Closing Brazil's Early Childhood Education Gap

New Book Co-Written by IFPRI Researcher Looks at Emerging Development Issue
June 28, 2012

Recent research has revealed that the most crucial development in a child’s brain takes place in the first three years of its life. As a result, developing country governments have increasingly paid attention to the need for stronger early childhood education.

Studies have shown that the brain’s most vital organizational, as well as social and emotional, development occurs several years before the intervention of most government-run education systems. The potential result: as early as age three, a child that goes without proper stimulation and development in their brain’s architecture could demonstrate limited mental capabilities. Addressing this essential aspect of childhood development has become the focus of governments seeking to serve the future of their countries by investing in the futures of their citizens.

In a new World Bank Studies book, economists David Evans and Katrina Kosec uncover the big decisions policymakers in Brazil must make to develop an effective early childhood education initiative in the country. The book, “Early Child Education: Making Programs Work for Brazil’s Most Important Generation,” lays out the most cost-effective policy options with the highest potential that changemakers in Brazil could adopt.

“This volume brings together all available evidence on the returns to early child education in Brazil, both in terms of access and quality,” said Evans, an economist at the World Bank.

Added Kosec, a post-doctoral fellow at IFPRI: “We highlight not only the importance of early child education, but also the importance of making sure that it is high-quality in the dimensions that matter, and targeted at the right set of children.”

Based on the research highlighted in the book, Evans and Kosec recommend that the Brazilian government targets the most vulnerable children—those who are poor and live in rural areas. In the book, they write that poorer and less-educated families tend to provide their children with less cognitive stimulation than their wealthy counterparts. Rural families struggling with poverty also tend to lack access to proper educational facilities for their young because they either cannot afford the schooling or it simply does not exist. In contrast, the majority of wealthier families can afford access to private institutions to educate their 0-3 year olds. “The gap in access between rich and poor and across parts of Brazil is enormous,” Evans said.

In 2009, policymakers in Brazil ratified a Constitutional amendment that reduced the mandatory school age to four years old. Since then, policymakers have sought to determine the best tools they could adopt to achieve universal early childhood education by 2016. With this goal—and the need to expand access to daycare—Evans said that “this book explores how to prioritize beneficiaries, alternative forms of financing, and the political economy behind quality early child education for the most vulnerable children.”

Adds Kosec: “Public investment must be strategic and creative. Scarce funds should go into instructing teachers about the best activities for cognitive stimulation, and targeting public spaces at poor and underprivileged children, who stand to benefit the most.”

The scope of the book is laid out in the latest World Bank Quarterly Knowledge Report by Brazil’s Economic team. (See page 13-15).