We take no convincing of the value of education in the first six years of life. Our eye was caught, however, by a startling number in a newly published World Bank policy note, Early Childhood Development and Education in China: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Improving Future Competitiveness. Taking into account the economic benefits and lower societal costs that ECDE programs promote over the long run, the internal rates of return on these programs, the note says, range from 7% to 18%. That would make investing in early-years learning “one of the most cost-effective strategies to break the inter-generations transmission of poverty, and to improve productivity and social cohesion in the long-run.”
The authors add:
Although China has made enormous progress in maternal and child health and has reached 51% gross enrollment for the 3-6 age group, rural children are under served, particularly the extremely poor and ethnic minorities. The 0-3 age-group is also underserved.
One reason: China isn’t devoting sufficient resources to early learning by international standards. In 2008, public spending on ECDE was a 0.01% of GDP, or 1.3% of the total public expenditure on education. This is far below the OECD average of 0.5% of GDP, or 8% of total public spending on education.
The Bank says China should aim to make ECDE universally available for the 0-6 age group. Over the next five-year plan it recommends that the anti-poverty program should include ECDE for the extremely poor, and that poverty monitoring should include child development outcomes. It also says that ECDE should be given greater emphasis and be considered a mainstream social service.