Early Education on the International Scene

Continuing its focus on the importance of early childhood education, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) held its high-level roundtable “Starting Strong: Implementing Policies for High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)” in Oslo, Norway this week. The OECD, a collaborative organization with 34 member nations, provides a forum for governments to share best practices and address common problems in a variety of areas.

Recognizing the impact of high-quality early learning, the OECD has had a special initiative focusing on early childhood and early care (ECEC) since 1996. Their “Starting Strong” initiative has collected data on policies, practices, and success across countries. The roundtable meeting, along with the release of a new publication, “Starting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care,” continued this legacy of international cooperation as nations try to protect crucial early learning investments during difficult financial times.

The roundtable featured invited guests from government, research, and advocacy throughout its member countries to focus on its three goals:

  • Focus attention on the economic and social importance of investing in high-quality early childhood education and care,
  • Highlight key policies and practices that can enhance investment in high-quality early childhood education and care in countries, and
  • Share perspectives and foster dialogue with, and among, stakeholders to promote understanding of the implementation challenges and how to address them.

Steve Barnett, director of NIEER, was a keynote speaker at the roundtable meeting and participated in a panel with other crucial ECEC stakeholders in the international community. Video footage can be found online, with Dr. Barnett’s address beginning at the 25:30 mark, and continuing into the panel at the 57-minute mark. The slides from his Oslo Benefits and Costs of ECEC presentation are available both from NIEER and on the OECD website alongside the video footage.

Norwegian Minister of Education Kristin Halvorsen gave a particularly striking speech (beginning at the 10-minute mark) in which she walked participants through the process of achieving high-quality early childhood education and care programs in Norway. Her argument was rooted in her experience as former Minister of Finance; that is, early childhood education is beneficial not only for the individual child but also for families that are better able to work and the economy that benefits from this. Her presentation slides are also available alongside the video footage of the event.

The complete Starting Strong III report is a 300-plus page tome addressing five policy levers utilized cross-nationally to improve quality in ECEC programs and ensure this crucial investment pays off. An interactive site guides stakeholders through these five levers, and well as the five “action areas” laid out below—this site is an incomparable tool for policymakers both stateside and in the international community.

Policy Levers

Setting out quality goals and regulations
Designing and implementing curriculum and standards
Improving workforce conditions, qualifications and training
Engaging families and communities
Setting out quality goals and regulations

Action Areas

Using research to inform policy and the public
Broadening perspectives through international comparison
Selecting a strategy option
Managing risks: Learning from other countries’ policy experiences
Reflecting on the current state of play

Steve Barnett and Ellen Frede (former co-director of NIEER) contributed to this report and its online materials, and NIEER’s research can be seen in a number of areas through the publication. Research briefs around each policy lever topic address the current body of knowledge on the topic, what is still unknown, and what the policy implications are in the field. NIEER’s contributions can particularly be seen in this brief on data monitoring and accountability.

The OECD hosts a plethora of material on ECEC in member nations. Much of NIEER’s research centers on early education funded by states, which reflect great diversity in resources, access, and quality. These differences are only magnified at the international level, offering a number of ideas that nations may wish to incorporate into their own programs. There is no one “right” model for early care and education; programs must be of high-quality, fit the needs of their community while being culturally responsive, and contribute to lasting gains. Cooperative efforts such as those launched by the OECD provide a crucial opportunity to share knowledge and ensure that all children are provided with quality early learning opportunities, contributing to an improved global economy.

–  Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


  1. Another OECD meeting on ECE! Once more after the first one in 1981 in Paris, which already was an high level meeting. Why political reality is resisting against ECE development? 30 years of battles and again and again the same arguments, the same evidences but small changes. Which is the problem? Where is it?

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