Investment in early childhood and youth vital for future of development in Panama

Feb 12, 2014

Youth in Panama (Credit: UNDP Panama)

New report says children and young people “our today, but also our tomorrow”

Panama – Building an equitable future in Panama that leaves no gaps in human development requires more and better investment in children and youth, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Panama’s national Human Development Report – ‘the Future is Now! Early Childhood, Youth and the Formation of Skills for Life’ outlines the critical importance of early childhood and youth for the country’s development, and calls for urgent action on issues ranging from parenting practices that foster and encourage the capacities of children to public policies designed to expand opportunities for young people. 

Despite being among the most economically privileged countries in the region with a gross national per capita income of US$ 8,100, at current prices, Panama nevertheless faces challenges in youth training that represent a serious obstacle to its development. In Panama’s dynamic economy, the rapidly changing demands of the labour market contrast with a low supply of training for work.

Similar challenges extend beyond early childhood into youth, the report finds. Although Panama enjoys relatively high coverage in primary education, currently only 64.4 percent of children go to pre-school. Research also reveals that development gaps are accentuated in children at early stages of their social and emotional development, and a key theme of the Report is the urgent need for investment in children and youth with an emphasis on socio-emotional skills. Such gaps are even greater in households living in poverty, since infant and child development is also dependent on parent’s education (cultural capital) and living conditions like nutrition and home infrastructure, especially the availability of potable water and electricity.

Bridging the Gaps

In addition to a detailed analysis of the situation of early childhood and youth in Panama, the Report makes a number of recommendations for specific actions aimed at addressing these and other challenges.

Those suggestions include the implementation of positive parenting practices that promote cognitive and socio-emotional development in early childhood as well as a national strategy for Panamanian youth through a participatory process.

Elsewhere, the Report proposes the implementation of the ‘home-visit’ model, a success in other countries, as an important tool in providing social services for vulnerable families. Such visits constitute a preventative strategy to identify and mitigate the impact of risk factors within families.

“If development is the development of Panamanian women and men, it is also obvious that this development begins with children and young people”, writes Kim Bolduc, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative, in a foreword to the Report. “The future is now. Children and young people are our today but also our tomorrow, and Panama’s tomorrow will be what we build by means of these children and young people.”

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