|Investing in Young Children (World Bank, 1995, 60 pages)|
"A child is born without barriers Its need are integrated and it is we who choose to compartmentalize them into health, nutrition or education. Yet the child itself cannot isolate its hunger for food from its hunger for affection or its hunger for knowledge." (Alava, 1986, in Myers, 1992b)
Over the past two decades, attention to and demand for early childhood programs has grown worldwide as a result of (a) and increasing number of parents employed outside the home in environments where the presence of young children is neither desirable nor practical; (b) a steady improvement in children's survival, so that the society can begin to look at broader issues of quality of life, and (c) a recognition that early childhood experience can have significant effects on subsequent development, especially schooling.
Not only are more children surviving, but social changes have created conditions that require new ways of thinking about child care and development. Changes such as concerns with social equity and increased participation of women in the labor force necessitate looking beyond ensuring child survival and providing custodial care. These concerns now include programs that provide for the child's physical, emotional, and intellectual development. Converging on nurturing and stimulating the capacities of the "whole child," early childhood programs have also gained recognition as valuable aids in fostering community participation and school readiness.
At the international level, three events have given new visibility to children's issues and have highlighted institutional and organizational challenges for early childhood programs at the national level. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, along with its 1993 followup, the Education for All Forum, emphasized the importance of early childhood care and development programs, the conferences also drew attention to the links between the welfare of children and community development, the changing role of women, poverty alleviation, and school performance. These meetings have heightened the awareness of the international donor community and governments alike of the importance of early learning and have led to greater commitment by both to early childhood programs.
This growing awareness is critical because children in the developing world, in particular poor children and girls, are under serious threat of developmental deprivation. Fortunately the scientific and operational means of ending or reducing deprivation appear both available and affordable. In the past two decades the Bank and other multinational agencies (UNICEF, UNESCO, and NGOs such as the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Aga Khan, and Save the Children), along with national governments, have examined data and gathered the experience needed to design effective early childhood programs.
Early child development comprises both caring for the basic health and safety needs of children and providing for the multidimensional growth of their mental, emotional, and social development. Child care, that is custodial provisions, and child development, the social and psychological stimulation of children, should not be considered separately. Programs that provide childcare should also incorporate child developments goals. Similarly, programs designed to enhance early development must consider the needs of families. In short, programs must respond to the complete well-being of the child. This approach involves the family and the community.
Evidence suggests that early investments in development of the whole child can bring improvements in the life of a child and provide benefits to the entire 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 (children 4 to 4 years old) can prove to be too late to counteract some physical, neurological, and social factors closely associated with early deprivation and lack of adequate stimulation.
A variety of such programs exist. There are traditional preschool and kindergarten settings that are often part of the formal education system. However, issues of cost and affordability have directed to nonformal program models. In addition, concern with educating parents and caregivers and with the community environment of the child has led to increased interest in the nonformal models and their linkage with an earlier tradition of community development. Initiatives that help organize communities around their own perceived needs often focus on providing for the community's children. Early childhood care and development programs that represent this nonformal community development model have been implemented in countries as diverse as India (Integrated Child Development Services), Colombia (the Hogares Communitarios or Community Homes), Kenya (the national Harambees or Let's Pull Together movement), Brazil (the Creches Comunitarias or Community Nurseries), Jamaica (Community Study and the backyard nurseries), the United Kingdom (the Playground Movement), and Venezuela (the Hogares de Cuidado Diario or Daily Care Homes).
Projects such as these aim to provide care and foster the development of young children. In addition they encourage participation on the part of the community, thereby increasing its autonomy and lessening its dependence on outsiders (be they donors or national governments). These nonformal programs provide services and education in ways that can motivate parents to greater involvement in their own children's growth and development, thus helping to secure the sustainability of the benefits of early intervention. The challenge is to identify the effective components of these often small-scale or pilot programs and expand them into efforts with national or regional coverage. Considering the evidence regarding the benefits of early interventions and the accessibility and affordability of many nonformal programs, efforts to meet that challenge are certainly warranted. Increasing international and national attention to early childhood programs also calls for expanded Bank involvement in them.
But it is important to stress here that differences in the cultural and economic milieu caution against assuming that workable solutions in one country will be equally effective in another. Therefore instead of emphasizing a single program model, it is more appropriate to identify a range of effective models. Even within countries, great care must be taken to identify target populations and help beneficiaries define their needs and devise programs to meet them. For example, formal center-based programs, while perhaps suitable for urban middle-income populations, may not be suitable on a large scale in low-income countries. On the other hand, enrichment programs aimed at caregivers ant wing parental ant community resources can be implemented at low cost and greatly improve both the well-being and learning environment for most children.
Primarily designed for World Bank task managers, this report 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. Discussion will be limited to the nonformal approach. Chapter 2 summarizes the rationale for investment in early child care and development. Chapter 3 examines program options and programming experiences with projects both inside and outside the Bank. Chapter 4 reviews the essential minimum inputs and approaches to packaging such projects. Chapter 5 suggests how the Bank can strength its role in this area. Chapter 6 concludes.