We examine what the new Education Commission report says about the value of early childhood development.
The Education Commission - a group of world leaders and experts - has spent a year researching and analysing the state of global education. In a major report published today called The Learning Generation, it warns that hundreds of millions of children around the world will be robbed of their future unless immediate action is taken.
The first few years of a child’s life can determine their health, their chances of doing well at school and even how much money they will earn as an adult.
That’s why the Education Commission is calling for every country in the world to provide two years of free, quality preschooling to every child.
Its report says nations must prioritise early childhood development and preschool to ensure the building blocks are in place for children to succeed in their education and beyond. It is also a very cost-effective way to improve educational outcomes, rather than spending more later to help children catch up.
By the age of three, 80% of brain development has already happened. A combination of good health, nutrition, stimulation, early learning, education, family care and protection can help a child to develop physically, mentally and socially.
That happens most of the time in the world’s high-income countries, where 87% of children go to preschool. But in low-income countries it is only 23%. Despite expected improvements, that is projected to rise only to 42% by 2030 and 54% by 2040.
The Education Commission says its Learning Generation pathway - a radical plan to give every child the same education opportunities - will see those numbers jump to 89% by 2030 and 99% by 2040.
At the report launch in New York today, UNICEF Chief Executive Anthony Lake said: "Investing from the earliest days of a child’s life is critical to the development of the brain. It is a once in a lifetime chance to build the future of a child - no stage in a child’s life is more important."
The children’s charity Theirworld has been working this year to raise the profile of early childhood development. Campaigns Director Ben Hewitt said: “We welcome the commission calling on world leaders to recognise the importance of ECD in all their programmes and to prioritise funding to the early years to give every child the best start in life.”
Here’s a look at some more of the commission’s findings and recommendations around ECD.
Going to a quality preschool programme increases a child’s chances of staying in primary school
It also reduces the chances of them dropping out of school or having to repeat grades.
In Brazil, low-income girls who took part in community preschool programmes were twice as likely to reach fifth grade and three times as likely to reach eighth grade than girls who did not attend preschool.
The report says: “Good-quality preschools also improve school readiness and can lead to better primary school outcomes, particularly for poor and disadvantaged students.”
One country’s success story
In 1970, just 3% of children in Ghana had access to pre-primary education. This gradually increased to 51% by 2000. In 2007, the government made pre-primary education free and compulsory for at least two years. As a result, enrolment reached 99% in 2014.
Going to preschool will increase a child’s future earnings
The commission lays out this scenario. “If children in low-income countries who start preschool today were to experience the benefits of the Learning Generation vision, over the course of their lifetimes they could expect to earn almost five times as much as their parents - a value that would exceed the total costs of their education by a factor of 12.”
The consequences of poor ECD
Early nutrition, care and stimulation are key to children fulfilling their educational and health potential.
About one in four of the world’s children under five has stunted growth and development due to undernutrition. Stunting can adversely affect a child’s attendance and achievement at school and can reduce their income as an adult by as much as 22%.
Three million new preschool teachers will be needed
The report says: “A high-quality, well-trained workforce is critical at every stage of education, from early years to higher and adult education.”
But some countries will struggle to keep up with the demand for teachers, which is expected to double in low-income countries. The overall number of preschool teachers is projected to rise from one million to four million.
Joined-up thinking is needed
Quality ECD programmes need a co-ordinated approach across education, health, nutrition and social protection.
The report says: “An integrated approach during the critical first 1000 days [of a child's life] can improve child development outcomes, ensure more children and families receive services and make better use of resources.”
Some countries, such as Jamaica, have set up a single governing body for ECD. This is made up of representatives from various government ministries working together to oversee ECD strategy, resources and activities.
The question of money
The commission recommends particular investment in ECD. It says: “Preschool should be complemented by wider multi-sectoral interventions to support childhood development, particularly for children at risk.”
“The returns on investing in early childhood in terms of education outcomes as well as adult earnings are very high.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence about its importance, in 2014 only 1% of overseas development aid for education was allocated to ECD.