WASHINGTON – Although investing in early childhood development may not be the top priority in these times of economic crisis,it is a medium-term investment that Latin American and Caribbean leaders should focus on.
That is one of the conclusions of a new report issued this week by the World Bank. Making that investment is important because it will have a “generational impact on the future,” said Evangeline Javier,World Bank regional director for human development,Latin America.
“Investing in young people is one of the most cost-effective ways of addressing the poverty issue,” Javier said
Early childhood development in Latin America and the Caribbean is still very low,and only three countries in this region have a national policy on the subject: Chile,Colombia and Jamaica.
“There is consistent and rigorous evidence of the effects that early childhood development interventions have on future life outcomes,and they have important effects on education,” said Emiliana Vegas,education economist at the World Bank and co-author of the report.
Children who have good early childhood development tend to stay in school longer,learn more while they are in school,have better health outcomes,lower fertility rates,lower risk of engaging in criminal activities and better labor market outcomes,both in terms of employment and wages,explains the report.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries invest up to 1.8 percent of GDP in early childhood development. In Latin American countries,the highest investor is Guyana and it spends a third of what the 30 OECD countries spend.
Vegas said that cultural challenges remain. “In some countries there is still a hesitance to recognize or to take advantage of day care facilities or to leave very young children in the care of others,” she said. “And it limits the potential of mothers to work and to have a better income for their household.”
“We are looking not only at education,but also poverty reduction,” Vegas said.
The report is a preview of a book,”The Promise of Early Childhood Development in Latin America and the Caribbean,” that will be released by the World Bank in August. Vegas and Lucrecia Santibañez are the authors.
“We know that in Latin America,quality of education is really a serious issue. They have done a lot achieving expanding coverage,but on the quality front a lot needs to be done,” said Chingboon Lee,the World Bank regional sector manager for education,Latin America.
“In a time of crisis,this is not a time to pull back on investing in quality improvements,” Lee said. “I think governments should really look for win-win type of solutions without necessarily having to cut back on education or on early childhood development.”