- Enrolment in early childhood education is woefully inadequate for marginalised children in rich and poor countries alike. More than 175 million children, almost half of all pre-primary-age children globally, are not enrolled in preschool. In low-income
countries, only one in five are enrolled.
- There is a stark global divide in access to early childhood education. While more than 80% of children in high-income countries are attending pre-primary education, more than 80% of children in low-income countries are denied access
(Zubairi & Rose, 2019).
- Access to early childhood education varies markedly within countries. In low-income countries, rich children are eight times more likely to attend early childhood education programmes than those who are less well off
- The cost of inaction is high. For example, if Nicaragua does not expand universal preschool, it will lose the equivalent of 4.1% of GDP in unrealised development potential
(Richter et al., 2017).
- A substantial increase in investment is needed, particularly in early education. In 2017, nine major donors in health, nutrition, education, and sanitation spent less than 6% of total official development assistance on early childhood development. Only 1% of all early childhood development aid was directed to education
(Zubairi and Rose/Theirworld, 2018).
Make the case
- Early childhood development is one of the best investments that can be made. Each dollar invested in early childhood education can yield a return as high as US$17 for the most disadvantaged children
- More investment in early childhood education is crucial to help children reach their full potential. It is currently estimated that 250 million or 43% of children under five in low- and middle-income countries will not reach their developmental potential, which means a loss of 19.8% in adult annual income
(Black et al., 2017).
- Quality early childhood development prepares children better for future learning. Children in Uganda who did not attend pre-primary education are twice as likely to repeat first grade
(Brunette et al., 2017).
- Nurturing care interventions can mitigate the impact of poverty on brain development and early learning outcomes. A recent randomised controlled trial in Switzerland found that a biweekly home visit to the most deprived families led to a
significant improvement in children’s adaptive behaviour, developmental status, and language skills, narrowing the learning gaps associated with poverty
(Schaub et al., 2019).
- Children who attended early childhood education are more likely to be on track with learning outcomes. In low- and middle-income countries, 44% of children who attended early childhood education programmes are on track in literacy and numeracy skills compared with only 12% of children who did not attend any programmes (UNICEF,
- Missing out on nurturing care in the early years can lead to lower cognitive, language, and psychosocial outcomes. A study showed that 15-year-old immigrant youths who attended early childhood education on average scored 49 points higher in
reading, which is equivalent to more than one year of school
- Early childhood interventions lead to high individual benefits later in life. In Jamaica, early childhood interventions in the cognitive and socioemotional development of stunted children aged 9-24 months old led to lower crime rates, better mental health, and 25% higher earnings 20 years later, compared with children who did not receive this
(World Bank, 2018).
- Early childhood development is a key opportunity to develop important 21st century skills, including cooperation, teamwork, communication, creativity, self- discipline, and motivation. Early development of these critical skills will create a virtuous cycle and help children to continue to learn and engage in later life
(Global Business Coalition for Education, 2018).
- The cost to integrate early childhood development into existing services is not high. An additional US$0.50 per person each year is all that is needed for early childhood development to be integrated into existing services
(Light for the World, 2020)
- It is important to remember the long-term horizon. In Jamaica, providing toddlers with psychosocial stimulation increased earnings by 25%, but these returns only materialised 20 years later
(World Bank 2019).
Each dollar invested in early childhood education can yield a return as high as US$17 for the most disadvantaged children
Key talking points
- About 175 million children globally are not enrolled in early childhood education.
- Early childhood education is the foundation for a child’s growth and developmental potential, alongside other crucial early years investments.
- Marginalised children in rich and poor countries are less likely to have access to quality early childhood education.
- Approximately 90% of a child’s brain development takes place before the age of five.
- Every dollar invested in early childhood education can yield a return as high as US$17 for the most disadvantaged children.
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