By Usha Drukpa
The World Bank (WB) launched a new report on 4th March titled Better Jobs and Brighter Futures: Investing in Childcare to Build Human Capital. The report provides evidence that the childcare matters for building human capital, especially that of women’s employment and productivity.
It points out to the radical change needed in scaling up access to quality childcare as it has the potential to help countries fight poverty, increase shared prosperity, and ultimately build human capital.
Increasing access to childcare can serve as a policy tool with multigenerational impacts to promote equity and improve women’s employment and productivity, child outcomes, family welfare, business productivity, and overall economic development, states the report.
As the early years are crucial in a child’s development, therefore, it is essential that children have access to good quality child care to build a strong foundation for future life success.
For many families, childcare is a binding constraint that restricts decisions on whether to work and what type of work to engage in, the report points out. Therefore, childcare challenge impacts all working parents, but it is especially acute for parents with young children, who are not yet old enough to be enrolled in primary school.
With rural-urban migration on the rise, and more families removed from the traditional extended family structures that could otherwise offer childcare support, the magnitude of the challenges continue to grow.
While childcare is an issue that impacts all working parents. Lack of affordable childcare often keeps women out of the workforce or after childbirth. This can have a wide range of negative impacts, including on family economic security, gender equality and empowerment, and business and economic growth.
When women earn and control their own incomes, more resources may be channeled to support their children’s health, education, and overall family welfare, states the report.
The consequences for children who do not have access to quality childcare and early learning opportunities emerge quickly, as children arrive to primary school without the skills to succeed, and then fall further behind more advantaged peers during primary school years.
An estimated 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries are living in “learning poverty,” unable to read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In the poorest countries, this figure can be as high as 80 percent. These early deprivations and poor learning outcomes impact countries’ human capital as children grow into adults who cannot achieve their full potential.
The report states that 4 out of 10 children below primary-school-entry age, worldwide, need some form of childcare, which they do not currently have. The gap in access is particularly acute for children below the age of 3, because costs are generally higher for this age group.
The report states the quality be at the forefront of any policies and program designs to ensure children’s development and learning. Quality is essential, and if the quality is low then the children will not benefit and may even be harmed, and parents may be unwilling to leave their children in facilities that do not feel safe or likely to benefit their children. Unfortunately, many childcare settings currently are not of high enough quality to positively impact child development, states the report.
One of the most important aspects of quality is a capable, caring, and qualified workforce and appropriate training opportunities for these practitioners are crucial. Expanding childcare could also create millions of small business opportunities that could generate income while meeting community needs.
The report found that childcare policies and service delivery are fragmented in many countries, and in the absence of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, childcare often falls through the cracks, and the robust and effective planning, regulation, quality assurance and monitoring needed to ensure adequate provision never materializes.
Childcare should be a priority area for public intervention, especially to support the poorest families, who will struggle to afford even very low-cost services. The report further states that at the country level, a range of existing financial sources and programs could be better leveraged to begin to fill gaps, although that would just be a start, as additional resources will be needed in most countries.
Investing in more and better quality childcare is an important strategy for countries seeking to build human capital, and could bring transformational change to many government priority areas. The expansion of quality childcare presents an incredible opportunity to deliver better jobs and brighter futures by improving women’s employment and productivity, child outcomes, family welfare, productivity, and overall economic growth development.
Meanwhile, the World Bank Report suggest five policy goals that governments should focus on to achieve this; expand access to childcare by promoting diverse types of provision, prioritize childcare coverage for the most vulnerable families and ensure low-cost and free options are available, allocate sufficient financing to make quality childcare affordable for families, define clear, workable institutional arrangements and build system coherence, and ensure that children are in safe and stimulating environments through a robust quality assurance system and a supported and capable workforce.
The writer is a senior reporter with the paper.