CRF Blog

Give me a child

by Bill Hayes

In Give me a child, The Economist looks at early childhood development (ECD), its importance, and how it can be done wrong.

A report in May by Harvard University’s Centre for the Developing Child found that the average impact of ECD experiments studied over the past 50 years has fallen. “There is huge potential in ECD intervention,” says Orazio Attanasio of University College London. “The danger is to assume that any intervention no matter how ill-conceived and ill-designed will work.” Although getting the right answers can improve tens of millions of young lives, there is a real risk that the current wave of enthusiasm for ECD will crash if bad methods are adopted and results disappoint. The latest research suggests at least four things which governments should keep in mind.

First, ECD must focus as much on physical well-being as on training the mind. That element is now missing: most ECD policies put the stress simply on educating kids aged four or five. In fact, health and nutrition are at least as important. A paper in 2008 by Cesar Victora of Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil tracked cohorts of children in five countries (Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and South Africa) and found a strong correlation between height at the age of two, school results and wages in later life. So correcting the bad nutrition (of expectant mothers as well as infants) that leads to stunting should be a priority. Supplements like iodine and iron for pregnant mothers and vulnerable babies can boost educational performance.

A second problem is that efforts to boost development in the first years of life can be shoddily run because they fall in the bureaucratic gaps between health and education policies. [more]