Learning occurs more intensely during childhood and adolescence than during other phases of the life cycle in all domains, whether it is the development of physical or cognitive skills or the acquisition of knowledge and the shaping of values and beliefs. This is not just because of the obvious fact that growth always appears more rapid when starting from a lower base. During these same years, physical and intellectual capacities are growing rapidly, allowing for the more rapid acquisition of skills and accumulation of knowledge than at other phases of the life cycle. Interventions affecting the timing and sequencing of learning and the quality of the learning environment during these years can have important implications for the development of adult productive capacities. Investments in learning in these earlier stages of the life cycle tend to yield relatively high returns in comparison to learning later in life, because there are expected to be more decades of subsequent adulthood for returns to be obtained. Failure to invest at this stage is extremely unlikely to be compensated for in any later stage.

For all these reasons, this phase of the life cycle has typically been associated with a focus on learning. This learning can take many forms, ranging from learning by doing and imitating around the household and in family economic activities, to learning in the labor market or in military service, to formal training and schooling. Education is a central aspect of preparation for the multiple aspects of the transition to adulthood and indeed interacts with and affects each of them.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement