A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education – UNICEF’s first ever global report on pre-primary education – reveals that children enrolled in at least one year of pre-primary education are more likely to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school, less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school, and therefore more able to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies and economies when they reach adulthood.
Children in pre-primary education are more than twice as likely to be on track in early literacy and numeracy skills than children missing out on early learning. In countries where more children attend pre-primary programmes, significantly more children complete primary school and attain minimum competencies in both reading and mathematics by the time they finish primary school.
In South Africa, the report noted that 96.6% of 6-year-olds attended an educational institution. Furthermore, South Africa, in the year 2000, took on the ambitious agenda of universalizing one year of pre-primary education – referred to as Grade R. Thus, today only 5% of children in South Africa are not enrolled in Grade R,
The report does however caution that two out of three children aged birth to 4 years in South Africa are not enrolled in an early childhood development programme, thereby contributing to the 175 million children of pre-primary age not enrolled globally, UNICEF warned in a new report released today.
South Africa provides an example of how a combination of political will and public funding can established the universal provision of a public pre-school programme over a relative short period of time countering a history of inequality and deprivation. However, the allocation of funds for implementation from national government to provincial governments through an equitable share formula alone is not sufficient, unless it coincide with mechanisms and support that will ensure quality provisions of early learning programmes, in particular in the poorest communities
Countries with high numbers of children not in pre-primary education are missing a critical investment opportunity and are at risk of suffering deep inequalities from the start, the report notes. In low-income countries, only 1 in 5 young children are enrolled in pre-primary education.
UNICEF has always maintained that pre-primary schooling lays the foundation for a children’s education – every stage of education that follows relies on its success. Yet, too many children around the world are denied this opportunity. This increases their risk of repeating grades or dropping out of school altogether and relegates them to the shadows of their more fortunate peers.
Globally, the report notes that household wealth, mothers’ education level and geographical location are among the key determinants for pre-primary attendance. However, poverty is the single largest determining factor. Some key findings:
- Role of poverty: Across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programmes. For some countries, the rich-poor divide is even more apparent.
- Impact of conflicts: More than two thirds of pre-primary-age children living in 33 countries affected by conflict or disaster are not enrolled in early childhood education programmes. Yet, these are the children for whom pre-primary education has some of the greatest benefits. Pre-primary education helps young children affected by crises overcome the traumas they have experienced by giving them a structure, a safe place to learn and play, and an outlet to express their emotions.
- Cycle of educational achievement: Across countries with available data, children born to mothers who have completed secondary education and above are nearly five times more likely to attend an early childhood education programme than children whose mothers have completed only primary education or have no formal education.
In 2017 an average of 6.6 per cent of domestic education budgets globally were dedicated to pre-primary education, with nearly 40 per cent of countries with data allocating less than 2 per cent of their education budgets to this sub-sector.
This lack of worldwide investment in pre-primary education negatively impacts quality of services, including a significant lack of trained pre-primary teachers. Together, low- and lower middle-income countries are home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s pre-primary-age children, but scarcely 32 per cent of all pre-primary teachers. In fact, only 422,000 pre-primary teachers currently teach in low income countries. With expanding populations, assuming an ideal pupil-teacher ratio of 20 to 1, the world will need 9.3 million new pre-primary teachers to meet the universal target for pre-primary education by 2030.
If today’s governments want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy, they need to start with early education. Indeed, if we are to give children the best shot in life to succeed in a globalized economy, leaders must prioritize, and properly resource, pre-primary education.
UNICEF is urging governments to make at least one year of quality pre-primary education universal and a routine part of every child’s education, especially the most vulnerable and excluded children. To make this a reality, UNICEF urges governments to commit at least 10 per cent of their national education budgets to scale up early childhood education and invest in teachers, quality standards, and equitable expansion.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Information Centre in Pretoria (UNIC).