By the time they enter primary school, nearly one-third of all the world’s children are already far behind where they should be in terms of cognitive and social development, due to lack of health and education services during the first years of life. The U.S. Government has pledged to prioritize ECE, as stated in the 2019-2023 U.S. Government Strategy on International Basic Education. BEC seeks to support USAID in the implementation of high-quality early childhood education programs, so that all children have the chance to learn.
Pre-primary education helps children build skills for academic and life-long success;
Countries will only be able to reach and exceed their development goals when their youngest children get a strong start;
Research shows that for every dollar spent on quality preschool programs there could be an additional return of up to 10 cents every year throughout the life of a child;
Approximately one third (250 million) of all the world’s children are entering primary school without the cognitive, social-emotional, and language skills that set a foundation for academic and lifelong success.
The following best-practices and policy recommendations were collaboratively written by BEC's 2019 Early Childhood Education working group.
BASIC EDUCATION COALITION RECOMMENDATIONS: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Healthy and curious children are the global leaders of tomorrow. In addition to building competencies in emergent literacy, mathematics, and science, early childhood education is the foundation for developing executive functioning and critical interpersonal skills (Care, et al., 2017). During conflict and crisis, early childhood activities are a promising and proactive way to help children and families build resilience and rebound from adversity so they can continue to thrive in times of need (Grolnick, et al., 2018). Quality pre-primary education can close the equity gap for disadvantaged and vulnerable populations and prepare children for future leadership.
Unfortunately, due to lack of access to quality early childhood education (ECE), approximately one third (250 million) of all the world’s children are entering primary school without the cognitive, social-emotional, and language skills that set a foundation for academic and lifelong success.
The U.S. Government has pledged to prioritize ECE, as stated in the 2019-2023 U.S. Government Strategy on International Basic Education (U.S. Government, 2018). Increased focus on ECE also aligns with the international Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for all children to access quality early learning opportunities by 2030.
ECONOMIC AND LASTING IMPACT OF EARLY EDUCATION
Countries will only be successful on their road to economic growth and self-reliance when their youngest children start strong. A 2016 series in The Lancet presented compelling evidence about the impact of early intervention, its higher scale impact on the economy, and the epigenetic far-reaching effects (Richter, et al., 2016). Research shows that for every dollar spent on quality preschool programs there could be an additional return of up to 10 cents every year throughout the life of a child (Heckman, J. et al., 2019). Attending pre-primary education increases the number of years of schooling, which in turn increases adult employment and lifelong earnings (Nores & Barnett, 2010). It is clear that the cost of failure to provide accessible and quality early childhood services is several times higher than the cost of effective interventions.
COORDINATED EARLY INTERVENTIONS ACROSS SECTORS
Coordination between health, nutrition, labor, finance, water and sanitation, and social and child protection is key to create enabling environments for all early interventions. For example, children’s health and learning experiences are inextricably linked in the early years, and together promote or hinder brain development (Lagercrantz, 2016). Malnutrition can result in hindered cognitive development and impeded intelligence quotient (IQ) (Waber, et al., 2014). It can also result in delayed school entry, early school drop-out, poor school performance, and reduced work capacity in the long-term (Walker, Chang, Powell, & Grantham-McGregor, 2005) (Waber, et al., 2014).
ECDAN’s Nurturing Care Framework (2018), provides a roadmap for international policy to create enabling environments for early childhood development through improved multi-sector coordination. Along the same lines, USAID’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy (2014–2025) provides guidance for strengthening coordination, planning and programming across sectors (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2016).
HOLISTIC EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
From birth to school-age, children rapidly develop many critical dimensions that are intertwined and not capable of being discreetly sorted along functional or academic lines. It is important to provide young learners with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programming that integrates multiple areas, each in support of the other (NRC 2002).
Research indicates that young children have the capacity to construct conceptual learning and the ability to use reasoning and inquiry (NRC 2007, 2012). Including science in early education, in addition to its inherent natural applications for observation and inquiry, provides a context for applying literacy and math skills. These skills are necessary to prepare children for future leadership of informed societies and capable workforces.
BEST PRACTICES FOR PRIORITIZING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Best practices for high-quality ECE should be integrated across sectors for optimal early learning in both emergency and development contexts. Our recommended approaches are to:
Support children’s holistic development and capitalize on children’s intrinsic motivation, curiosity, observation and inquiry.
Strengthen delivery systems, building local government and other stakeholder commitment and capacity to deliver high quality, play-based early childhood education and complementing services.
Develop the skills of the early childhood workforce to foster positive and effective teacher-child interactions, including social emotional and behavioral support.
Ensure coherence and alignment between early childhood, pre-primary, and primary grades so that children are better prepared for successful progression.
Partner with families and communities, recognizing the critical role of parenting and home environments in young children’s development and learning.
Link with multi-sectoral formal and informal interventions for a continuum support to child development from ages 0– 8.
Banner photo: Photo by Photo by Philip Laubner/Catholic Relief Services.