A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing Quality Early Childhood Education

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Author(s): United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

  • Ivelina Borisova
  • Robert Prouty
  • Hsiao-Chen Lin
  • Daniel Kelly
  • Morgan Strecker
  • Sherri Le Mottee

Published: Apr. 9, 2019

Report Intro/Brief:
“UNICEF’s first global report on pre-primary education presents a comprehensive analysis of the status of early childhood education worldwide. It also outlines a set of practical recommendations for governments and partners to make quality pre-primary education universal and routine. Noting that at least 175 million children – 50 per cent of the world’s pre-primary-age population – are not enrolled in pre-primary programmes, the report urges governments to commit at least 10 per cent of their national education budgets to scale them up. Such funding should be invested in pre-primary teachers, quality standards and equitable expansion, the report states.

Based on comprehensive, data-driven analysis, this report examines the current status of pre primary education and offers a practical vision for expanding equitable access and improving quality. Recognizing that many countries, especially low- and lower-middle-income countries, are at the beginning of this journey, providing universal access to pre-primary education in all countries by 2030 requires a realistic yet bold approach.

Chapter 1 outlines the reasons why quality pre-primary education opportunities should be universal. Investments in early childhood education bring returns that far exceed their initial costs, yielding multiple benefits for children, education systems and societies at large. Access to pre-primary education has the greatest impact in low- and lower-middle income countries, and for the most disadvantaged children. However, given the slow and uneven progress across countries, a ‘business as usual’ approach will not fulfil the promise of universal pre-primary education. Unless progress towards achieving this goal is prioritized and accelerated, particularly among the countries farthest behind, we will fail to meet the universal SDG target and reap its benefits.

Chapter 2 presents the case for a ‘progressive universalist’ approach to the expansion of pre-primary education, as outlined by the Education Commission. It highlights a central concept followed through in this report: Disadvantaged children must gain at least as much as their better-off peers at each step of the process in order for universal preprimary education to be achievable. Countries face many challenges as they strive to promote equity and access, but pathways to overcome them are also within reach. There are promising approaches and lessons learned to scale up access by leveraging the complex landscape of pre-primary provision. In all of these efforts, political leadership to make pre-primary education a priority within education sector policies and plans is vital.

Chapter 3 addresses the question: How can pre-primary education systems progressively reach all children and improve quality at the same time? It begins with a definition of ‘quality’ and underscores the importance of building pre-primary systems that can deliver quality at scale – with pre-primary teachers recognized as the driving force in achieving effective pre-primary programmes. It further explains how investing in quality as the system grows, not after, is a vital element in finding the ideal balance between expanding access and maintaining quality. A dramatic increase in the number of pre-primary educators is needed in low- and lower-middle-income countries, and interim strategies are proposed to fill this gap. This chapter also examines the inherent trade-offs facing governments in how they allocate current and new resources within the pre-primary education subsector to maximize benefits for children and their education
systems as a whole.

Chapter 4 unpacks the critical issue of securing appropriate funding for pre-primary education. Governments and donors are currently failing to reflect the importance of pre-primary education in their budgetary priorities. Relative to other levels of education, this subsector is severely underfunded,  particularly in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Shortfalls and stagnant financing trends in domestic and international funding are impeding progress towards universal access. This chapter shows how major increases in financing are achievable by coordinating and leveraging available financing, and strengthening the governance and accountability of the pre-primary subsector. In the concluding section, the report presents an agenda for action by governments, donors and partners – and offers concrete recommendations for accelerating progress and making quality universal pre-primary education a reality for every child.”

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