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CDRF holds the 8th International Symposium on Child Development in Beijing

On 16 December 2023, the China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) held the 8th International Symposium on Child Development in Beijing, with the aim of promoting international exchanges of research and practice in the field of child development. Under the theme of "Promoting Child Development for Quality Population Development", nearly 300 representatives from government departments, universities, international organizations, social organizations, as well as experts and scholars from the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, South Africa and China attended the symposium.

High-quality child development is the foundation for the sustainable development of the country and society, and is the key to promoting human capital. At the first meeting of the 20th Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs held in May this year, Xi Jinping pointed out that efforts must be made to improve the overall population quality and advance Chinese modernization with support from the high-quality development of the population.

Fang Jin, Vice Chairman and Secretary General of CDRF, gave an opening speech, pointing out that in recent years, the overall development of the Chinese population and labor force have been greatly improved. The average years of education of the population increased from 9.67 years in 2010 to 10.93 years in 2022; the gross enrollment rate of higher education increased from 12.5% in 2000 to 50.6% in 2022; the average years of education of new workforce reached 14 years, which is a remarkably high level globally. However, there are still shortcomings in the development of Chinese population, especially in the early childhood stage, which are mainly reflected in two aspects. Firstly, there is insufficient investment in early childhood education, particularly for children aged 0-3. Secondly, there is a significant gap in the development levels of urban and rural children. To achieve high-quality population development, it is essential to increase investment and narrow the developmental gaps between urban and rural areas.

China is a developing country with a large population and is carrying out the largest basic education program in the world. In the keynote speech, Tian Zuyin, Director of the Department of Basic Education of the Ministry of Education, stated that the Chinese government has taken various measures over the years around equity and quality. Typical measures include the following: adhering to the principles of public welfare and inclusiveness, advancing accessibility, increasing financial investment, providing supervision and regulation, enhancing the quality of education and protection, and achieving a leap-forward development in preschool education. Despite the remarkable achievements in recent years, there are still prominent imbalances and inadequacies in preschool education, particularly in aspects such as resource allocation, teaching force, and management mechanisms. In the next steps, the Chinese Ministry of Education will resolutely implement the requirements put forward by Xi Jinping to "promote the universal, inclusive, safe, and high-quality development of preschool education" and steadfastly promote the implementation of the "14th Five-Year Plan" for the development and improvement of preschool education and the action plan on improving basic education in the new era. Efforts will be made to coordinate urban and rural development, ensure inclusiveness, enhance quality, and implement the Preschool Education Law.

Helia Molina, former Minister of Health of Chile and Professor of Medical Sciences at the University of Santiago, first congratulated the Chinese government on its great achievements in promoting child development. She pointed out that in the past few decades, China has made significant progress in child development and made important contributions to the international community. Currently, global child development is facing new challenges and problems. Countries should pay more attention to early childhood stage and explore intervention measures and policies.

Early childhood development promotes comprehensive improvements to population quality and supports the human capital base for high-quality economic and social development. Du Xixue, Inspector of the Population and Family Department of the National Health Commission, said in his speech that childcare services is a foundational system for full life cycle service management. Professional, standardized and scientific childcare services are conducive to promoting the healthy growth of children. Effectively implementing early childhood development in underdeveloped areas is an important strategic measure to fundamentally block the intergenerational transmission of poverty and narrow the gap between urban and rural areas and among different regions. The National Health Commission has always attached great importance to rural infant and child care services. The selection of the first batch of “national infant care service demonstration cities” will take the development of rural infant care services as one of the selection criteria. In recent years, the National Health Commission has supported institutions such as CDRF to carry out pilot projects in underdeveloped rural areas such as Guizhou and Shaanxi to provide care services for infants and young children. This symposium will help explore effective paths to achieve high-quality child development, promote the healthy growth and overall development of children to achieve high-quality population development to support Chinese modernization.

In recent years, China has invested heavily in early childhood development and made basic public health services for children more equitable and accessible. Shen Haiping, deputy director of the Maternal and Child Health Department of the National Health Commission, pointed out that children's health has seen remarkable achievements. Relevant policies and systems are being rounded out and the children's health service network is becoming increasingly complete, balanced and inclusive. The nutritional status of children continues to improve, and common infectious diseases have been effectively controlled. In 2022, the national infant mortality rate dropped to 4.9‰, and the mortality rate of children under 5 years old decreased to 6.8‰, both falling to historical lows and ranks among better performing upper-middle-income countries. In the new development stage, China will place the child development in an important position, integrate the promotion of child development into various policies, ensure the comprehensive enhancement of children's growth, physiology and psychology, and promote the continuous improvement of children's health services. China will draw upon its experiences and contribute  to building a human health community and promoting the realization of global sustainable development goals.

