Early Childhood Social and Financial Education for Sustainable Development

People often highlight challenges in teaching children the concepts of sustainable development at an early age. I have also been asked numerous times by donors, colleagues, and friends about why we should teach social and financial education to children during early childhood. My response to them almost always is, ‘Why Not?’.

There is a science behind it. Around 1 million neural connections are formed every second in a young child’s brain. Children usually show dramatic growth in executive function skills during their early childhood. The executive function skills are essential for setting goals, planning, saving, and spending as planned. Developing a healthy executive function in the early years lays a critical foundation for further cognitive, attitudinal, and skill development throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

There is also research behind it. Economic research shows that the adults who received financial education as children likely have a richer retirement. Kids who received financial education early could be £70,000 richer in retirement than kids who had none. Integrating social and financial education into early childhood education programmes also shapes healthy financial habits. It empowers children with the skills to control impulsive behaviours, practice delayed gratification, and make informed financial decisions later in life. Research also finds that affect-related associations with spending and saving influence financial behaviour in children as young as 5.

So, starting early with financial education can pay dividends and is crucial for these children as they grow. However, not all early-year education programmes are impactful. The same goes for social and financial education programmes. To ensure effectiveness, the programme must conform to what I call the 3D framework: Design, Delivery, and Direction. It should be designed in a way that it is about the children, it should look towards the child’s development, and it should have enough opportunities for engaging the children.

Equally important, if not more, is the delivery part. The way the programme is delivered to the children by the teacher, the facilitator, the caregiver and the manner in which they interact with these children can make a significant impact. Even a poorly designed programme can be effective if its delivery is good. Indeed, we cannot teach complex topics to children at such an early age. Here, the direction of the programme is important. The programme, its content, and delivery should be futuristic in direction and lead towards these complex topics.

This month, I moderated a panel discussion at the Global Social and Financial Skills conference in Utrecht, where the panelists shared their early childhood programmes focusing on social and financial education. In the following, I outline these programmes and some of their achievements.


Aflatoun City Model – BeBetter, China

One of these programmes is implemented by BeBetter in China. They have developed the Aflatoun city model as the core service in the community, where money is saved and circulated through the behavioural development of the children. These children receive education in kindergarten and primary schools and are between 4 and 11 years old, with over 60% coming from rural areas into the cities. The design framework of Aflatoun City is based on the behavioural bank. They have developed interactive tools to make it easier for kids to understand, including board games and family activity kits. In 2022, BeBetter partnered with 198 communities, reaching 109,050 kids. They have found that these children can make spending decisions, save for goals, identify resources, and manage risk improved significantly.


Aflatot and Recreating Value Model – Fundación PANIAMOR, Costa Rica

In 2013, Fundación PANIAMOR started implementing the Aflatot social and financial education curriculum for Latin America as part of their Recreating Value Model. The programme benefited 47,812 children in community family centres managed by the Ministry of Health. Since then, PANIAMOR has successfully integrated Aflatot into the official curriculum of the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Education at the preschool level. Since the beginning of 2023, implementing this curriculum in classrooms has gradually expanded, ultimately reaching the target population of 114,547 children aged 4 to 6 enrolled in public schools.


Aflatot – Life Vision for Development, Egypt

Life Vision for Development contextualised and implemented the Aflatot social and financial education curriculum at seven nurseries (pre-schools) for children aged 3-6 years. A total of 500 children participated in the programme through the support of 50 facilitators. The curriculum was delivered as a complement to the regular academic curricula. The programme is also supporting refugee children in the country. It has attracted good feedback and sustained support from parents and other stakeholders.

These three programmes have met reasonable success and have been sustained over the years. This is because of several reasons. The foremost is conformity with the 3D framework I highlighted above. They were well-designed, effectively delivered and had an in-built futuristic direction. Another crucial aspect of all early-year programmes is the engagement of parents. All these programmes focused on parental engagement and successfully incorporated opportunities for parents to be engaged in their children’s social and financial education.

In closing, let me reflect on the key takeaways from my engagement in early childhood programmes on social and financial education. The panel discussion referred in this article also converged on the same points.

  • Starting social and financial education in early childhood is a critical step towards sustainable development, and it is never too early to do so. It establishes the foundational knowledge and attitudes children carry throughout their lives.
  • Teaching social and financial education early is scientifically relevant, backed by research, and many organisations are implementing these programmes effectively and sustainably.
  • It is crucial to consider design, delivery, and direction as essential components of an early years programme. Parental engagement also plays a vital role in imparting skills and attitudes among young children.
  • It is important to gauge the impact of starting social and financial education programmes early. This will convince more people and support more partners and stakeholders to start building social and financial skills from the early years.
  • The research on starting social and financial education in early childhood needs further expansion, exploring all available dimensions and possible impactful connections. Greater efforts should be made to establish these linkages through rigorous qualitative and quantitative studies and evaluations.


Written by Abdullah Alam

Abdullah Alam is the Director of Education and Innovations at Aflatoun International, a Social Franchise delivering Social and Financial Education through a network of 300+ partner organisations in 100+ countries. Aflatoun’s mission is to inspire youth to socially and economically empower themselves to become agents of change for a more equitable future. He has demonstrated experience in developing robust and evidence-based education policies, undertaking outcomes-focused planning, and implementing efficient and effective strategies. Over the last fifteen years, he has provided policy-level and technical guidance to policymakers, community leaders, practitioners, and donors across the globe to diagnose complex education challenges and deliver effective and efficient solutions to those problems.