|Investing in Young Children (WB)|
This paper, designed to inform World Bank task managers, summarizes why investment in human capital formation through early child development is worthwhile. It reviews lessons learned from programs and projects in operation, and examines how such projects can be designed under various conditions.
Early child development programs promote the physiological and intellectual development of young children, helping to ready them for further schooling and a productive role in society. Cumulative research indicates that most rapid mental growth occurs during infancy and early childhood and that on the whole the early years are critical in the formation and development of intelligence, personality, and social behavior. Scientific research indicates that, given the decisive influence of children's early stimulation on physical, psychological, and social development, primary school and even kindergarten programs (for children 4 to 5 years old) can prove to be too late to counteract some physical, neurological, psychological, and social factors closely associated with early deprivation and lack of adequate stimulation.
In addition to the scientific, human rights, economic, and changing social and demographic arguments in favor of early childhood development, investing in such projects combines efficiency equity, and cuts across traditional human resource subsectors. Investments in such programs can help modify the effects of developmental deprivation. Evidence from the developed and developing world indicates that some interventions can (a) increase the efficiency of primary and secondary education, (b) contribute to future productivity and income, and (c) reduce costs of health and other public services. Indirect benefits from early childhood interventions can include reduction of gender inequities, increased female participation in the labor force, and increased community development efforts.
As a part of its strategy of poverty alleviation, the Bank faces the challenge to assist governments in expanding and sustaining programs of various kinds to improve the development of children. The Bank has gained valuable experience in the development and support of early childhood programs and interventions. However, the Bank can do substantially more. There should also be an expansion of sector work focusing on the needs of young children. More research and evaluation needs to be undertaken, especially in costs and financing, and in the development of monitoring and evaluating instruments. Furthermore, the Bank can collaborate with UNICEF to bring people together from various program sectors and formulate an integrated policy towards human resources development. The Bank should also draw on the experiences of bilaterals and NGOs, such as the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Save the Children, and the Christian Children's Fund. Within the Bank, awareness of the pivotal role of early childhood development in human capital formation needs to be increased, through dissemination of best practices, training seminars, and workshops.