CTs and Early Childhood Development

Why focus on early childhood development?

Crucial investments must be made when children are young.

Since much of human brain structure is determined by the time children reach age 5 (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000) and neuroplasticity decreases over time (Shonkoff and Richter 2013), it is important that children are exposed to early learning opportunities and do not suffer significant deprivation of any kind during this crucial period. When not adequately addressed in young children, developmental deficits can compound and lead to impaired school readiness, poorer school achievement and outcomes (Grantham-McGregor et al. 2007), reduced productivity (Walker et al. 2007), and lower lifetime earnings (Naudeau et al. 2011). Since developmental trajectories become more difficult to adjust as children grow older, prevention of these delays is a more effective strategy than the use of remedial measures (Walker et al. 2011). For instance, nutrition from a child’s time in utero onward is a crucial component of healthy development, and malnutrition in young children has lasting impacts over an individual’s lifetime. In Ghana, malnutrition (measured as height-for-age) in early childhood has been found to contribute to delayed entry in primary school (Glewwe and Jacoby 1995). In the Philippines, less well nourished children enter school later and are less able to learn for each year in school (Glewwe, Jacoby, and King 2001). In Zimbabwe, lower height-for-age at the time of preschool impacts not just future height, but also decreases timely school entrance and future grade completion (Alderman, Hoddinott, and Kinsey 2006).

Many young children face challenges that hinder their healthy development.

Famously, Grantham-McGregor et al. (2007) estimate that over 200 million children worldwide under the age of 5 will fail to meet their full developmental potential. Most of these children reside in south Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. There is increasing evidence that low socioeconomic status is associated with cognitive and other developmental delays within low- and middle-income contexts. These delays increase with age and often are significant before children enter primary school (see Naudeau et al. 2011 for a review of this evidence in 5 developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa), suggesting that children at risk for developmental delays in this context may be readily targeted. Major risk factors known to affect young children’s development and yet remain widespread globally include iodine deficiency, anemia, stunting, and lack of cognitive stimulation. Maternal depression, intrauterine growth restriction, exposure to violence, environmental toxins, and malaria are other potential risks to large populations of young children (Walker et al. 2007). HIV infection of the child or caregiver and institutionalization are additional high-urgency risks (Walker et al. 2011), particularly in certain parts of the world.

Developmental delays or deficiencies can impose significant social costs.

For instance, they can place a burden on the educational system, as schools that serve large numbers of delayed children must bear additional challenges associated with educating children with lower capacity or readiness to learn. In the long run, developmental delays can also increase economic and social inequality, which place additional financial and social costs on countries.