The development of millions of children will suffer unless governments step up and increase their commitment to pre-primary education for every child, warns children’s charity Theirworld.
Lack of access to the cognitive and social skills that pre-school fosters in children between the ages 3-5 — such as early reading and math, and social interaction — can have a life long impact on a child’s physical and mental health, learning, behaviour and ability to reach his or her full potential when they start primary school.
A new aid scorecard published today reveals pre-primary education received just 1.15% of total aid to education in 2014, whilst the global pre-primary enrolment rate decreased to only 44%, meaning more than half of the world’s children are still excluded from the benefits of pre-primary education.
Pre-primary education for all children by 2030 has been promised by world leaders in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld said,“Less than half of all children around the world aren’t getting any education in their early years, an intervention proven to be a key investment in a child’s development. This new research shows us that children are missing out on education and learning at a crucial young age, putting them at a disadvantage before they have even set foot in a primary school”.
Sarah Brown continued: “If we are serious about tackling inequality and achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals then we must start by giving every child the best start in life, no matter who they are or where they are born.”
Pre-primary education programmes offer the highest returns on investments and provides the best chance to level the playing field for those children most likely to be left behind. Yet, insufficient and unpredictable funding, as well as lack of financing and access data on Early Childhood Development, continues to be a significant barrier to universal access to pre-primary programmes.
“The benefits of early years education are greatest for the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, who are often least prepared for primary school or most likely to miss out on the opportunity completely. Disadvantaged children without access to early learning programmes find themselves on average more than two grades behind in school and earning 30% less as adults, thus contributing to the intergenerational cycle of poverty” said Sarah Brown.
The United States, United Kingdom and Norway — three of the top five donors to primary education — do not appear in the top ten donors for pre-primary education despite the fact that investments in pre-primary education directly bolster and increase the impact of investments in primary school.
In 2014, 10 countries received 74% of the total aid to pre-primary education, leaving 83 countries with zero pre-primary aid. And with just 17% of children in low-income countries enrolled in pre-primary education, funds are not being directed to where they would have the greatest impact.
Over the last decade progress in enrolment to pre-primary education has been concentrated primarily in Asia, but has been markedly uneven around the world. Sub-Saharan Africa had 16.4% enrolment in 2005 and only 21.6% in 2014, the Arab States went from 17.5% to just 27% and South & West Asia went from 11.2% to 18.5% — all significantly lower than the global average.
As the regions with the lowest enrolment remain constant, the most disadvantaged children continue to be left out. If aid for pre-primary education continues at current rates, very few countries stand a chance to achieve universal pre-primary education by 2030.
Theirworld’s Best Start campaign calls for higher prioritisation and increased donor support to Early Childhood Development as essential to making quality pre-primary education available to all children.
* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.