How can we help kids reach their full potential? Experts know that the first years of life are crucial to healthy development. And that’s just the start. Children need regular mental and physical stimulation—along with healthcare and proper nutrition—to keep their development on track. Preschool programs are a great way to give kids the educational building blocks to help them learn and prepare for primary school. But in low-income countries, parents don’t always have the opportunity: governments haven’t invested in preschools; private sector offerings may be too pricey or not close by; and parents may not understand the benefits. For policymakers and education experts, the questions are clear: Does it make sense to invest in preschool education and, if preschools are available, will parents use them and do children truly benefit from such programs? At the World Bank, we are committed to working with governments to help them meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including universal primary school education. We also recognize that getting kids to school is just a start—they need to be prepared physically, cognitively and socially for the challenges of learning. To test the effectiveness of preschool programs on children’s enrollment in and readiness for primary school, the World Bank supported a study of an early childhood development preschool program in Mozambique run by Save the Children. The evaluation showed that children enrolled in preschool were better prepared for the demands of schooling than children who did not attend preschool and that they were more likely to start primary school by age 6. This study, which we believe is the first randomized evaluation of a preschool program in a rural African setting, shows that preschool education can be an inexpensive and highly effective means for helping children overcome the developmental blocks that come from poverty. Based on the results, Mozambique’s Ministry of Education has begun work to expand the community-based preschool model to 600 communities in the 2013–2015 period.
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