Brookings Institution

Why Does Early Child Development Matter?

Guest post by Sara Hommel

Sara Hommel prepared this blog last week as she concluded her tenure as associate director of the Wolfensohn Center for Development at The Brookings Institution, where she led the center’s work on early child development.

Children in ECD

A ChildFund-supported ECD center in Indonesia.

The first five years of life set the physical and mental pathways of the child, leading to positive or negative development for a lifetime. For children to positively develop in the early years, they must receive quality nutrition, healthcare, protection and cognitive stimulation. Children living in poverty often lack access to quality services to meet those basic needs. Organizations such as ChildFund seek to fill the gap for impoverished children, providing them with quality early care and education, nutrition and access to healthcare.

Early Child Development (ECD) is the foundation of human development, setting the basis for later success in education and adult employment. Everything that is necessary for children to physically and mentally develop — to be able to start school and perform well in school (and stay in school longer) — falls under the ECD umbrella. The final outcome of effective ECD, in terms of long-term human development, is educational attainment that allows for positive transition into the workforce, and the ability to function in the workforce to financially support oneself and one’s family. In this regard, the end result of effective ECD is the prevention of, or the ending of, poverty.

The human development cycle, with a foundation in early childhood, can be illustrated with a simple equation:

ECD equation

By providing impoverished children with the tools necessary for positive physical and mental development, early childhood programs help children get the right start in life, preparing them to start school with the ability to perform well and stay in school longer. Children who participate in ECD programs do better in school, attain higher levels of education, are less likely to become involved in crime and are more likely to be employed as adults.

Quality services in early childhood that are followed by quality education and health opportunities in the primary and secondary school years, prepare children for a lifetime of positive development and help stop the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

The Mama Effect

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