Investing in quality early childhood education is key to tackling learning poverty and building human capital

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022—COVID-19 has hit the learning of the youngest children the hardest, especially in low-income countries, heightening the need for concrete, evidence-based strategies to deliver early childhood education (ECE) from large-scale quality. Released today, the new volume of the World Bank Quality Early Learning: Developing Children’s Potential reviews the science of early learning and offers practical guidance on key elements and principles for delivering quality ECE.

The volume brings together a group of leading multidisciplinary experts in the field of early learning to distill evidence on cost-effective practices to support children’s early learning in low- and middle-income countries. The report points out that young children have an enormous capacity to learn in their early years – a capacity that must be deliberately nurtured and harnessed. High-quality ECE can help children develop the cognitive and social-emotional skills, executive function, and motivation that will help them succeed in school and beyond. Investments in ECE lay the foundation for building the human capital necessary for individual well-being and more equitable and prosperous societies.

“Many countries now have a unique window of opportunity to put in place the policies and system needed to provide quality and equitable ECE as access to ECE expands,” underline Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education, World Bank. “It is easier and more effective to get things right early – both in the early years of children’s lives and in the early stages of building an ECE system – than to fill in the gaps in the basic learning and correct delivery systems later.

Low access and poor quality ECE contribute to the global learning crisis. An estimated 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries are ‘learning poor’, meaning they are unable to read and understand short text by the age of 10. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the learning crisis, along with learning poverty. should exceed 70%. As countries seek to build back better after the pandemic, even if they face severe resource constraints, investments in quality ECE should be an integral part of national plans for reviving and accelerating learning.

The report emphasizes three key points:

  1. Expansion of access to ECE must be balanced with efforts to ensure and improve quality. To ensure that investments in ECE lead to better learning, the scale of ECE expansion should not exceed the rate at which a minimum level of quality can be assured.
  2. Investments that lead to more learning for children must be prioritized. Key investments to improve quality in the classroom – including improving the capacity of the existing stock of the ECE workforce, adopting age-appropriate pedagogy and ensuring safe and nurturing learning spaces – don’t have to be very expensive or complex to be effective.
  3. Systems that deliver quality early learning at scale are built intentionally and incrementally over time through careful planning and multiple investments, including in the home environment and other factors that influence learning out of school, especially for the most disadvantaged children.

Saavedra concluded, “The task is urgent. If we hope to produce capable and confident learners ready to meet the challenges ahead, we must develop the capacities of every child by investing in quality early childhood education for all. Too many three, four and five year olds are already there. Expect.”

For more information, please visit:

Quality Early Learning: Developing Children’s Potential

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Helen D. Jessen