Recent studies in neuroscience and economics show that early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development and thus on outcomes throughout life. A growing number of impact evaluations from low- and middle-income countries underscore the importance of preschool for children’s development (to highlight a few: Cambodia, Mozambique, and Indonesia).
Early childhood development (ECD)
Today, on the Day of the African Child, we interview our World Bank colleague, Christin McConnell, about early childhood programs and her work in Malawi.
For a region that is considered middle-income, it is unacceptable that one in every 40 children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) dies in the first year of life mostly from preventable causes. Neither does it makes sense that one fifth of its youngest population is stunted from malnutrition, and more than half are missing out on critical micronutrients such as iodine in salt, which impairs cognitive development. Moreover, with only 27 percent of children ages 3-5 enrolled in pre-school, almost half the world average, three quarters of children in the region are missing the opportunity to build the foundations for school readiness, and to acquire the skills they will need to lead a happy, autonomous, and healthy life.
What are the implications of these alarming trends?
Today, I had the pleasure of participating in a keynote discussion at the Education World Forum in London--a large annual gathering of education decisionmakers from around the world. We focused this morning on how to use and translate data generated by education systems into better policies and effective results.
My fellow panelists which included Baroness Lindsay Northover, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the UK’s Department for International Development, and Professor Eric Hanushek from Stanford University, made excellent points about the link between education outcomes and economic growth. They also spoke about the ways to reach the 58 million children from marginalized communities who remain out of school.
I chose to focus on investments in the youngest children, from birth to age 5, before they even enter primary school.
Every mom wants a healthy baby. And in the early days of a child’s life, parents and doctors understandably focus on how the baby’s physical development—is she gaining weight? Is he developing reflexes? Are they hitting all of the milestones of a healthy and thriving child?
But along with careful screenings for physical development, there is an excellent opportunity to tap into those same resources and networks to promote early cognitive, socio-emotional, and language development. This helps children everywhere have a strong start in life, ensuring that they are able to learn as they grow and fulfill their potential throughout childhood.
In recent years, a broad consensus has emerged on the fact that investing in young children is one of the best investments countries can make. And yet while investments in early childhood development (ECD) should be a priority, many countries fall short. Tomorrow, the World Bank will release two new publications to serve as resources for those aiming to invest in ECD, whether they are government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or private firms.
“The child who has gone to a preschool can study in primary school with more ease than a child who joins a primary school directly.” Unfortunately, “preschool fees range from 50,000 to 150,000 Shillings (US$ 20-60) per term of three months. Most parents cannot afford this, so many of them wait until their children are of age to start primary school.”
These quotes from Ugandan villages illustrate how parents value investments in young children, but often cannot afford them. The same is true for healthcare and nutrition. Early years are essential for children’s development. The reality is that investments in early childhood development (ECD) remain low in most countries, in part because of the complexity of the field. ECD policies and programs are managed by multiple public and private service providers, regulatory agencies, and ministries. It is of course not necessary for everyone to be experts on all matters related to ECD, but more awareness of the comprehensive nature of these investments would help in improving ECD programs and marshalling more resources towards them.
The stimuli that children are exposed to from the beginning of life to age 5 have the greatest impact on development, and they define the health, personality and intellectual capacity of each child. This is why it is crucial to invest early and well in child development. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are investing more and more in early child development, but what do we know about these initiatives?