Raise the profile
As countries work towards building systems that can deliver quality pre-primary education, stakeholders – such as Ministries of Education and Finance – are faced with tough challenges. When deciding where to direct their investment and attention within education, pre-primary often loses out. To give each child a better chance at success, we must work together to raise the profile of pre-primary education within education sector plans and policies.
We must do this urgently and accelerate efforts to address access and learning gaps by making at least one year of pre-primary education a routine part of education systems.
Currently, access to early childhood education is highly unequal in almost every country, with attendance rates for children in the richest quintile in low income countries 8 times higher than those of the poor. When a country’s goal is to scale up the pre-primary education system quickly, there is a strong temptation to first provide services to the children easiest to reach, such as those typically living in urban areas or from wealthier households.
This ‘business as usual’ approach will not fulfill the promise of universal pre-primary education - it will worsen existing gaps between the disadvantaged and their peers. Equity and expansion must therefore go hand in hand.
Governments must put in place policies that maintain a universal commitment and prioritize the poorest and hardest-to-reach children at the start of the road to universality, not at the end. In countries not on track to achieve the universal target, they must prioritize the implementation of a single year of free pre-primary education, with an aim to expand this to more years as the system’s capacity grows.
Attending a pre-primary program is of limited value to a child unless that program is of a sufficiently high standard. Many factors contribute to quality pre-primary education: a developmentally appropriate curriculum, engaged families and communities, an efficient quality assurance system, equitable planning and resource management, and most importantly a competent and motivated workforce.
Globally, the supply of pre-primary teachers will need to double by 2030 to meet the SDG target of universal coverage with an ideal PTR of 20 to 1. More urgently, low-income countries will need eight times as many pre-primary teachers as they currently have.
We will need new solutions and interim plans to fill these gaps. We must invest in quality as the system grows – not after – striking a balance between expanding access and maintaining quality so that pre-primary education results in real benefits for all children.
Strengthening the governance and implementation capacity of the pre-primary system across all levels of government is critical to ensure the learning outcomes of children.
Invest early, equitably and smartly
If countries want to ensure universal access to pre-primary, it is imperative for governments and donors to dedicate and increase financing. The UNICEF report recommends that governments should aim to allocate at least 10% of education budgets to pre-primary education.
And donors should lead by example by devoting at least 10% of their education aid to pre-primary education, catalyzing and complementing public resources.
We must agree on a common vision for early childhood education among governments, donors and partners that complements funding and technical assistance available where and when it is most needed.