Lego is launching a £100m competition to find solutions that will make a positive impact on the lives of children in response to what the toymaker said was a “global early childhood emergency”.
The Lego Foundation – the non-profit arm that owns 25% of the Danish company – is offering the 900m Danish kroner (£100m or $140m) prize fund to help children “in crisis” and address the loss of access to services and support, accelerated by the pandemic.
Between March 2020 and February 2021, 167 million children in 196 countries lost access to early childhood care and education services, according to the World Bank. The pandemic closed childcare and early education facilities, meaning caregivers took on the sole responsibility for meeting all their child’s developmental needs.
“Parents struggling to keep a roof over their heads, stressed, working from home, perhaps managing more than one child, have understandably had less time,” said Prof Paul Ramchandani, a child psychiatrist and the leader of the University of Cambridge’s research into the role of play in child development.
“But the most important thing for children’s healthy brain development is engagement with an adult,” says Ramchandani, “so we’re seeing that children’s social and emotional learning has stalled.”
Two recent studies found that cognitive development in early childhood was declining, with babies born during the pandemic down 22 points in IQ, and the loss more pronounced for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“We’re living in a world where early childhood development is at crisis point,” said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, the CEO of the Lego Foundation. “It hasn’t had the investment or the political attention that it deserves. So to mark the Lego brand’s 90th anniversary, we’re making a statement.”
Five entries with ideas for the biggest impact will receive grants, with three receiving 200m DKK each (£22.6m) and two awarded 100m DKK each. In addition, the 10 finalists will receive 6.5m DKK each to strengthen their plans and build a team to implement their innovation.
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