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LINKS host international early childhood development symposium at Queen’s University Belfast

The LINKS network today (23 May) hosted an international symposium on ‘Investing in early childhood development for peaceful societies’ at Queen’s University Belfast.

LINKS is a global research network led by the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation (CESI) at Queen’s in strategic partnership with UNICEF, YaleHarvard and New York University (NYU).

The network seeks to support the development and evaluation of early childhood development (ECD) programmes in societies affected by conflict including, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Vietnam and Colombia.

It has been estimated that the overall cost to society of these developmental delays, in terms of individuals not reaching their full potential, being less qualified, less skilled or less likely to find employment, is double the amount that most lower and middle income countries pay annually on their health services nationally.

The symposium explored how investment in ECD services can not only make a positive contribution to sustainable development but can also help to build social cohesion and peace in each of these countries.

Professor Paul Connolly, Director of CESI at Queen’s and Director of the LINKS network said: “We were delighted to host this symposium to Queen’s University Belfast, drawing together leading international experts from Yale, NYU, UNICEF and Queen’s who are currently working on some of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our time.

“Evidence shows that poverty has a major impact on a child’s development. There are approximately 250 million children (43 per cent) under five years old in low and middle income countries at risk of not achieving their developmental potential and this is worsened for those children living under the cloud of conflict.

“We are working hard with UNICEF and local researchers and early childhood specialists in each of our partner countries to design ECD services for each country. We are now in a position to begin piloting these new services and evaluating their impact on sustainable development and peacebuilding.”

The main speakers at the conference included:

  • Professor Larry Aber, New York University
  • Dr Laura Dunne, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Professor James Leckman, Yale University
  • Elizabeth Lule, Early Childhood Development Action Network
  • Dr Sarah Miller, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Dr Rima Salah, Early Childhood Peace Consortium
  • Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, New York University

Professor Hiro Yoshikawa, Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at Steinhardt, New York University and LINKS network member is currently leading the research and evaluation for Ahlan Simsim, an initiative that brings ECD programming to those affected by displacement in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic) is a $100m USD partnership between Sesame Workshop (the creators of Sesame Street) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Talking about the research the LINKS team are undertaking, Professor Yoshikawa said: “This wonderful work across multiple nations will go far in fulfilling the promise of early childhood development programs to address the crisis of social disconnection in our world today by investing in future generations.”




Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 3259 or email: