COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – The World Bank said it has approved a 50 million US dollar loan to improve the quality and increase equitable access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) services in Sri Lanka.
“Early investment in human capital development is particularly effective at increasing the ability of disadvantaged children to access learning opportunities,” a statement said.
“It will also contribute to improve learning outcomes and support Sri Lanka to become more competitive in the global economy in the long run.”
The loan will support the government’s investments in the ECD sector under a draft National Plan for Early Childhood Care and Development (2015-2020).
The government of Sri Lanka is emphasizing the importance of human capital formation, including the role of ECD, in realizing the country’s long-term development goals.
It has recently established the State Ministry of Child Affairs to specifically promote the development and wellbeing of children in the 0-5 age group.
“Sri Lanka needs to invest early, invest smartly and invest in all its people regardless of their socio-economic status if it is to meet its growth targets, end absolute poverty, and achieve shared prosperity” said Francoise Clottes World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
"Investing in Human Capital is crucial for the country to become competitive in the global economy, and this project aims at strengthening the foundation for Early Childhood Development in Sri Lanka".
This five year project aims to enroll an additional 150,000 children in ECD centers, while enhancing an additional 2500 such centers to meet national quality standards.
Early childhood is considered to be the period from conception to 5 years of age.
Monitoring and managing the milestones for the 0-2 year olds are well-established in Sri Lanka, with the health sector playing a lead role in ensuring the holistic development of these children.
But center-based ECD programs for children in the 3-5 age range are less developed, the World bank said.
Sri Lanka has around 17,020 ECD centers staffed by 29,340 teachers. Around 84 percent of these centers are under non-state management.
“Inequitable access to and poor quality of ECD services are two of the key challenges this project seeks to address” said Saurav Dev Bhatta, Senior Economist and Team Leader of the project.
“Evidence suggests that household income and location are key determinants of access to ECD services. Enrollment rates are lower for children from poorer households, rural areas and Plantations.
“Most ECD centers that cater to the poorer segments of society are resource constrained and are inadequate in terms of basic infrastructure, teaching-learning materials, and teacher qualifications.”