Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

Investing in Early Childhood Development: What is Being Spent, And What Does it Cost?

Jacques van der Gaag, Vidya Putcha

February 2015

The Brookings Institution


In the developing world, more than 200 million children under the age of five years are at risk of not reaching their full human potential because they suffer from the negative consequences of poverty, nutritional deficiencies and inadequate learning opportunities. Given these risks, there is a strong case for early childhood development (ECD) interventions in nutrition, health, education and social protection, which can produce long-lasting benefits throughout the life cycle. The results from the 2012 round of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)—an international, large-scale assessment that measures 15-year-olds’ performance in mathematics, reading and science literacy—demonstrate the benefits of ECD: Students in the countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) who had the benefit of being enrolled for more than one year in preprimary school scored 53 points higher in mathematics (the equivalent of more than one year of schooling), compared with students who had not attended preprimary school. Although there is much evidence that ECD programs have a great impact and are less costly than educational interventions later in life, very few ECD initiatives are being scaled up in developing countries. For example, in 2010, only 15 percent of children in low-income countries—compared with 48 percent worldwide—were enrolled in preprimary education programs. Furthermore, even though the literature points to larger beneficial effects of ECD for poorer children, within developing countries, disadvantaged families are even less likely to be among those enrolled in ECD programs. For instance, in Ghana, children from wealthy families are four times more likely than children from poor households to be enrolled in preschool programs.