Early Childhood Education

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental organization of thirty member countries, each committed to democratic government and the market economy. The OECD grew out of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). Under the Marshall Plan, the OEEC administered aid from the United States and Canada to support the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Founded in 1961 and located in Paris, the OECD provides a forum in which governments of advanced industrialized nations can compare their experiences, discuss the problems they share, and seek solutions that can then be applied within their own national contexts (Sullivan, 1997). The OECD increasingly uses its expertise to serve developing countries and emerging markets around the world. Funded by its member countries, the OECD compiles extensive statistics and regularly conducts policy analyses in fields including economics, education, labor, and social affairs.

Education has been an integral part of the OECD’s work for many years. Recent activities include country reviews of education systems as well as “thematic reviews” of tertiary education, school-to-work transitions, adult learning, and financing lifelong learning. The OECD publishes annually Education at a Glance, a volume of comparative education indicators, and Education Policy Analysis, analyses of current education policy issues. The OECD also runs the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an achievement study in more than forty countries. More recently, the OECD’s prolific education work has expanded to include the early years of children’s lives.

Improving the quality of, and access to, early childhood education and care (ECEC) has become a major policy priority in OECD member countries. In 1998, the OECD launched a thematic review of ECEC policy with the goal of strengthening the foundation of lifelong learning. Taking a broader and more holistic approach than previous cross-national studies, the review provided a comparative analysis of major policy developments and issues in twelve OECD countries— Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Since the completion of the first phase of the review in 2001, eight additional countries have been reviewed: Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Korea, and Mexico. Country-focused background reports and policy analyses are available at http://www.oecd.org/edu/earlychildhood. In addition, the study’s comparative report, Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care (OECD, 2001) analyzes recent policy developments, highlights innovative approaches, and proposes policy options that can be adapted to different national contexts.

As an international organization, the OECD complements the role of ministries, research institutions, and think tanks by documenting recent developments in the ECEC field and providing a comparative framework with which to analyze current policies. Highlighting innovative policies and practices of other nations also may challenge national decision makers to see their own policies in a new light and consider fresh alternatives. Perhaps most important, OECD activities have brought together policy makers, practitioners, researchers, and advocates from member countries to exchange diverse perspectives on how to improve the care and education of young children. These national and international policy discussions have fuelled important ECEC reforms that will need to be monitored and evaluated in the coming years.

Further Readings: Neuman, M. J., and J. Bennett (2001). Starting strong: Policy implications for early childhood education and care in the U.S. Phi Delta Kappan 83(3), 246-254; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. 1996. Making Lifelong Learning a Reality for All. Paris: OECD; OECD (2001). Starting strong: Early childhood education and care. Paris: OECD; Sullivan, Scott (1997). From war to wealth: 50 years of innovation. Paris: OECD; OECD reports and related publications. Available online at http://www.oecd.org/edu/earlychildhood.

John Bennet and Michelle J. Neuman