Education: quality standards essential to boost child learning and development, says OECD


23/01/2012 - Governments should establish quality standards and goals in early childhood education and care in order to boost child learning and development, according to a new OECD report.

Starting Strong III: A quality toolbox for early childhood education and care says that starting early and starting strong makes a difference. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría emphasised in a speech in Paris that “investing in human capital is essential to promote employment and employability, and to tackle inequality. The investment in people must begin in early childhood and be followed through into formal education and work.”


“Early childhood education and care (ECEC) can bring a wide range of benefits but the magnitude of the benefits is conditional on quality”, said OECD Director for Education Barbara Ischinger at the High-level Roundtable in Oslo, Norway. “Expanding access to services without attention to quality will not deliver good outcomes for children or the long-term productivity benefits for society. Indeed, research has shown that if quality is low, it can have long-lasting detrimental effects on child development, instead of bringing positive effects.”

Starting Strong III introduces five policy levers that are found to be effective in encouraging quality in ECEC by international research:

  1. Setting out quality goals and regulations. Setting out explicit quality goals and regulations can help align resources with prioritised areas, promote more co-ordinated child-centred services, level the playing field for providers and help parents make informed choices.
  2. Designing and implementing curriculum and standards. Curriculum or learning standards can ensure consistent quality for ECEC provision across different settings, help staff to enhance instruction strategies and help parents to better understand child development.
  3. Improving qualifications, training and working conditions. ECEC staff play the key role in ensuring healthy child development and learning. Areas for reform include qualifications, initial education, professional development and working conditions.
  4. Engaging families and communities. Parents and communities should be regarded as “partners” working towards the same goal. Home learning environments and neighbourhood matter for healthy child development and learning. 
  5. Advancing data collection, research and monitoring. Data, research and monitoring are powerful tools for improving children’s outcomes and driving continuous improvement in service delivery.

 Figure 1. Returns on investment from high-quality ECEC programmes
Based on model pre-primary programmes for low-income, disadvantaged children


Source: Schweinhart, L. (2006), "Preschool Programmes", Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Montreal; Heckman, J. et al. (2009), "The Rate of Return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program", Journal of Public Economics, 94(1-2), pp. 114-128.


“Quality costs but it is worth the investment. There is a general agreement that quality matters to gain significant pay-offs among ECEC sector, but it is now time to re-iterate the message to the general public”, continued Ischinger and invited countries to discuss and share their experiences for “making a case”, at the roundtable, for expanding access to ECEC services that are affordable and of high quality.


For further information about the Starting Strong III and the OECD/Norway High-level Roundtable on Early Childhood Education and Care, journalists should contact Miho Taguma ( from the OECD’s Education Directorate.

More information on Starting Strong III, including the online version of the full report, research briefs, country strategies and international comparative data:

More information about the OECD/Norway High-level Roundtable on Early Childhood Education and Care:

More information on Angel Gurría’s key speech “Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising


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