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Abu Dhabi’s ECA turns focus toward early childhood development research

Abu Dhabi’s ECA turns focus toward early childhood development research
6 Nov 2023 08:59

Lamia Al Hermoudi (Abu Dhabi) - Forming early childhood development requires specialised, scientific research studies and a review of local, regional, and international best practices in order to propose the best recommendations to policy-makers, said Sana Mohammad Suhail, Director-General of the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood (ECA).

In an interview with Aletihad, Suhail said that the ECA has put in place a comprehensive strategy to incorporate research into developing the emirate’s early childhood development policy. In the previous grant cycle, Dh1.2 million was allocated to five projects which developed policy recommendations on early childhood development topics, such as combating chronic absenteeism in schools, and providing the best experience for children of determination and their families when dealing with the healthcare system, she said.

The ECA has designed a research grant programme, which launched a call for proposals that address two key issues in early childhood development: the delay in early intervention for children of determination, and the issue of repeated absences from schools.

So far, 19 research grants have been presented, and a working group, composed of leading academic researchers and researchers from relevant public and private sector entities, has been launched. During the second round of grant proposals, the ECA awarded Dh6.6 million to support 14 various projects, which covered topics including an exploration of the role of parents in early childhood, assessing the early childhood development workforce needs in Abu Dhabi, and studying habits that affect health and nutrition among children in Abu Dhabi.

The research grants for the two rounds amount to about Dh7.8 million. Through its scientific research retreat and two-day government discussion forum, launched recently under the title “Let’s Collaborate Together for a Strong Research Environment for Early Childhood Development”, the ECA aims to empower research and strengthen cooperation between academic disciplines related to early childhood development.

The first day of the forum witnessed a number of studies and discussions from prominent academics and government representatives. It also explored studies which show a negative relationship between the time young children spend in front of screens and their healthy development.

The studies also indicated that the presence of high-quality care and education from birth to the age of five lead to higher IQ scores, higher graduation rates, and lower crime rates. One study found that variations in the sleep patterns of young children are associated with indicators of poor dietary quality.

“There is undoubtedly a question that parents must ask themselves: Have you ever thought about the research scientists conduct with young children, how they can ‘study’ children who participate in these studies, who conducts them, and how important they are to our local community? Therefore, our wise leadership has believed since the beginning in the importance of early childhood development through a culture of education, which has been passed down through generations,” Suhail said.

“The UAE’s society prides itself on its rich heritage and deep-rooted history, and at the same time, is moving swiftly towards a future based on innovation and progress, welcoming residents and visitors from all over the world to participate in this journey. The foundations of a thriving society lie in the health and well-being of its smallest elements-our young children, from the beginning of pregnancy to the age of eight-and their comprehensive development, which requires serious and continuous scientific research,” she added.

The early years of every child’s life are a critical period that includes rapid growth in their cognitive, emotional, and physical capabilities, and according to the World Health Organisation, the first thousand days (i.e., the first three years) of a child’s life are of pivotal importance in determining the child’s health, academic achievement, and long-term economic participation, Suhail explained.

“This confirms the importance of ensuring that our children have the appropriate environment, care, and stimulation during these critical years,” she added. Creating a suitable environment for young children requires more than just good intentions, Suhail noted.

“We need evidence-based policies so that our initiatives are tailored to the diverse needs of our children and our community, which is unique in terms of demographics. Here, the role of meticulous research in early childhood development becomes extremely important. By investing in scientific research, we can clearly identify the needs, challenges, and unique opportunities that exist in our society,” she said.

“These insights, in turn, can contribute to formulating policies specifically designed for the context of Abu Dhabi and the UAE, ensuring their effectiveness and cultural relevance. The ECA’s commitment to this issue is evident through its initiatives to foster and enhance a robust academic research system. By collaborating with leading research institutions in the emirate, the country, and the world, we aim to develop studies from local sources that delve into the subtle and important nuances within early childhood development,” she added.

Suhail clarified that it is important to focus on local research. “While studies conducted by international institutes and universities offer valuable insights, each community has its unique characteristics. By focusing on research from local sources, we ensure that the strategies we adopt are rooted in the reality of our society, making them more impactful and sustainable.

Furthermore, this commitment to research reflects the comprehensive vision of our wise leadership in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, a vision that sees our children as active contributors to the growth of the emirate. By providing them with the right tools and environment from an early age, we are building a solid foundation for a generation that is not only resilient, but also characterised by innovation and forward-thinking.”

According to Suhail, the success of this investment in research depends heavily on the participation of families, parents, and children alike. “We need the support of parents, who can engage in scientific research, confident that they are in a safe environment, that their privacy is protected, and that all legal, ethical, and moral considerations have been taken into account by the researchers and administrators involved,” she noted.

“Achieving our goal of the prosperity of Abu Dhabi and the UAE begins with the younger members of our society.

As we map out the roadmap for a bright future, it is essential that we base our decisions on accurate and solid research to ensure that every policy, every initiative, and every investment is directed towards nurturing the immense potential that lies within our children,” Suhail said.

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