With 189 member countries, staff from more 170 countries, and offices in over 130 locations, the World Bank Group is a unique global partnership: five institutions working for sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries. The World Bank Group works in every major area of development. We provide a wide array of financial products and technical assistance, and we help countries share and apply innovative knowledge and solutions to the challenges they face. We face big challenges to help when did early childhood education start world’s poorest people and ensure that everyone sees benefits from economic growth.
Data and research help us understand these challenges and set priorities, share knowledge of what works, and measure progress. STORY HIGHLIGHTS Care and education in the first five years of life give children a head start on skill development, school readiness, and future educational success. The World Bank and the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development of the Ambedkar University held a regional conference on early childhood care and education in New Delhi recently. Participants agreed that access to quality early childhood care and education should be the fundamental right of every child from the prenatal stage onward. New Delhi: Are parents and preschools giving children under 8 years old adequate time to play, explore, create, and learn, or are they making them memorize by rote? Recent research in the neurosciences has established that around 80 percent of brain development takes place by the time a child is 5, with the first three years seeing the maximum growth.
Clearly, the environment and experiences during these early childhood years have a great deal to do with a child’s future development and growth. In fact, early childhood experiences determine how much a child will gain from later education. The conference was also supported by other international agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, and CARE. Among the South Asian countries, India has the distinction of implementing the Integrated Child Development Services program for holistic early childhood development.
The program, which seeks to benefit some 80 million children from birth to 6 years of age, includes early childhood education, but the quality of the education provided is not very satisfactory. High-quality early childhood education has long-term benefits and produces strong returns on investment. Keynote speakers pointed out that there is now enough empirical evidence to conclude that rates of return on investments in human capital are the highest in the earliest years. Lawrence Schweinhart, president of the High Scope Educational Research Foundation in the United States. It impacts cognitive skills, social skills, societal skills, high school graduation rates, and employment prospects, in addition to contributing to a reduction in crime. Speaking of the advantage that early childhood education provides in successfully transiting to school at age 6, Venita Kaul, professor at the Ambedkar University in Delhi, explained that Indian and international researchers have acknowledged that children with adequate school readiness in terms of cognitive, language, socio-emotional skills, and concepts have better chances of successfully transiting and adjusting to formal school.
It was pointed out that highly effective preschools have special ingredients. These include certified teachers, validated curriculum, systematic engagements of parents, as well as regular assessment and feedback. However, while the growth of the brain is very rapid in the first six years of life, there is little per-child spending during this period, said Deepa Sankar, senior economist at the World Bank. Quality interventions during this crucial period are therefore missed out. Speaking about India’s plans to improve early childhood education, Anshu Vaish, secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development, talked about the government’s plans to extend the right to free and compulsory education to the 3-6 age group as well. Vaish also spoke about the need to integrate efforts within the government, as there are multiple departments or ministries connected with health, education, children’s, and women’s welfare.
Speakers mentioned that in countries such as Sri Lanka and India, the pressure to learn by rote was limiting and counter to a child’s overall development, especially in the early years. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, with security a major issue, the role of government in providing safe passage for NGOs and social activists was discussed. In Afghanistan, for example, almost the entire effort at ECCE is managed by foreign agencies, making it critical for the Kabul government to extend logistical and personal safety support. Experts from Bhutan and Nepal, countries with low ECCE penetration, said that emerging literature on the subject is helping them devise policies to reach out to children.
There was unanimity that new tools are needed to identify and cater to requirements of children with special needs, a hugely neglected domain. There is a need to develop a comprehensive policy on children in the early childhood stage. The policy should not only address health, nutrition, care, and education but also a child’s right to protection and play. Marginalized groups need to be identified and targeted with both universal and specific interventions, together with affirmative actions to ensure equity in access and quality. Planning needs to be decentralized to address the local context, with greater community-based interventions and ownership. Private schools and centers should be brought within the ambit of regulation to ensure appropriate quality among crèches, day care centers, and preschools.