The sustained benefits of early childhood interventions are well established in developed countries. Early development plays a major role in subsequent school performance, health, socialization, and future earnings. For children born into poverty, the equity enhancing impact of early childhood interventions hold the promise of overcoming social disadvantages and breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty. The World Bank's support to early childhood development is well aligned with the Bank's twin goals of reducing extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.
This evaluation by the Independent Evaluation Group examines the Bank's design and implementation of projects across sectors supporting ECD interventions to inform future operations and provide inputs to the new Global Practices and Cross-Cutting Solution Areas. Its overarching messages are:
The Bank's analytical work fosters an awareness of the rationale to invest in people early. This work expands the knowledge base, addresses key operational challenges, and pushes the frontiers of research on child-related policies and interventions. Overall, there is a balance between an integrated concept of early childhood development, child health, and child nutrition. In looking to the future, more attention is needed to create knowledge related to scale, quality models for early learning, financing of ECD, cost-effectiveness, and capacity building at all levels of government.
The Bank lacks a strategic framework and an organizational structure to support a coordinated approach across Global Practices toward the development of children. In its absence, the Bank depends on the knowledge, initiative, and skills of individual staff members, leading to significant variation in approaches and intensity of investment across countries.
Based on what is known from research, the impact of the Bank's work could be increased by changing its focus on health and survival to include child stimulation and development interventions in health, nutrition, and social protection. These sectors that would support an expanded focus have early entry points to reach vulnerable children and families beginning with the prenatal period. The Bank has made this shift in a few of the countries examined.
The role of parenting in child development is critical. More emphasis is needed on support for parent education and assistance programs, treatment of maternal depression, early detection of disabilities and developmental delays, and affordable quality childcare to enable workforce participation.