Up Front

Early Childhood Development: A Chinese National Priority and Global Concern for 2015

Jacques van der Gaag and Lauren Greubel

The Chinese government has recently made early childhood development a national priority, recognizing the social and economic dividends that quality early learning opportunities reap for its human capital in the long term. As the country with the largest population in the world, 100 million children under the age of six in China stand to benefit from increased access to high quality early childhood education.

The quality of education in a country is indicative of its overall development prospects. Over the past two decades – building on the momentum generated by the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals – there have been significant increases in the number of children enrolled in school. Now, with discussions heating up around what the next set of development goals will look like in 2015, it is critical that learning across the education spectrum – from early childhood through adolescence and beyond – is included as a global priority. Starting early helps children enter primary school prepared to learn. High-quality early childhood development opportunities can have long-term impacts on a child’s later success in school.

Last month, the Chinese Ministry of Education, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, launched its first national early childhood advocacy month to promote early learning for all children. The campaign, which includes national television public service announcements on the benefits of investing early in education, builds on a commitment made by the government in 2010 to increase funding for early childhood education over the next decade. The Chinese government pledged to build new preschool facilities, enhance and scale up teacher training, provide subsidies for rural families for access to early learning opportunities, and increase support for private early childhood education centers.

A new policy guide by the Center for Universal Education outlines recommendations that education stakeholders, including national governments, can take to ensure that all children are in school and learning. These steps include establishing equity-based learning targets for all children, systematically collecting data for tracking progress against these targets, and allocating sufficient resources to education beginning in early childhood. The policy guide, based on a report calling for a Global Compact on Learning, is available in Mandarin, as well as Spanish, PortugueseFrench and, soon, Arabic.

The success of China’s productivity and growth over the last few decades is attributable in part to its commitment to building a robust education system. As international attention mounts around the post-2015 education and development agendas, the priorities of national governments must be a central organizing principle. When national governments take bold steps to prioritize early childhood development, the global community should take its cue and integrate early childhood development into the broader push toward access plus learning. There is an opportunity for the global education community to push toward reaching the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals while ensuring that the post-2015 agendas include a focus on the quality of education, learning and skills development, beginning with the youngest citizens.