• Course Code:  ECD

  • Term:  September 2017

  • Start Date:  Sep 25 2017

  • End Date:  Dec 6 2017

  • Duration:  11 weeks

  • Course Author(s)
    Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Jack Shonkoff, Aisha Yousafzai, and Catherine Tamis-LeMonda

This course has ended

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The Best Start in Life: Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development

September 2017


This course is currently unavailable. It will next be offered on September 23, 2018. Sign up for our newsletter to learn when enrollment opens! 


Course Summary

Children are the common basis for all dimensions of sustainable development. No advances in sustainable development will occur in coming decades without multiple generations contributing to societal improvement. Moreover, beyond sheer survival, children have a right to thrive, develop to their full potential, and live in a sustainable world.

Around the world, governments, organizations, and communities are working to improve the life chances of young children, from universal prekindergarten programs in the United States, to the Integrated Child Development Services in India, to the Madrasa Early Childhood Program in East Africa. In spite of these efforts, it is currently estimated that 250 million children under the age of 5 worldwide are failing to meet their development potential.  

A range of powerful risk factors lead to this incredible loss of human potential. Malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, lack of stimulation and learning opportunities, and many other challenges result in high odds of early mortality, school failure, early pregnancy, joblessness, and costly disease.  The levers for change rest in local and community strengths that promote resilience, as well as national and global action. Recognizing the interconnectedness of poverty reduction, health, education, agriculture, energy, gender equality, social inclusion, and development within planetary boundaries should place children and an inter-generational vision of development at the heart of the work of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

This course draws from research in neuroscience, psychology, economics, anthropology and program implementation and evaluation in order to discuss Early Childhood Development and explore its role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Completing the course will lead to understanding: 

• The ways in which children grow during this most rapid phase of development (physical, social, cognitive, emotional)

• How the environment interacts with the body to build brain architecture and influence children’s growth and development

• Milestones of child development, what is it that children know and can do at birth, by the second year, by preschool age

• How child development and its contexts vary across cultures and societies 

• How can programs and policies support children’s development?  

• How can they best be implemented to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals related to children and youth? 

• How can innovation push forward the field of ECD program development and how can you participate? 

Join Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa (New York University, Global TIES for Children), along with Professors Jack Shonkoff (Harvard Center on the Developing Child), Catherine Tamis-LeMonda (New York University), Aisha Yousafzai (Harvard Chan School of Public Health) and UNICEF Senior Advisor and Chief of Early Childhood Development Pia Rebello Britto for this SDG Academy course!


Course Structure and Requirements 

The course is structured around a series of pre-recorded lectures, readings, quizzes, discussion forums, and other activities. Each of these course components can be completed at a time that is convenient for the student, and most quizzes and timed activities are given a two-week window for completion. The material for each week is made available each Monday, and once the material has been opened, it remains open for the duration of the course. There are no written assignments for this course.

 In addition to the asynchronous components of the course, the instructors will hold 8-10 real-time Google Hangouts to encourage students to ask questions and engage directly with the instructors. These Hangouts will be announced 1-2 weeks in advance. The estimated time commitment to complete all course components is 4-6 hours per week, though this depends heavily on the student and his/her objectives in taking the course.

All students who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate of completion, signed by the instructors. In order to successfully complete the course, students must score an average of 70% or higher on the quizzes and final, all of which are multiple choice. Students that score 85% or higher will receive certificates of completion with distinction. While this course is not credit granting, we encourage students to work with their own institutions to explore the option of granting credit for online coursework. 

This course was made possible by a generous gift from the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation. Funding from the NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute to the Global TIES for Children Center at New York University supported Prof. Yoshikawa’s work on this course. If you have any additional questions on the course structure or requirements, please email the SDG Academy at sdgacademy@unsdsn.org. For technical questions about the platform, please email support@edcast.com.


