By Mónica Rubio

I want to share some information about the positioning, design and initial implementation of Panama’s early childhood policy, which the IDB has supported enthusiastically.

The First National Forum on Early Childhood in Panama, titled “Securing the Future Today,” which was held on October 19-20, 2011, was a milestone in this process. The Forum brought together senior government officials, including the First Lady and the Vice Minister of Panama’s Ministry of Social Development, renowned international experts such as Steve Barnett, Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research in the United States, and representatives from a diverse array of public agencies and civil society organizations.

The Forum combined presentations on the results of recent academic research with current experiences of best practices. It began with a discussion of the scientific and economic evidence that supports early childhood interventions, followed by presentations on experiences of public policy implementation and of comprehensive care programs in countries in the region with highly successful interventions (Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Jamaica, Peru and Cuba). It closed with a presentation by the Panamanian government on its progress in implementing the Comprehensive Early Childhood Care Plan of Panama (PAIPI, according to its Spanish acronym).

I had the good fortune to participate in some of the very rich exchanges that went on in the breakout sessions, in which public policymakers discussed best practices in their countries and worked with Panamanian authorities on adapting and applying them to the implementation of PAIPI. Personally, I have seen very few events that have gathered so much knowledge, displayed such conviction concerning policy implementation, and demonstrated such institutional commitment, as evidenced by attendance and wholehearted participation. The best explanation for this happy result may be found, in the words of Professor James Heckman (2000 Nobel Laureate in Economics) on the nature of economics: “It is a rare public policy initiative that promotes fairness and social justice and, at the same time, promotes productivity in the economy and in society in general. Investing in disadvantaged children is such a policy.”

Mónica Rubio is a senior social protection economist in the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) office in Colombia. In addition to working on projects, her work includes applied research, policy dialogue, technical assistance, and program evaluation.

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