Will Asia’s economic growth still benefit early childhood development in the future?

by student Chi Linh Doan Tran

It is indisputable that the significance of economic growth in Asia attaches to the region’s key developments such as in health, education and other welfare for children who are between 0 and 8 years old. BMAU/UNICEF, once, states that during the span between 2010 and 2014, on average, more than 75% of the budget allocation directly affects children.

In Vietnam, the positive impacts of the increased flow of FDI, which boosts the country’s economic growth result in the country’s recorded high concentration on Early Childhood Development (ECD). Indeed, 4500 children 6–23 months were provided with micronutrient powder supplements, 9398 preschool children (3–5 years) benefited from a social-emotional learning program, and 26,495 young children were benefited from Early Essential Newborn care services (UNICEF).

China is a developed country which is seen as the Asia Tiger and ranks first in terms of GDP per capita indicator so far. Its investment in the 3-year Action Plan which stimulates early childhood development was motivated by the government’s willingness to eliminate poverty while the most significant motivation came from the influx of private investment. Thanks to that, low-income families are provided with financial support to help them afford essential consumption such as clean water, shelter and hygiene food. Teacher qualification and the overall quality of the teaching staff are also enhanced by professional development. As a result, every child receives adequate literacy skills regardless of their background. These imply that robust economic growth is a premise for sustainable progress, and one of which is of early childhood development.

However, issues surrounding economic growth’s drawbacks have been raised, such as adverse environmental impacts on young children. China possesses the most polluting emissions, particularly in heavy-industrialised and energised cities such as Xingtai, Baoding and Shijiazhuang. According to Worldatlas, the amount of air pollutant from factories and cars which was emitted into the environment tripled the maximum threshold (required rate is 35 micrograms while Xingtai and Baoding’s rates are 128 and 126 micrograms respectively). Following the Clean Air Fund, of the 4.2m deaths from ambient air pollution in 2016, 300000 were among children under 5. Women who are pregnant when breathing air pollutants also suffer from health diseases that harm directly not only physical health themselves but also the infant. Those children, then, likely suffer from low birth weight, even autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Similarly, Malaysia is facing the problem seriously too. When air pollution reaches the warning threshold (API reading is between 201 and 300- very unhealthy), all children have to stay at home. Solving environmental issues is not a one-off period; it places long-lasting effects on everyone, particularly young children. It is each nation’s responsibility for making sure that children must not sacrifice their right to go to school, have fun and be exposed to nature, due to the adverse impacts of the environment. Sadly, in Asia, no vigorous action has taken place.

Economic growth is not yet an optimal measure of the progression of the early childhood development program. Indeed, it does not measure the air pollution crisis, which has direct and severe impacts on children’s wellbeing as mentioned. This means the news that children in Nepal have their lives shortened by 30 months due to breathing air pollutant or 852,000 pollution-related deaths in China in 2017 is not recorded as a determinant slowing their countries’ economic growth which is an unfortunate fact.

In conclusion, though economic growth caused air pollution crisis, it still plays a vital role in improving the education of both children and their parents. This spillover effect incentivises other countries in the area to focus on improving economic growth first, allowing other macroeconomic objectives are achieved, such as a balanced government budget. After China launched its 3-year Action Plan successfully, Pakistan, Vietnam and numerous Pacific islands implemented changes in their policies focusing on their children’s welfare. They set some remarkable milestones, evidenced by experiencing their higher rates of Global Happiness Index.

However, creating economic growth takes time, and it is not easy to quantify its direct impacts on children, and not all economies are capable of controlling their budgets. Given the fact that the population of young children in Asia is more and more increasing, challenges for policymakers in managing policy-mixed approach efficiently to ensure next-generation experience minimal adverse environmental impacts from their ancestors remain. Depending on the effectiveness of multi-sectoral and cross-border approaches, we can still hope that negative effects of economic growth on early childhood development will be radically reduced in Asia before 2050.


Phys.org. (2019). Children in South Asia hardest hit by air pollution, says study. [online] Available at: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-children-south-asia-hardest-air.html [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

Air pollution and child health: prescribing clean air. Summary. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018 (WHO/CED/PHE/18.01). Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO

Arpan,S. (2019). Nepali children born today will have their lives shortened by 30 months. The Kathmandu Post, [online] Available at: https://kathmandupost.com/national/2019/04/03/nepali-children-born-today-will-have-their-lives-shortened-by-30-months [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

Kiprop, Victor 2018, The Most Polluted Cities in China, WorldAtlas, viewed 13 December 2019, <https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-most-polluted-cities-in-china.html/>.

UNICEF, (2015). Unless we act now: The impact of climate change on children. [online] Available at: http://www.mms.com/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2015].

UNICEF, (2019). Integrated early childhood development. [program] Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Early Childhood Development (ECD). Hanoi.

The latest social science thinking at The University of Sheffield. World class research, making a difference. http://sheffield.ac.uk/faculty/social-sciences