When my sons each turned four, they attended preschool. The choice to send them to school early was easy: they would socialize with other children their own age and begin learning by active, hands-on exploration and discovery.
Not only did they have fun (most days!), but they also took very important steps toward learning to read and to count. In other words, preschool supported a holistic development involving socio-emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical functions that helped them to succeed in primary school, secondary school and higher education.
Parents all over the world would like this experience for their children, because they know that this foundation has lifelong benefits.
Strong evidence of the benefits of early childhood education
There is ample research showing that young children respond in amazing ways to the stimulus of learning: their brains are like sponges and absorb with a capacity and rapidity unmatched later in their development.
For children in the low-income countries, early learning is a springboard allowing them to catch up with their more privileged peers. Preschool education gives them more chances to do well in primary school later, continue through secondary school, and eventually find work with a better pay.
Investing resources in the youngest children is one of the most cost-effective financial and policy commitments a country can make.
According to a 2011 Lancet study, reaching preschool enrollment rates of 25% per country in one year would result in a global benefit of US$10.6 billion in terms of the present discounted value of future labor market productivity; achieving a 50% preschool enrollment rate could have a global benefit of more than $33 billion.
Developing countries must prioritize early learning for marginalized children
The status of early childhood education in the 59 GPE partner countries is mixed: some have now reached universal primary education and thus have more “space” to devote to what comes immediately before (preschool) and after (secondary and tertiary education).
But half of our country partners are considered fragile and/or conflict-affected. In difficult contexts, these countries struggle to provide quality primary school, let alone early childhood education.
Despite huge obstacles, GPE partner countries understand the crucial role that early childhood education can play and most have included early childhood education in their education sector plans presented to join the Partnership.
Committing to Early Childhood Education
In June 2014, at the GPE Replenishment event in Brussels, our partners issued a Call to Action to galvanize their efforts in early childhood education.
5 points to invest urgently in early childhood education
Adapted from the Call to Action issued by partners at the GPE Replenishment Conference in Brussels, June 2014
Recently in Zanzibar, close to 200 representatives from 14 African countries (government officials, academia, donors, civil society and private sector) held a 4-day workshop on early childhood education during which they learned from each other, shared good practices, and participated in action planning exercises on how to scale up affordable quality pre-primary education for all.
The action plans will ensure that countries address key issues such as appropriate curricula and pedagogical methods, cost-effective, contextualized pedagogical materials, effective and hands-on teacher training, clear indicators and adequate costing.
We need cost-effective and innovative solutions to reach all children
To reach children who most need access to early childhood care and education, including in a growing number of fragile and conflict-affected countries, partners need to think creatively. Old practices that have not shown good results need to be abandoned.
Aid to education overall is declining (- 9.5% since 2010) and thus the need to develop cost-effective solutions for early education is crucial. Partners need to find new resources or attract new donors, including from the private sector.
Only through innovative solutions will developing countries be able to offer quality preschool programs at low-cost that reach the most marginalized children. At the Global Partnership, we stand ready to help them, and to build a knowledge-base of good practices to share with our partners.
Alice Albright is the Chief Executive Officer of Global Partnership for Education