Invest Early: Early Childhood Development a Driver for Results

April 28, 2014


A child’s earliest years present a window of opportunity to address inequality and improve outcomes later in life. The potential benefits from supporting early childhood development (ECD) range from improved growth and development to better schooling outcomes to increased productivity in life.


Developing countries have dramatically expanded access to preschool provision in the past decade, with all regions of the world increasing pre-primary enrollment. Yet, today, millions of young children below the age of 5 in low- and middle-income countries fail to reach their developmental potential, because they suffer from the negative consequences of poverty, nutritional deficiencies, and inadequate early learning opportunities.

Children develop rapidly during their early years and positive or negative experiences have implications for children’s well-being, school readiness, and later success in life.

  • ECD links the young child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical processes with the care and services (provided by families, communities, and the nation) required to support their growth and development.
  • Poverty and nutritional deficiencies are among the leading reasons that left 165 million children with stunted growth in the developing world, which compromised their physical capabilities and cognitive development to reach their full potential in life.
  • From an education perspective, early gaps in cognitive skills jeopardize a child’s capacity and motivation to learn upon primary school entry. Low levels of school readiness can lead to costly inefficiencies in the education system as these children are more likely to have poor academic performance, repeat grades, and drop out of school before they complete the primary cycle. This reality is particularly likely for disadvantaged children.


In response to the convincing evidence on the benefits of investing in young children as well as demand from client countries, the Bank is increasingly supporting ECD around the world. It does so through financing, policy advice, technical support, and partnership activities at the country, regional, and global levels. ECD features prominently within the Bank’s Education Strategy 2020, which sets the goal of Learning for All through three pillars: Invest Early, Invest Smartly, Invest for All. ECD is also a strong component of the Bank’s health and nutrition, and social protection strategies. 

The Bank uses a range of entry points to influence young children’s development and involves multiple stakeholders. They include investments in health care, hygiene, nutrition, and parental training to promote a child’s physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. Programs can target the pregnant woman, the child, the caregiver, or the family as a whole and can take place in many environments, including the home, at a preschool or child care center, a health facility, or community center.

" Health posts mothers who have children aged 0 to 5 years that had not received early childhood education from the Mothers Groups now have access to parenting education. "

Husnul Khatimah

Social worker at an ECED center in Samapuin village, Sumbawa island, Indonesia


  • Lesotho (FY13-FY17) – 98,000 newborns and children below 5 years of age and 100,000 pregnant women will benefit from better access to and quality of maternal and newborn health services.
  • Mozambique (FY12-FY16) – 84,000 young children in 600 rural communities will benefit from the extension of ECD services through community-based programs that focus on early attention to cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional, and physical skills aimed at increasing chances of success in primary school and beyond.
  • Haiti (FY13-FY19) – About 1.8 million pregnant women, children under 5, and vulnerable families will benefit from increased access and use of maternal and child health, nutrition, and other social services.
  • India (FY12- FY16) – Children under six, particularly 0-3 year old children, pregnant women, and families in select 162 districts will benefit from integrated child development services and improved nutrition outcomes.
  • Russia (FY14-FY18) – Children 3-7 years old and their families will benefit from improved access to kindergarten and better quality of early childhood care in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). 
  • Vietnam (FY13-FY17) – Disadvantaged children 3-5 years old will benefit from a program to raise school readiness, in particular those most vulnerable to not succeeding in a school environment.
  • SABER-ECD influence on policy dialogue and operations: The Bank is expanding the global knowledge by bridging research, policy, and practice. To date, more than 35 countries have used SABER tools to assess ECD policies and inform policy dialogue. In Jamaica, SABER helped to identify gaps in opportunities for children in the 0-3 age group. This assisted the Early Childhood Commission in informing its new National Strategic Plan as well as a national multi-sector ECD policy. SABER results were also used to designing a new World Bank-financed ECD project in Jamaica. In Uzbekistan, SABER identified gaps in the equitable provision of Early Childhood Education (ECE) services, which informed an in-depth policy note on ECD. The findings of the policy note were used to design a Global Partnership for Education project to improve access to quality early childhood education opportunities.

