Early Childhood Care & Development

Early childhood – the period from birth to age 5 – is the most critical period of growth and learning in a person’s life. What happens – and what does not happen – in a child’s first days, months and years determines how well the brain grows and how language skills develop.  This crucial period shapes lifelong approaches to learning.

The health and nutritional status of children have a huge influence on their cognitive development and learning potential.  Malnutrition or micronutrient deficiency in the first two years of life can impair brain development and the functioning of the central nervous system.

Preschool education and targeted health care can counter early childhood disadvantage. Well-targeted early childhood development programs cost less—and produce more dramatic and lasting results—than education investments at any other level.  When children receive good quality care and learning opportunities in their earliest years, they have a better chance to grow up healthy, to do well in school, and to reach their full potential in well-being and productivity.

Key Facts


  1. One in three children below the age of 5 in the developing world, or 171 million, start school with their bodies, brains and long-term learning potential permanently damaged by poor health and malnutrition.
  2. In 2010, 164 million children worldwide were enrolled in early childhood programs, an increase of almost half since 1999.
  3. In seventeen countries, the participation rates in early childhood programs are twice as high for children whose mothers had a secondary education.
  4. Internationally, economists estimate that each extra year of preschool will increase a person’s future productivity by 10 to 30 percent.

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