QUICK FACT: Quality ECD (Early Childhood Development) is globally recognized as the most impactful investment in human capital that a country can make.
ECD is a national priority. As it should be. Investment in quality early learning yields high levels of return on investment. The impact can be seen immediately and incredibly, the long-term effects don’t wear off.
Why is quality ECD so important?
Who knew that early learning could have such far-reaching impact, that it has been found to improve the economy, strengthen the middle class, lift people out of poverty, support working parents and equip a country with quality citizens? Quality early learning and development programs for disadvantaged children can foster valuable skills, strengthen our workforce, grow our economy and reduce social spending.
#1. Quality early learning helps children grow smarter and prevents the achievement gap later in life.
From the time they are born, children begin to learn. Gaps in knowledge, ability and later achievement between under-served children and their more advantaged peers open up long before traditional schooling starts. What’s even worse is that these gaps tend to persist throughout life, and are difficult and costly to close. For example, a child that received quality, comprehensive early learning will have a vocabulary of about 1 000 words by 5 years of age, compared to only 500 words for a child growing up in an under-stimulated environment. We need to take a proactive approach to cognitive and social skill development rather than trying to close the gap later on.
#2. Quality early learning can boost lifetime earnings.
Research continually shows that children who receive early childhood educational opportunities are more successful on average as they continue in their educational and professional futures. In one study children from disadvantaged communities who were part of quality, early intervention programmes boosted their earnings in adulthood by up to 25%. The life-long gains can help lift children and their future families out of poverty and also support our country’s economic growth.
#3. ECD prepares children for school and helps them complete more years of education.
Research on early childhood development shows that early childhood education programs have positive impacts on a child’s readiness to learn once he or she enters school. Plus, these children will also complete more years of schooling. This is especially important for children from low-income families or those living in disadvantaged communities, where the risks of dropping out of school are high. Experiences of early schooling successes can, however, become a self-fulfilling prophecy for children to stay in school.
#4. Quality, consistent childcare helps parents grow their income
Today, many families with young children must make a choice between spending a significant portion of their income on child care, finding a cheaper, but potentially lower-quality care option, or leaving the workforce altogether to become a full-time caregiver. In South Africa, most families rely on a Mother’s income but her ability to secure a good job, work consistently and confidently and grow her career are directly linked to her ability to access affordable childcare.
#5. Investment in ECD has the highest returns for a country
The rate of return on investment in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children is 7-10% per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. Other studies show that high-quality birth-to-five programmes can deliver 13% return on investment. There’s a growing recognition of the value of investing in quality early childhood programs. It’s time to act on the evidence. The sooner we do, the more likely we will be to put our country on the road to greater prosperity that is shared by all.
The research by Heckman and associates shows the long term benefits clearly: