Policy Brief – OECD report finds investing in Early Years has positive long-term consequences for individuals and societies

Policy Brief – OECD report finds investing in Early Years has positive long-term consequences for individuals and societies
Early Childhood Ireland Policy Brief

A recent report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that investing in Early Years education services has positive consequences for society.

Public investment in high-quality education leads to a range of positive economic outcomes, including higher productivity, innovation and long-term economic growth. It also has broader social outcomes for both individuals and society, such as improved quality of life and enhanced resilience for both individuals and societies. Resilient and equitable education systems are a cornerstone for more inclusive and equitable societies that can adapt to change, respond proactively to emerging challenges and ensure that no one is left behind. Funding high-quality education, including Early Years, is a long-term investment in the knowledge, skills and competencies that will continue to enable individuals and societies to thrive.

Quality for Children

High-quality Early Years services holds tremendous potential for children, families and societies. Clear evidence spanning research from neuroscience to economics demonstrates that Early Years services can give children a stronger start and is particularly beneficial for those from less privileged backgrounds. Cognitive, social and emotional, as well as self-regulatory skills grow together during early childhood, with gains in one area contributing to growth in others.

The report highlights several pieces of research looking at the impact of high-quality Early Years services on children in Denmark and the UK. Those who attended a high-quality Early Years setting performed better on a written exam in secondary school than their peers whose Early Years experiences were of lower quality. Participation in high-quality services is also associated with increased lifetime earnings, as well as predicting wellbeing across a range of indicators in adulthood, including physical and mental health, educational attainment and employment. Finally, societies benefit from high-quality Early Years services through greater labour market participation and earnings, better physical health and lower crime rates.

Five Policy Levers

The OECD has highlighted five policy levers which are instrumental for building Early Years systems that can foster process quality:

  • governance
  • standards and funding
  • curriculum and pedagogy
  • workforce development
  • data and monitoring
  • family and community engagement.

The workforce is, of course, central to ensuring high-quality Early Years for all children. However, in part due to historical conceptions of ‘childcare’ as an unpaid activity undertaken by women, Early Years professionals are not always recognised for the professionalism that their work requires. The report outlines how a well-educated workforce is a key contributor to increasing productivity, innovation and long-term economic growth.

Collaboration between government departments

To make smarter investment decisions, the report recommends enhanced collaboration between ministries of finance and ministries focused on education, including Early Years education. The fiscal response of OECD governments to the COVID-19 crisis was swift, strong and decisive. Governments committed billions to support public health systems, and protect their economies and populations from the economic impact of the crisis. Against the backdrop of a still lingering pandemic, the war in Ukraine and economic stagnation, governments face complex choices and a growing number of competing budgetary priorities. International evidence, including that of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), suggests that there is a lot that countries can learn from one another to make better spending choices in education.

Societal Payoff

The report also examines how high-quality education pays off for individuals, communities and societies beyond economic outcomes. Better-educated individuals live longer and healthier lives. They become more engaged citizens and are more likely to take action for collective well-being. Sustained high-quality education also supports communities. It can make them more resilient to emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Education can also help societies to adapt creatively to change and to make the most of new opportunities.

Most countries strive to improve access, quality, equity and efficiency for their education systems. However, pursuing these objectives simultaneously is a challenge for policy makers. The pursuit of equity and efficiency in education has often been presented as a trade-off when it comes to the allocation of resources. However, this report outlines how efficiency and equity in education can go hand in hand particularly when it comes to investing in high-quality early years services.

If you would like to know more about this report and how it relates to Ireland, or speak to us about our work, please get in touch with our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team at policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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