The world is falling behind on early childhood education
This is putting many children – especially among the poor – at a serious disadvantage.
Pre-primary school is fun – serious fun. Music, storytelling, movement, outdoor play, role play and drama give children basic literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills. These are the building blocks of a child’s education that put them on the right track for a life of learning. They give them the solid foundations needed to succeed in school and life.
Children who do not have the chance to start their education early are put at a serious disadvantage before they even start school. The importance of early childhood learning was highlighted in Born to Learn, a Spotlight report from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report focusing on Africa released last year.
One study showed that students who attended some form of organised early childhood education in 13 African countries scored 66 points higher in reading, on average, than those who did not, which is equivalent to more than a year of learning. The gap reached about 100 points, or more than two years of learning, in Burkina Faso and Guinea.
But despite the importance of starting school early, barely one in three countries is on track with its own national targets for early childhood education, as illustrated in the new SDG4 Scorecard report by UNESCO. Several countries, including Algeria, Liberia, Nepal and Bahrain, are not progressing at all.
One core factor explaining this slow progress is that policies and finances are not in place to support countries’ education targets. When an inadequate amount of a state budget is allocated to early childhood education, the quality of public provision is clearly going to suffer.
This has led parents to opt for private options, which are too costly. Today, almost four out of 10 children around the world enrolled in pre-primary education are in private schools.
The importance of finance cannot be denied. In Ghana, for instance, those who choose to put their child in a private pre-primary school have to pay on average six percent of annual earnings, if they are rich, and 17 percent if they are poor; the equivalents in Ethiopia are four percent and 21 percent respectively.
In countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the net childcare cost for a two-earner family with two children aged two and three is 17 percent of women’s average earnings, ranging from zero in Germany and Italy to one-third in Ireland and Slovakia, to half in Japan and the United Kingdom.
Therefore, it should not be a surprise, that the richest are far more likely to privately educate their child, while the poorest either opt for the lower quality public option or don’t invest in that education level at all. And so, disadvantages deepen.
The only way we can move forward is to share lessons between countries on what works. We did just this in our latest report, assessing what the policies were that had enabled countries to achieve fast progress. Three recommendations emerged from this analysis and they all related to the cost barriers to access.
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