175 million children not enrolled for pre-primary learning, says UNICEF

Nigerian School Children

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has lamented the continuous neglect of pre-primary education saying successive governments across the country have failed to invest in early childhood education.

UNICEF in its first ever global report dedicated to early childhood education highlighted a lack of investment in pre-primary subsector by majority of governments worldwide.

In the report, the organisation noted that over 175 million children – around half of pre-primary-age children globally – are not enrolled in pre-primary education, missing a critical investment opportunity and suffering deep inequalities from the start.

It lamented that the picture is bleak in low-income countries with only one in five young children enrolled in pre-primary education.

“In 2017, an average of 6.6 per cent of domestic education budgets globally are dedicated to pre-primary education, with nearly 40 per cent of countries with data allocating less than two per cent of their education budgets to this sub-sector. In West and Central Africa, 2.5 per cent is allocated to pre-primary education, with 70 per cent of children missing out on early education in the region while across Europe and Central Asia, governments dedicate the highest proportion – more than 11 per cent of their education budgets to pre-primary education, “ UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore said.

“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 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,” said Fore. “If we are to give our children the best shot in life to succeed in a globalized economy, leaders must prioritize, and properly resource, pre-primary education.”

“Pre-primary schooling is our children’s educational foundation – 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,” The report showed 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, 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.

The report noted that household wealth; mothers’ education level and geographical location are among the key determinants for pre-primary attendance.

It however identified poverty as the single largest determining factor. For instance it noted that across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programmes.

The report added that more than two thirds of pre-primary-age children living in countries affected by conflict or disaster are not enrolled in early childhood education programmes.

It urged governments across the world 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 achieve this, UNICEF urged 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.

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