Brookings and the China Development Research Foundation co-hosted a discussion on opportunities and challenges for early childhood development (ECD) programs in both countries. Dual keynote addresses were delivered by Her Excellency Liu Yandong, vice premier of the People’s Republic of China, and the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state.
Madame Liu, speaking in Mandarin with simultaneous translation, said that “China will soon release a national plan for development of children in poor areas,” with a goal “to ensure the healthy growth of every child in China.” She cited data demonstrating how China has met UN Millennium Development Goals in infant and child mortality rates dropping. While acknowledging the “daunting challenge” of promoting children’s development in China, home to nearly 310 million children, Madame Liu said that “investment in early childhood development is a human capital investment with the highest return.” Chinese President Xi Jinping, she said, “attaches great importance to early childhood development,” sharing a vision with that expressed by President Barack Obama.
Sec. Clinton echoed many of the points Madame Liu made about the importance of early childhood education, citing research, and stressing the opportunities for U.S.-China collaboration and communication on this issue. “Investing in early childhood development,” Clinton said, “is one of the best returns on investments that a country can make to accelerate long-term economic growth and productivity.” Citing research that shows that children born into higher-income families hear 30 million more words in their formative years than do children born into lower-income families (and described by Richard Reeves in his “Parenting Gap” paper), Sec. Clinton said that “We want to see our young people working together, understanding each other, communicating … to have the background and confidence to work through those disagreements peacefully … much of that depends upon education and the start in life that children in both of our countries have.”
Ultimately, Sec. Clinton said, early childhood education is “a values issue that has budgetary consequences” but is “not only about our government.” The first educational experience a child has, she said, is in the family, at home. “This has to be elevated as an issue, but it needs to be seen not only as a government issue, or not just a family issue, but as an integrated approach to helping our very youngest citizens get the best start in life.”
Panel discussions on ECD as an investment to alleviate poverty and enhance productivity and U.S.-China collaboration on ECD policy followed.
In July, the Center for Universal education held a forum on the state of ECD in both China and the U.S., with a focus on quality, targeting and content.
In February, the Brown Center for Education reform held an event on ECD in Nordic countries, a chance for experts from Denmark, Finland and Sweden to compare their early education systems with that of the U.S.
On the Social Mobility Memos blog, Richard Reeves and colleagues in the Center for Children and Families are writing about the impact of early childhood programs for social mobility.