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Our Focus


Taking quality early learning to scale

The foundations for all future learning and development are formed in the first years of life. That is why quality early learning – through interaction, play and exploration – is crucial not only to children themselves, but to society as a whole.

There is a strong global movement for expanding early learning, ideally as part of an integrated range of services to meet young children’s needs holistically. Early learning encompasses positive parenting, early stimulation, nutrition and health. Evidence shows, however, that quality can suffer when early learning programmes are taken to scale. Disadvantaged children are often left out.

Our goal of bringing early learning to scale focuses on programmes with the proven potential to enable learning from birth, especially among disadvantaged children – home visiting, responsive parenting, and preschool.

Scaling early learning is a goal in six of our country strategies (Brazil, Peru, the Netherlands, Israel, India and Tanzania) and in our outreach to Roma children in the European region. Our focus differs from place to place, as do the challenges.



Reducing violence in young children’s lives

We are investing in programmes to reduce violence in young children’s lives in seven of our focus countries (Brazil, Israel, the Netherlands, Peru, Tanzania, Turkey and Uganda). These programmes focus on preventing the direct victimisation of young children; on violence against those who care for them, especially their mothers; and on addressing community violence in places where it is so bad that young children are afraid to play outside. We are concerned with this issue because – whether young children are direct victims or witnesses of violence – it affects their health, ability to learn and even the development of their young brains.

Baseline research with more than 10,000 families in seven countries has confirmed that this is a big problem, but we have also uncovered evidence of interventions that can get results in relatively short periods of time. There is a fast-growing scientific basis for hope that we can make things better, and we have identified thoughtful and committed allies.



Improving young children’s living conditions

The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of childhood diseases are attributable to poor physical environments. Children in developing countries are up to twelve times more likely to be affected than those in the developed countries. Globally, accidents and injuries caused by inferior living conditions account for as many deaths among children under the age of 5 as AIDS. Small changes in the planning of housing and neighbourhoods, especially in the fast-expanding cities of the developing world, can significantly improve the health and future of young children. This is the underlying rationale for our focus on creating healthy living conditions for young children.

We have collected a strong evidence base demonstrating the multitude of ways in which living conditions can influence children’s development and well-being. However, planning and design professionals typically do not have the necessary knowledge about how significantly, and in what ways, their actions have an impact on young children’s lives.

There are close links with our other two goals: safe play areas near children’s homes contribute to their early learning, and well-considered urban design can reduce the likelihood of violence. The Bernard van Leer Foundation is currently programming on healthy living conditions in five (India, Israel, Peru, Turkey and Uganda) of our eight focus countries.