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Why Invest in Early Child Development (ECD)

The reasons for investing in Early Child Development (ECD) programs are numerous and interrelated. A child's ability to think, form relationships, and live up to his or her full potential is directly related to the synergistic effect of good health, good nutrition, and appropriate stimulation and interaction with others. A large body of research has proven the importance of early brain development and the need for good health and nutrition.

ECD project research has proven that children who participate in well-conceived ECD programs tend to be more successful in later school, are more competent socially and emotionally, and show higher verbal and intellectual development during early childhood than children who are not enrolled in high quality programs. Ensuring healthy child development, therefore, is an investment in a country's future workforce and capacity to thrive economically and as a society.

The benefits of ECD thereby encourage greater social equity, increase the efficacy of other investments, and address the needs of mothers while helping their children. Integrated programs for young children can modify the effects of socioeconomic and gender-related inequities, some of the most entrenched causes of poverty.

  • Studies from diverse cultures show that girls enrolled in early childhood programs are better prepared for school and frequently stay in school longer. Early childhood interventions also free older sisters from the task of tending preschoolers, so that they can return to school.
  • With ever more mothers working and more households headed by women, safe child care has become a necessity. Providing safe child care allows women the chance to continue their education and learn new skills, thereby addressing the intersecting needs of women and children.

Including early childhood interventions in larger programs can enhance the programs' efficacy. Early childhood interventions in health and nutrition programs increase children's chances of survival. Interventions in education programs prepare children for school, improving their performance and reducing the need for repetition.

A healthy cognitive and emotional development in the early years translates into tangible economic returns. Early interventions yield higher returns as a preventive measure compared with remedial services later in life. Policies that seek to remedy deficits incurred in the early years are much more costly than initial investments in the early years. Nobel Laureate Heckman (1999) argues that investments in children bring a higher rate of return than investments in low-skill adults:

Figure from Nobel Laureate Heckman's study
Source: Heckman & Carneiro (2003) Human Capital Policy