important to take care of the first years of a person’s life for the present and future development of the individual. What struck me most in these films was the fact that environment and society plays an incredible role in teaching a child valuable skills that he/she will use for future development and growth.

Laila: The film and my involvement with ECD at AKF USA resonates with my experience helping organize family programs at a museum in Dallas where parents and their children engaged in collaborative artistic expression. I observed the ways in which parental involvement affects child behavior and expression in early childhood programming. As parents and three to five year olds made art projects together, the kids reveled in an environment of safety, collaboration, and creativity. Such a setting is what plants the seed for the growth of every child.

A learning atmosphere that takes a child-centered approach, with consideration for the child’s mental and physical health, learning processes, and family surroundings, is now at the forefront of global investment and attention. One way the Aga Khan Foundation seeks to actualize change in educational practice is through the Science of Early Childhood Development (SECD) Program, which provides training for educators from a range of programs within sub-Saharan Africa. The program aims to focus on the “whole child approach,” highlighting the importance of not only formalized education, but also play, parental involvement, maternal and child nutrition, and government investment in the development of all aspects of a child’s growth. SECD is an initiative that helps ECD practitioners, parents, caregivers, physicians understand the “why” of holistic child development so they can achieve the “how” more effectively. Approaching ECD with a holistic lens and providing the latest in current research, the SECD program helps us achieve the shared dream of enabling every child to achieve his/her potential.

Such interventions can only continue to achieve their impact when their outcomes are articulated and shared throughout worlds of academy, policy and practice. Watch the video on the Science of Early Childhood Development, which will be featured at the upcoming Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Convening taking place ahead of the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.