The Sustainable Development Goal 4 for education sets a clear objective through target 4.2: All girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so they are ready for primary school.
But we are millions of children away from making this happen.
Progress in early childhood education (ECE) is being held back by the challenges of developing and implementing effective early childhood education plans at country level and ensuring that the ECE subsector is fully mainstreamed in the broader education sector policy and planning processes.
National policymakers are faced with a multitude of questions, which are critical for building a strong ECE sub-sector:
- How do we ensure good quality ECE access for all children?
- How much will it cost to scale up? How fast can we scale up?
- How can we reach the most disadvantaged children?
- How many teachers do we need? How do we ensure they are well trained?
Working together to find the answers
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNESCO, UNICEF, and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) have come together with a common vision to support national policy makers and partners who need to make key decisions . The result is a new (and free) online course:
This massive open online course (MOOC) is the first of its kind, building capacity at the right technical level to make a difference. Other technical courses exist on ECE and on sector planning, but this is the first that covers integrated holistic planning specifically for pre-primary education.
Early childhood education brings outstanding benefits. What’s holding it back?
The benefits of quality ECE programs are many and proven. Quality early childhood education is a key to success in a child’s life, regardless of their home circumstances. It promotes cognitive, language, numeracy and motor skills, and sets the foundation for developing appropriate socio-emotional skills as well, helping 3- to 5-year-olds get ready for primary school – and boosting their chances of staying and succeeding in school.
Yet 78% of children in low-income countries do not have access to any type of pre-primary education at all.
Education sector plans are not always prepared to cover and mainstream pre-primary education. Roadblocks to smooth ECE integration and implementation include:
- Ministries of Education haven’t always taken on the policy leadership for early childhood education programs
- ECE directorates within the overall education ministry are often the smallest, and overall ECE planning and implementation capacity is often minimal
- ECE cost and financing data is not always available, making it significantly difficult to advocate for increased allocation in domestic budgets and international aid, or to appropriately.
- ECE plans often lack the level of detail and system-level objectives that are the norm for primary and secondary education.
- Among many practical challenges, pre-primary teachers are in short supply, and those who are dedicated to early childhood education often lack relevant or recognized qualifications training or don’t receive adequate compensation for their work.
Mainstreaming ECE into education sector planning can put education ministries in a strategic position to take the lead on children’s learning during their early years. It will allow greater targeted attention to the sub-sector while ensuring a smooth continuum with primary education in policy formulation, planning and implementation.