Amanda Bissex, Deputy Representative to UNICEF China, said there were 45 million underweight children and 37 million overweight children worldwide in 2022. Air pollution is also a serious health threat, with 600,000 air pollution-related deaths among children under 5 years old each year. In addition, more than 1 billion children worldwide experience violence every year, and children with disabilities are at higher risk. In today's increasingly interconnected world, if children don't get a good start in life, the world will pay the price. Therefore, governments, private sectors, international organizations, academia, and local communities must work together to promote early childhood development.

Zhang Yanhong, the Secretary-General of the China Children and Teenagers' Fund, said that the development environment for children's affairs in China is continuously improving. The legal and policy system to safeguard children's rights is increasingly complete. Revisions to the Law on the Protection of Minors and the enactment of the Law on the Promotion of Family Education provide legal safeguards for children's rights to survival, development, protection, and participation. The new "Outline of the Development of Children’s Development in China" has been promulgated and implemented, providing strong policy guarantees to ensure that the development of children's affairs is coordinated, deployed, and advanced in tandem with economic and social development. The concept of prioritizing children and children-friendly is becoming a widespread consensus in society.

In the keynote speech session, Wang Pei'an, deputy director of the Population Resources and Environment Committee of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, former deputy director and Party Group Member of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that high-quality early childhood development is the starting point for high-quality population development. It is also a crucial aspect of promoting the construction of a birth-friendly society and facilitating the long-term balanced development of the population. Improving early childhood development policies will help improve child birth levels, improve population quality, and enhance family development capabilities. Currently, China's high-quality early childhood development is facing many new challenges, such as the reduction in child population due to low birth rates, disparities in parental investment in child-rearing and education, significant urban-rural gap in child development, prominent early childhood development problems in rural areas, and the insufficient service and development facilities and venues for early childhood development. He proposed incorporating the early childhood development into a specialized basic public service, increasing financial investment in the early childhood development, expanding the supply of universal childcare services, optimizing maternity leave systems, elevating the promotion of family development to a national strategy, improving the policy system to promote family development, and providing more venues for the early childhood development in communities, public institutions, enterprises, schools, and other places.

During the symposium, Lu Mai, former Vice Chairman of CDRF, announced an initiative to bring China REACH to 100,000 rural children. The China REACH project, targeting children aged 6-36 months, has been carried out in underdeveloped rural areas of China since 2015. Through "one-to-one" home visits, the project provide caregivers of 0-3 year olds with parentingknowledge and techniques. The project aims to enhance the scientific parenting knowledge and skills of caregivers, and improve the level of family education and early childhood development in rural areas. Specific goals include achieving a risk screening coverage rate of over 80% in project areas, achieving a "one-to-one" service coverage rate of over 80% for infants and toddlers, and ensuring that the development level of infants and toddlers will reach or approach that of urban children.

The agenda of this symposium based on key issues of early childhood development, discussing the important connections between child development and high-quality population development, and exploring how to provide high-quality early development services to more disadvantaged rural children from the perspective of promoting social equity. The symposium introduced the experience of domestic and international early childhood development comprehensive demonstration projects, and how countries can accelerate the universalization of early childhood care and preschool education services through national policies.

The symposium also discussed progress in research, policy, and programs in various countries in terms of nutrition, health (especially mental health), protection, and integration of family and community education, with the aim of strengthening international exchanges on child development and provide valuable references for the enhancing child development in China.

CDRF has long been focusing on the development of children's nutrition, health, education and other aspects in Chinese underdeveloped areas, and provides scientific evidence for national policy formulation through social experiments. CDRF also conducts extensive exchanges on research and practice in the field of child development internationally. From 2010 to 2021, CDRF held seven "International Symposiums on Poverty Alleviation and Child Development", with participation of state officials, officials from the Ministry of Education and the National Health Commission among other ministries, representatives of major international organizations, and experts and scholars, delivering policy and social impact.