More investment in early years needed to help children succeed at school

World Bank Ecd Report 5
A young boy points to the letter F, with his teacher's help in a classroom in rural Nepal (World Bank)

Childcare, Early childhood development, ​Learning through play (Early years)

Poor nutrition, stimulation and lack of learning opportunities need to be tackled if under-fives are to go on and succeed at primary school, says the World Bank.

Too many children in the world’s poorer countries are failing to get the early grounding they need to succeed when they go to primary school.

Poor nutrition, stimulation and lack of learning opportunities before the age of five is setting them up to under-perform in tests, repeat grades and drop out of education altogether.

Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign – backed by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation – has been calling for countries and donors to invest more in early childhood development – and specifically to spend 10% of education budgets on pre-primary schooling.

90% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of five and children need nurturing care in five key areas – nutrition, learning, play, protection and health – if they are going to fulfil their potential.

Now a major report by the World Bank has echoed those concerns about preschool investment, arguing that strong foundations in the early years underpin all learning and skills development.

“Preschool programmes targeting children ages three to six can foster foundational skills and boost children’s ability to learn,” said the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realise Education’s Promise.

“Children who attend preschool have higher attendance and better achievement in primary school. Moreover, they are less likely to repeat, drop out, or need remedial or special education.’

The World Bank said countries can achieve high returns if they invest in their children – but not if the growth of their bodies and brains restricted and there are early gaps in their learning.

World Bank Ecd Report 2

Only half of three to six-year-olds have access to pre-primary education (World Bank)

It added: “Around the world, many children receive too little investment in nutrition and stimulation during their early years and many lack access to quality early learning opportunities that can prepare them for first grade.”

Just one in five children aged three to six in low-income countries attend preschool – compared with 86% in high-income countries. One in four children worldwide have stunted growth. 

“Poorer children not only have fewer resources such as books or toys, but also receive less stimulation, direction, and support,” the report said. “Governments do not invest enough in young children.”

Children who have fallen behind in their physical, cognitive, linguistic or emotional development are more likely to:

  • Enter their first grade at school late
  • Score poorly in school and repeat grades
  • Drop out before they complete primary school
  • Experience poor health throughout their lives
  • Engage in high-risk behaviour, particularly in adolescence
  • Be less productive and have lower earnings
World Bank Ecd Report 4

A young girl waits for her mother who is working in Rwamagana, Rwanda (World Bank)

The World Bank also reported that millions of children won’t be able to fulfil their potential because their schools are failing to educate them properly.

They face a life of lost opportunities and lower wages because of a global learning crisis.

The report showed that – even after several years in school – millions of children cannot read, write or do basic mathematics. Young students already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability will leave school without even the most basic life skills.

“This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “When delivered well, education promises young people employment, better earnings, good health and a life without poverty. Schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. 

The alarming statistics don’t even take account of the 260 million children who are not in school because of conflicts, discrimination, disability and other obstacles.

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