Groundbreaking study reveals key gaps and potential areas for collaboration in Early Childhood Development (ECD) across Asia

Groundbreaking study reveals key gaps and potential areas for collaboration in Early Childhood Development (ECD) across Asia

PRESS RELEASE: Singapore, 6 July 2023 (Thursday) Asia Philanthropy Circle (APC) today released the results of its Regional Early Childhood Development (ECD) Landscape Study. Conducted by the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) and supported by 12 philanthropic organisations in the region, the study is the first of its kind and is the most comprehensive mapping to date of parenting and early childhood programmes across Asia, with particular focus on China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

Key Findings

The study finds that across all four countries, there has been a clear increase in government commitment to provide holistic support to children, families, and communities. This is evidenced by existing policies and legislation, as well as significant investments made into healthcare and early education.

However, while national policies exist, there are significant challenges to their local implementation, including the lack of sustainable financing, capacity, and knowledge in the sector, as well as other socio-economic and cultural barriers. Some of the common gaps across the region that have emerged that require further attention include:

  • Paradoxical “double burden” of malnutrition and obesity. There is an increase in incidences of malnutrition and stunting in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which coincides with a rise in rates of overweight and obese children across all four countries; this points to a potential lack of access to information for caregivers on “right” nutrition and to healthy food.

  • Inequity in access to health services for some populations, due to financial restrictions, or availability of services such as for rural areas, and the shortage of trained professionals.

  • Lack of attention on the home learning environment, and to the role of fathers. Both factors have a critical impact on ECD.

  • Lack of capacity in the ECD sector. There is a need to train, retain, and recognise those in the ECD workforce—such as healthcare providers, teachers, and social workers—in order to improve the quality of services and support they can provide to families.
  • Lack of reliable, national-level data and research to support evidence-based decision-making. There is a need to support and recognise research and data collection to better understand community needs and what programmes are working in order to make better policies and decisions.
  • Lack of coordination among actors. There is a need to convene policymakers, NGOs, funders, service providers, and community members to improve the implementation of ECD policy and initiatives.

The study, which took place over the course of a year in 2022, examined a total of 276 programmes, and 145 national and sub-national policies related to ECD across all four countries. In addition, CEI also interviewed 52 stakeholders from government, academia, and community services.

Part of the study’s aim is to guide donors, service providers, government agencies, and other key stakeholders towards these gaps that require further intervention, and to provide recommendations where sectors could collaborate to strengthen and improve outcomes in the region.

“Without a clear understanding of the current situation across a country or region, stakeholders often work in fragmented or disjointed ways, doubling efforts or investing in programmes that do not best meet the needs of the population,” notes Dr Gayatri Kembhavi-Tam, Associate Director at CEI, who led the study.

Early Childhood Development impacts children long-term

Early childhood development lays the foundation for a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being, and is a strong predictor of long-term development. Recent evidence shows that giving children the best start in life requires access to comprehensive programmes and services between birth and six years that address their health and developmental needs, including early education.

“Early childhood is a crucial time for development that will have far-reaching impacts later in life,” said Belinda Tanoto, Member of Tanoto Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “We wanted to fund this research to better understand the needs of ECD systems across the region.” The Tanoto Foundation, one of the key funders of the research, was the first to approach APC with the idea of doing a regional study.

Encouraging regional collaboration in philanthropy

“Philanthropists across the region, including many of APC’s members, are already doing so much work around early childhood, but understanding the landscape enables everyone to be more strategic in their programme design,” said Stacey Choe, Chief Operating Officer at APC. “This research helps the philanthropy sector drill down to where we can have the most impact and find areas where we can work together.”

The report launch also invited sector players from all four countries for a closed-door session to discuss possible next steps and build on the findings from the report. The study is the product of a joint regional collaboration led by APC in partnership with CEI and the Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development (CHILD), and supported by APC members and philanthropic organisations across the region, including the Ayala Foundation (Philippines), Bakti Barito Foundation (Indonesia), Djarum Foundation (Indonesia), Knowledge Channel Foundation (Philippines), IshK Tolaram Foundation (Indonesia),Li Foundation (Singapore), Nomura (Singapore),Quantedge Advancement Initiative (Singapore), Ramon Aboitiz Foundation (Philippines), Tanoto Foundation, and Zuellig Family Foundation (Philippines).

The Full Report can be accessed here