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  • Investing in the early years is one of the smartest things a country can do to eliminate extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity, and create the human capital needed for economies to diversify and grow. Early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development—affecting learning, health, behavior and ultimately, income. An increasingly digital economy places even greater premiums on the ability to reason, continually learn, effectively communicate and collaborate. Those who lack these skills will be left further behind.

    Yet today, millions of young children are not reaching their full potential because inadequate nutrition, a lack of early stimulation, learning, and nurturing care, and exposure to stress adversely affect their development.

    The challenge is daunting:  

    • In low and middle income countries across the world, 250 million children under the age of five are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential because of poverty and stunting (or low height for age).
    • In Africa alone, one third of children are stunted.  
    • Worldwide, only half of all three to six-year-olds have access to pre-primary education. In low income countries, just one in five children has access to preschool.  
    • One in 200 children in the world is displaced, exposing them to the kind of stress that can undermine their development.
    • Investments in young children are minimal: in Sub-Saharan Africa just 2 percent of the education budget goes to pre-primary education, while in Latin America government spending on children under 5 is a third of that for children 6 to 11.

    Smart investments in the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development of young children —from before birth until they transition to primary school— are critical to put them on the path to greater prosperity, and to help countries be more productive and compete more successfully in a rapidly changing global economy.

    There is a growing body of evidence about what programs work: early childhood nutrition, early stimulation and learning programs to extend school completion, all improve learning outcomes, and ultimately increase adult wages.  Some of the evidence includes:

    • A 20-year study of children in Jamaica by Nobel laureate James Heckman, Paul Gertler and others showed that early stimulation interventions for infants and toddlers increased their future earnings by 25 percent—equivalent to adults who grew up in wealthier households.
    • A World Bank Group (WBG) analysis of the long-term benefits of early childhood education in 12 countries found that children who attend preschool stay in school for nearly a year longer, on average, and are more likely to be employed in high-skilled jobs.
    • Children in a long-term study in Guatemala who were not stunted were much more likely to escape poverty as adults, and earned incomes 5 to 50 percent higher than children who were stunted as children. 
    • Evidence that an additional dollar invested in quality early childhood programs yields a return of between $6 dollars and $17 dollars. 
  • In response to convincing evidence about the benefits of investing in young children, as well as growing demand from countries, the WBG is increasing its support of early childhood initiatives around the world through financing, policy advice, technical support, and partnership activities at the country, regional and global levels.  

    The 2018 World Development Report “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise highlights three approaches:

    • Targeting mothers and their babies with health and nutrition interventions during the first 1,000 days, a critical period of brain development.
    • Increasing the frequency and quality of stimulation and opportunities for home learning to improve cognitive, socioemotional and language development.
    • Ensuring high-quality childcare centers for young children and preschool programs for children 3 to 6 years old.

    The WBG leverages experts from education, nutrition, health, and social protection to build an evidence base, so that countries can craft programs that fit their needs and are also cost-effective.  Through new reports such as the Stepping up Early Childhood Development and articles in leading journals like the Lancet Early Childhood Development Series, the WBG is contributing to global knowledge around early childhood, highlighting new scientific evidence, building on existing findings, and proposing pathways for implementation of early childhood development at scale.

    Impact evaluations have been critical in this effort. Knowing which preschool model is most effective or the impact of a nutrition program on cognitive development, for example, gives policymakers critical information to make better and more informed decisions. In Mozambique, the WBG’s evaluation of a community preschool program run by Save the Children found that children enrolled in preschool were better prepared for primary school and were also more likely to start school at the proper age of six. Based on the results, the Government of Mozambique expanded the program and is investing significantly more in young children from disadvantaged families.  

    Last Updated: Oct 24, 2017

  • The WBG is supporting countries around the world by ensuring young children have the right nutrition, early stimulation and learning, as well as protection from stress that affects their development. Examples include:

    Pacific Islands: As part of the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning Program (PEARL), the WBG is working closely with governments across the Pacific islands to improve school readiness and early literacy. The WBG is working with small island nations to develop education strategies that consider cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as unique geography in which populations are dispersed across islands. Programs include Tonga’s “Come Let’s Read and Write,” which encourages literacy, as well as similar projects in Kirabati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.

    Sri Lanka: Though Sri Lanka has an estimated 17,000 early childhood development centers serving half a million children ages three to five, fewer than half meet basic national quality standards. The WBG is working with the Government to increase access to and quality of early childhood centers around the country, while providing teacher training, programs for parents, and tuition support for poor families.

