Early Childhood Development
To even the playing field. Latin America and the Caribbean is the least equitable region in the world. Much of this inequality is determined at birth and depends on one’s economic, social and family circumstances. Without investments in early childhood development, even the most talented and industrious disadvantaged children find it difficult to gain access to opportunities that many children born in more advantageous circumstances take for granted.
Crucial stage for learning. The human brain grows more during the first three years than at any other time in life; by the end of a child’s third year, the brain has grown to 80% of its adult size. During this short but unique period when learning is easiest, children need attention, encouragement and appropriate interactions that allow them to develop to their full potential. Sometimes the damage that occurs when children do not receive adequate care, support and stimulation during early childhood can be repaired in later years, but the cost is so high that it is often irreversible.
Higher returns. Investing in ECD has high returns because early childhood is the period when individuals are most malleable.
Latin America has made significant progress in extending public service coverage in healthcare, nutrition, childcare and education for children aged 0-6. Despite these advances, subgroups such as the poorest populations, those living in rural areas, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants still live in precarious conditions. In at least seven countries in the region, between 25% and 50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Moreover, comprehensive ECD service coverage is far from universal among the most vulnerable population subgroups. Differences in access are associated with parental income and education levels.
The IDB has supported a variety of activities in the region in the area of ECD, many of them in the form of education, health and social protection services. However, it has also financed projects for the provision of childcare and early childhood development services. Between 1994 and 2010, the Bank has worked on 107 ECD projects that are currently at various stages of development: preparation, execution, and completion.
The IDB has identified ECD as a medium-term priority, both operationally and in its knowledge-building activities.
In collaboration with the countries, the IDB will design investment projects that support a set of strategic priorities in the area of ECD. For the youngest children, between 0 and 3 years of age, the main challenge is to design scalable interventions that support the parents and caregivers of these children, improve childrearing practices and childcare quality, and take into account children’s health, nutrition and stimulation needs. For children between 4 and 6 years of age, the biggest policy challenge is to expand equitable access to quality pre school education services. The Bank will focus its efforts on the following priority areas:
- Ensuring that ECD services reach the vast majority of the poor in the countries of the region.
- Identifying cost-effective ways to maintain service quality and minimize the participant dropout rate throughout the intervention.
- Reviewing and, in many countries, revising the selection, certification, compensation, and training processes for preschool teachers and other human resources involved in the provision of ECD services.
- Strengthening efforts to integrate preschool into the education system, and facilitating children’s transition to primary school by placing greater emphasis on language and math skills during preschool, and improving coordination with the rest of the early primary school curriculum.
- Establishing appropriate mechanisms for inter-institutional coordination between sectors and programs focusing on this segment of the population (children and their families), particularly in the areas of health, nutrition, human capital capacity building, water and sanitation, and poverty reduction.
Within its knowledge-building agenda, the Bank intends to improve the design of ECD policies and programs by focusing its efforts on two crucial areas: measuring ECD indicators and assessing the impact of services and programs. Few studies have been done in the region to investigate the skills and capabilities of young children in key areas such as cognitive, language, motor and socio-emotional development. IDB research seeks to understand which groups are most affected by developmental deficits, in terms of the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of children and their families. Impact evaluations of ECD interventions will provide the Bank and the countries of the region with a solid base of evidence that will support the design of cost-effective, sustainable programs that can operate on a large scale.