The Early Childhood Workforce Gains Global Attention

Published May 24, 2016 – by Joan Lombardi

There is ample evidence that the key to quality in early childhood programs are the interactions between children and the important adults in their lives, including the teachers and other caregivers who work with children every day. Yet we know that around the world, as is the case in the United States, the early childhood workforce has not received the recognition or support it deserves.

A recent review of research on early childhood care and education in low- and middle-income countries reveals some of the main issues and trends, including limited and inconsistent data on the early childhood workforce, the wide variation in required qualifications, and the lack of adequate resources and recognition (Neuman, Josephson, & Chua 2015). For example, as we have seen in the United States, the pay and status of early childhood teachers is poor relative to other teachers, leading to low satisfaction and high turnover (Whitebook, Phillips, & Howes 2014)—this and many other challenges are true also in the global context.

While there is a very long road ahead, in September 2015 the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) and Results for Development Institute (R4D), with support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation, hosted a meeting of experts from around the world to discuss the need to strengthen the early childhood workforce globally. Building on this meeting, the two partnering organizations recently launched an initiative focusing on those who work with children from birth through age 8 and their families around the world.

The new Early Childhood Workforce Initiative will take a holistic multisector approach, with a focus on a variety of roles, including teachers, home visitors, mentors, coaches, supervisors, trainers, and program managers. Through specific country studies and cross-country dialogue on topics such as competencies and standards, training and professional development, and support for improvement and recognition, this new initiative intends to shine a light on a topic that has been too long in the shadows of public policy. We are able to see a growing understanding of the need for high-quality early childhood education and development, and with that comes the hope that things might change. The importance of the early years to long-term health, behavior, and learning was reflected in several of the United Nations Goals for Sustainable Development agreed to by countries around the world in 2015. Specifically, Goal 4, on education, included the following important target:

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

To fulfill our obligation to children worldwide requires a renewed commitment to building and supporting an early childhood workforce that has sufficient professional preparation, recognition, and working conditions; increased compensation; and ongoing support. These dedicated teachers are the heart and soul of a quality early childhood program. They deserve the support and working conditions that lead to effective programs and assure that all children learn and thrive.

This blog post was originally written for and published by NAEYC.


Neuman, M.J., K. Josephson, & P.G. Chua. 2015. A Review of the Literature: Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Personnel in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Part of the Early Childhood Care and Education Working Papers Series. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Whitebook, M., D. Phillips, & C. Howes. 2014. Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years After the National Child Care Staffing Study. Report. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California.

Blog author

Joan Lombardi is a senior advisor to the Bernard van Leer Foundation on global child development strategies and to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund on national initiatives. She also directs Early Opportunities LLC, focusing on innovation, policy, and philanthropy.