Impact of Investment in ECD Highlighted in Report on Inclusive Education

“Leave No Child Behind: Invest in the Early Years” is a recently released report that dives deep into funding trends in the Early Childhood Development sector and emphasizes the need for more inclusive practices. As the title indicates, the report determines that current investment has not met the needs of children during the crucial early years.

The Light for the World Foundation led the study and the Early Childhood Program of the Open Society Foundations provided funding. The report was released on November 19, one day before World Children’s Day, which marked the 31st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 43 of the CRC calls for nations to ensure that all children with disabilities have access to inclusive education in mainstream schools, are provided with the support needed, and address cases of restraint and seclusion.

The aim of the study was to uncover the trends in aid for inclusive ECD and identified strategic commitments to ECD, as reflected in policy documents up until 2019. Trends were analyzed by comparing the official development assistance (ODA) from 10 global donors and donor contributions to scaling up ECD services in four African countries: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Findings showed an alarmingly low 6% of ODA being dedicated to ECD, a number that drops to just 3% when UNICEF (whose core mandate is children) is excluded. This is particularly worrisome because the most critical development in the human brain takes place before the age of 6, making early childhood the most cost-effective opportunity to reduce the effects of poverty, inequality, and trauma[1]. Evidence of the detrimental effects of insufficient funding manifest most clearly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of children under the age of 5 affected by developmental disabilities has increased by more than 70% to 14.7 million since 2016, while other regions in the world have experienced a decline.[2][3]

Instead of focusing recommendations on simply dedicating more funding to ECD, the enlightening report highlights the need for donor investment frameworks that bypass the challenges of multi-sectoral collaboration. The report cleverly justifies these recommendations by carefully selecting impactful statistics about funding potential, such as demonstrating how sub-Saharan Africa “offers the highest potential gains in investment – it has been estimated that every dollar spent on tripling preprimary education enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa would yield a return of 33 US dollars on every dollar invested.”[4]

Summary Report

Full Report

Compendium of Advocacy Tools


[1] Denboba AD, et al. Stepping up early childhood development: investing in young children for high returns. 2014
[2] Naghavi M, et al. Global, regional, and national age-sex specific mortality for 264 causes of death, 1980–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 2017;390(10100):1151–1210.
[3] Olusanya BO, et al. Developmental disabilities among children younger than 5 years in 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the global burden of disease study 2016. The Lancet Global Health. 2018;6(10):e1100–e1121
[4] . Copenhagen Consensus Centre. The Nobel Laureates Guide to: The Smartest Targets for the World 2016–2030. Denmark: Copenhagen Consensus Centre;2016.