Course Syllabus 


1.1 Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development

1.2 The State of the World's Children 

1.3 How Brain Architecture Develops

1.4 The Impact of Adversity & Toxic Stress 

1.5 Resilience & How to Foster It 


Child Development: Prenatal to Age 3  

2.1 Development in Culture & Context

2.2 Physical Development 

2.3 Cognitive Development and Perception 

2.4 Language Development 

2.5   Social Development 

2.6 Emotional Development &Temperament


Child Development: Ages 3 to 8  

3.1 Physical Development 

3.2 Cognitive Development & Executive Function 

3.3 Language 

3.4 Socio-emotional Development 


Tour of ECD Programs and Sectors Part I 

4.1 Introduction to Multi-sector Aspects 

4.2 Health Programs

4.3 Nutrition & Parenting Programs


Tour of ECD Programs and Sectors Part 2   

5.1 Social Protection Programs

5.2 Early Care & Education Programs

5.3 Child Protection Programs


Communities and Situations of Conflict and Migration 

6.1 Uganda Case Study 

6.2 Community Based Programs 

6.3 Conflict & Migration 


From Programs to Policies 

7.1 How is Policy Created?   

7.2 Quality, Governance & Sustainability

7.3 Financing ECD Policies


The Future: Innovations and Growth  

8.1 Innovation in ECD

8.2 Innovation from Around the World 

8.3 Conclusion: The Future of ECD 


Instructor Biographies 

Hirokazu Yoshikawa

Hirokazu Yoshikawa is the Courtney Sale Ross Professor of Globalization and Education at New York University Steinhardt and a University Professor at NYU. He is Co-Director, with Larry Aber, of the Global TIES for Children Center at NYU. He is a community and developmental psychologist who studies the effects of public policies and programs related to immigration, early childhood, and poverty reduction on children’s development in low- and middle-income countries and in the United States. Since 2013 he has co-chaired the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Thematic Network on Early Childhood Development and Education and has led SDSN’s work in Early Childhood Development.  He serves on the Boards of the Russell Sage Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development, and on the advisory boards of the Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Program and the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report.    


Jack P. Shonkoff

Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., is the Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital; and Director of the university-wide Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. He currently serves as chair of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a group of distinguished scholars whose mission is to bring credible science to bear on public policy affecting young children, and chairs the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, which is developing new knowledge and measurement capacity to assess the biological, bio-behavioral, and health consequences of excessive stress system activation. In 2011, Dr. Shonkoff launched Frontiers of Innovation, a multi-sectoral collaboration among researchers, practitioners, policymakers, investors, and experts in systems change who are committed to developing more effective intervention strategies to catalyze breakthrough impacts on the development and health of young children and families experiencing significant adversity.


Catherine Tamis-LeMonda 

Catherine Tamis-LeMonda is Professor of Applied Psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education, Culture, and Human Development. Her research is focused on infant and toddler learning and development among diverse populations in the United States and in Europe, Central Asia and East Asia.  Her research considers the development and contexts of young children’s language and communication, object play, cognition, motor skills, gender identity, emotion regulation, and social understanding, and the long term implications of early emerging skills for children’s developmental trajectories. She investigates how skills in different domains reciprocally affect one another and snowball over time (that is, the theoretical construct of “developmental cascades”), and examines the role of socio-cultural context on early development. A core emphasis of this research is on the quality of mothers’ and fathers’ interactions with children –in particular their contingent responsiveness and richness of child-directed language – in relation to children’s development and, conversely, how emerging communicative skills in children influence their everyday learning experiences and interactions with parents. 


Aisha Yousafzai 

Aisha Yousafzai is Associate Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her work focuses on developing new interventions and approaches to promote early child development with a particular interest in how to strengthen child and caregiving related outcomes through existing health, nutrition and education systems; understanding the implementation structures and processes for early childhood interventions to achieve sustainable impact at-scale; and promoting capacity development in local communities, services and systems for the effective delivery of interventions to promote early child development. She has extensive experience in evaluating early childhood interventions in South Asia, East Africa, and in Central and Eastern Europe.  Dr. Yousafzai has directed the Pakistan Early Child Development Scale-Up (PEDS) trial, a cluster randomized controlled trial evaluating responsive stimulation and nutrition interventions to strengthen early child development and growth outcomes. The PEDS trial cohort is currently being followed-up at age 8 years old to investigate early intervention effects at school age. 


Guest Speaker, Week 8 

Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF

Dr Pia Britto joined UNICEF in 2014 as Chief of Early Childhood Development, bringing with her many years of expertise in early childhood policy and programs. Prior to joining UNICEF she was an Assistant Professor at Yale University and is internationally renowned for her work on developing, implementing and evaluating early childhood programs and policies around the world. This includes providing evidence for the role of governance and finance in national systems in achieving equity; developing models for quality early childhood services; promoting women’s economic empowerment, and the role of parents and caregivers. Dr Britto has been the recipient of various awards and grants; has published articles, books and reports; and made numerous presentations at both academic and non-academic conferences and seminars. She obtained her doctoral degree in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University.



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The Best Start in Life: Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development


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