    Niger: In Niger, where a quarter of the population is under the age of five and poverty is nearly 50 percent, access to preschool is limited. In 2011, the Government of Niger set up a national social safety net program, which provides unconditional cash transfers to poor households across the country, with an additional parenting training on nutrition, health and cognitive development of children under the age of five. An impact evaluation of the program is measuring the program’s effectiveness, giving the government evidence it can use for future scale-up.

    : In Madagascar, where more than 50 percent of children are stunted, the National Community Nutrition Program is now reaching 2.1 million mothers and children under five years of age, delivering growth-monitoring activities, cooking demonstrations and nutrition education through a network of more than 7,000 sites. Political instability and natural disasters make the country’s children particularly vulnerable. As part of a pilot program, families are receiving additional visits from community health workers, who teach parents about the importance of early childhood stimulation. The results thus far are encouraging and show that intensive counseling, combined with nutrient supplements, could be an important intervention in Madagascar.

    Mongolia: The WBG has been working with the Government of Mongolia to build preschools, create mobile kindergartens for the country’s vast rural areas, and provide books and toys to boost kids’ learning. The project, which has already benefited some 8,500 of the country’s most remote children, also includes an innovative home-based program that targets nomadic parents and teaches them to engage with their children and play the role of preschool teacher several hours a week. Results are promising: participating children significantly outperformed comparable children enrolled in publicly-provided alternative early childhood programs.

    Peru: In 2007, 28.5 percent of Peruvian 0-5 year old children suffered from chronic malnutrition. With support from the WBG and other donors, Peru strengthened its conditional cash transfers and the supply of health and nutrition services to target low-income families with young children. In just seven years, the country cut its chronic malnutrition rate in half, to 14 percent. This ranks among the most successful achievements in improving child nutrition in the world and underscores the ability to achieve dramatic and relatively quick improvements in child malnutrition.  

    Last Updated: Oct 24, 2017

  • Partners

    The World Bank Group (WBG) works with a diverse group of partners and stakeholders within countries and internationally to support young children’s development around the world. The WBG engages regularly with the broader development community on ECD, which includes partner organizations and initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)  and the Global Financing Facility (GFF) for the Every Woman Every Child. We  also engage with UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, the Inter-American Development Bank, bilateral donor agencies, foundations, international non-governmental organizations and academia to further the early childhood development (ECD) agenda. 

    The Early Learning Partnership (ELP) is a multi-donor initiative, housed at the World Bank that works with countries to build programs, policies and research to improve outcomes for young children around the world.  ELP works in partnership with other international agencies, bilateral donors, academia, civil society and foundations and has benefitted from support from The LEGO Foundation, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (formerly the Department for International Development (DfID)) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).  ELP has successfully catalysed change within the World Bank and at country level, generating more than $1.4 billion in new and more impactful finance for early childhood development (ECD) since 2012.  ELP efforts in more than 40 countries to scale innovation and ensure quality have reached more than 4 million children and their families, thus far. 

    The WBG launched the Early Years Fellowship in 2016 to build capacity within countries and develop the next generation of leadership to scale-up investments in ECD.  Fellows work with the WBG and the government in their home country for two years, while simultaneously enrolled in an extensive professional development program.  The first cohort of 20 Fellows helped to leverage more than $1.5 billion in new resources for ECD and inspired other World Bank teams to consider creating similar fellowship programs in other areas. The second cohort of 25 Fellows are currently supporting 34 countries globally. The Fellows speak a total of 25 different languages and bring more than 200 years of combined ECD work experience and diverse backgrounds with training as medical doctors, economists, psychologists, teachers, social workers and researchers.

    Through the Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF), an initiative funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and CIFF, the WBG supports robust early childhood impact evaluations in dozens of countries across the world. This work has significantly contributed to the expansion of knowledge on the impact of early childhood development interventions, and in several cases, such as Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ghana, Jamaica, and Mozambique, the results of these evaluations have led to expansions in preschool provision and changes in teacher training and have stimulated policy dialogue locally and in international media. Through the complementary research it supports, SIEF has also published a toolkit on measuring early childhood development and guidance on measuring program costs

    The WBG supported the development of the Nurturing Care Framework (NCF) for early childhood development, which builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood development. Along with partners, the WBG co-leads expert working groups to develop tools and resources to support country governments to apply the framework to their contexts.   

    The WBG serves on the Executive Leadership Council of the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), a global network committed to the mission that all young children, regardless of their circumstances, should achieve their developmental potential. The WBG partners with regional ECD networks: the African Early Childhood Network (AfECN), the Arab Network for Early Childhood Development (ANECD), the Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Network (ARNEC) and the International Step by Step Association (ISSA).

    Last Updated: Sep 22, 2020

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