IDA results

Malawi’s Nutrition and HIV/AIDS Project (FY12-FY18): With a total project cost of US$103.1 million, including US$80 million from the International Development Association (IDA), 1.1 million newborns and children under two, pregnant women and mothers, and women in the reproductive age group will benefit from increased access to, and utilization of, services to reduce child stunting, maternal and child anemia, and increase the prevention of HIV and AIDS in children and sexually active adults.

Lao PDR’s Early Childhood Education Project (FY14-FY20): With a total project cost of US$28 million financed through IDA, 3 to 5-year-olds in disadvantaged districts will benefit from increased access and improved quality of early childhood education services.

Link to MDGs

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Develop a global partnership for development

 Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank is increasingly supporting ECD in recent years. Between 2001 and 2013, the World Bank invested more than US$3.3 billion (US$1.9 billion supporting the poorest countries through IDA) in 273 ECD activities, including education, health, and social protection activities, which targeted pregnant women, young children, and their families.

The World Bank has a strong research and impact evaluation agenda in ECD. The World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund ECD Cluster, for example, is focused on early childhood nutrition, health, and development and supports innovative impact evaluations to expand the evidence base on effective, quality, and scalable interventions. Research priorities include the adoption of a holistic approach for the first 1,000 days of life and understanding the effectiveness and sustainability of at-scale programs. SIEF is supporting 10 ongoing ECD evaluations, such as parental education in Niger, integrated ECD and early nutrition in Mozambique, and home-based ECD intervention in Colombia, among others. 


The Bank continues to foster global partnerships to improve children’s development around the world through numerous partnerships. Four years ago, for example, the Bank and internationally-renowned musical artist Shakira Mebarak’s ALAS Foundation launched The Early Childhood Initiative: An Investment for Life, which helps to improve the nutrition, health, education, and early stimulation of more than 5 million children and mothers throughout Latin America. The initiative has approved US$400 million worth of projects, doubling the initial projected funding, and surpassing the original total commitment of US$300 million for the period 2010-2013.

The Bank also participates in the global ECD community, which includes partner organizations such as the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, bilateral donor agencies, foundations, and international NGOs, to move the ECD agenda forward. A grant from the Bank’s Development Grant Facility (DGF) was approved in 2012 to the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development, the only Global Alliance for ECD, to: (i) improve the strategic position of ECD in global development agendas; (ii) contribute to the global knowledge base by bridging research, policy, practice; and (iii) build capacity of policy makers, practitioners, and partners to implement better ECD policies and programs.

Moving Forward

The Bank will continue to support and respond to country demand for ECD through knowledge, lending, and partnerships. Furthermore, the World Bank is increasingly supporting ECD interventions in a number of countries in Africa through lending and operational work, policy advice, and analytical activities at the country, regional, and global levels. In order to further this work, the World Bank, with support from partners, has launched the Early Learning Partnership (ELP). This initiative will provide targeted technical assistance and funding to support ECD and early learning across Sub-Saharan Africa. The ELP aims to catalyze change in countries to promote high-quality ECD and early learning opportunities for young children, and support the development of scalable and sustainable solutions to support young children’s early development. The ELP is designed to be a flexible and responsive initiative, able to provide support to country work programs, as needs arrive.


Before the arrival of Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED) centers in Indonesia, the families of Samapuin village on Sumbawa island, West Nusa Tenggara, received early childhood development services from various agencies, such as the Village Health Posts (Posyandu) or the Mothers Groups (BKB), if at all. The ECED program consolidated those services under one roof. “Health posts mothers who have children aged 0 to 5 years that had not received early childhood education from the Mothers Groups (BKB) now have access to parenting education,” says Husnul Khatimah, who works at an ECED center in Samapuin village, Sumbawa island.