Early learning and early childhood development

We work to ensure that all children, especially the most vulnerable, achieve their developmental potential and are ready for primary school.

a child in the morning sun


The early years (0 to 8 years) are the most extraordinary period of growth and development in a child’s lifetime. The foundations of all learning are laid during these years. Getting the foundations right carries huge future benefits: better learning in school and higher educational attainment, which results in major social and economic gains for society. In South Asia, only half its children attend early learning programmes.  

Pre Primary Gross Enrollment Rate

South Asia has one of the highest rates of stunting with nearly 2 out of every 5 children being stunted. Research shows that malnutrition in early childhood is linked to reduced learning potential and poor cognitive and emotional development in children. This, in turn, affects their school enrolment, participation, and retention.

Research shows that good quality early learning and early childhood development (ECD) programmes help to reduce the chances of dropout and repetition and improves outcomes at all levels of education. South Asia has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world with high rates of repetition and dropout. If faces an on-going learning crisis with only one in three children in Grade 4 able to read basic texts.

Early Learning graph

Not all countries in South Asia have national policies on early learning and ECD. This means that data on ECD is only available for three countries in the region which reveals that only two-thirds of children between the ages of 36 to 59 months are developmentally on track in South Asia.  


The development of a child’s brain depends on environmental stimulation, especially on the quality of care and interaction that the child receives. A baby who is hugged cooed to, comforted and visually stimulated has an essential advantage.  Children who are nurtured and well cared for are more likely to fully develop cognitive, language, emotional and social skills; to grow up healthier, and to have higher self-esteem. Each one of these areas is crucial to our well-being as adults; our experiences in early childhood truly shape who we ultimately become. 

To promote ECD and early learning in South Asia, UNICEF develops a range of knowledge products like investment cases and the documentation of noteworthy practices on ECD programme. This work supports evidence-based advocacy to enhance the quality of ECD services and to reach the most disadvantaged children to make ECD more equitable. We work to strengthening the evidence base on ECD policies, strategies and programmes in the region and focus on identifying effective innovative interventions and good practices that can be scaled up. 

UNICEF use evidence to inform policymakers about the importance of investing in ECD and foster and strengthen critical partnerships to leverage resources for ECD and improve ECD results in the region. We work collaboratively with various networks like the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) and partners like UNESCO to promote ECD and the early learning agenda in the region.  



These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.