Research Highlights Importance – and Cost Benefits – of Early Learning Globally

Research Highlights Importance – and Cost Benefits – of Early Learning Globally

As we know, the importance of focusing on early learning – including the teaching of executive function skills – is not bound by geographical borders.

It’s a global concern.

The Lancet highlights this reality in a 2017 series of three papers about early childhood development. Though the research goes beyond simply the educational components – it “incorporates health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning” – it highlights the important reality:

“Equitable early childhood policies and programmes are crucial for meeting Sustainable Development Goals, and for children to develop the intellectual skills, creativity, and wellbeing required to become healthy and productive adults.”

The recent work follows two previous reports on Child Development in Developing Countries (2007 and 2011), which found that “that 219 million (39%) children younger than 5 years (under-5s) in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, leading to an average deficit of 19·8% in adult annual income,1attracted global attention.”

Key points from the current series include:

  • “219 million (39%) children younger than 5 years (under-5s) in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, leading to an average deficit of 19·8% in adult annual income,1attracted global attention.”
  • “Despite substantial progress in early childhood development research, programmes, and national policies since 2000, services are of varying quality with uncoordinated and inequitable access, especially for children younger than 3 years.”
  • “Children’s early development requires nurturing care—defined as health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning—provided by parent and family interactions, and supported by an environment that enables these interactions.”
  • “Coordination, monitoring, and evaluation are needed across sectors to ensure that high quality early childhood development services are available throughout early childhood and primary school, up to the age of 8 years.”

While the papers focus on many of the concerns that impact children – particularly those in developing countries – globally, one main focus area is education.

As the research notes, this not only means delivering and improving early childhood learning (often through free preschool education), but also helping parents learn.

Paper No. 3, titled “Investing in the foundation of sustainable development: pathways to scale up for early childhood development,” notes: “In the education sector, child development can be supported through various early learning opportunities, including early child day care, preschools, and parent education. Interventions can also be provided through child and social protection services, including cash transfer programmes.”

Importantly, the report notes that others have estimated a median benefit–cost ratio of “4:1 for preschool education.”

And how significant is effective preschool education from a long-term cost perspective?

The report notes: “The costs of inaction for not improving child development through preschool and home visits rise sharply in settings with few preschool services, as is the case in Guatemala (35% of children in preschool) and Nicaragua (40% of children in preschool), in addition to settings with high prevalence of children at risk of poor development, which is anticipated for many countries in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.”