By Charlotte Blundell, Senior Education Specialist, Pacific Division, AusAID
I welcome the post by Nicole Cardinal on the importance of early childhood development. The body of research in this area (including the recent publication by the World Bank) demonstrates that children are seriously disadvantaged if their development (physical, linguistic, cognitive or emotional) is neglected in their early years. In particular, children who start primary school with developmental gaps have a lower capacity and motivation for learning. And then as they age, they are more likely to have poor academic performance, to repeat grades, and to drop out of school.
When a small number of students enter primary school unprepared, such as in Australia, well-resourced schools and well-trained teachers can sometimes offer special education or other remedial interventions and bridge the gaps. But these interventions involve high per capita costs and are not always successful.
When a large number of students enter primary school unprepared, such as in developing countries, even the best resourced schools and most capable teachers struggle to maintain an environment conducive to learning.
In such instances, there is a downward drag on the entire education system—children fail to learn, they repeat grades or drop out of school before they complete the primary cycle. This creates huge inefficiencies in the education system and undermines the social and economic benefits expected from the investment of parents, governments and private contributors (e.g. church groups) in children’s schooling.
In the Pacific, early childhood services are mostly delivered by community groups who are well placed to respond to local demand. But resources are scarce and coverage is currently patchy.
AusAID is working with partner governments, UNICEF and the World Bank to identify and support those providers of early childhood services that are having the greatest impact on preparing children for primary school in the poorest areas. Support for the development of national and regional quality standards is also being provided.
This investment is part of a broader agenda encompassing health and infrastructure interventions that is helping to maximise children’s learning in the early years of their schooling. With these essential foundations, the youth of the Pacific have the greatest opportunity to improve their own livelihood through work or further study, as well as to make an effective contribution to the overall development of their country.
For more information on the economic return on early childhood investment, visit
the website of 2000 Nobel Prize winner for Economic Science, Professor James Heckman.
About the author: Charlotte Blundell
Charlotte Blundell is one of AusAID’s senior education specialists. She has spent 14 years with the agency, supporting the delivery of aid in South Asia and the Pacific. She was a primary author of the recent publication ‘Helping the World’s Poor through Effective Aid: Australia’s Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework to 2015-16’ and the 2005 publication ‘Better Education: A Policy for Australian Development Assistance in Education’.