July 05, 2017

"Dear G20 leaders, do not overlook the need to enrol all children in pre-primary schools"

Pre-primary classes, like this one in Nepal, are important for children to develop

Photo credit: Nepal Youth Foundation

Tshwanelo Fokazi

Global Youth Ambassador from South Africa

One of Theirworld's Global Youth Ambassadors has written an open letter to world leaders who will be meeting at the G20 summit on July 7 and 8.

This morning, as one child runs into a colourful classroom with a backpack filled with books, toys and a nutritious lunch, another toddler is knocking on car windows and begging passing drivers for 50 cents. 

In another part of the world, a child who has just fled bullets from her war-torn country is trembling in a boat sailing through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. 

You may wonder, what is the link between these three children described?

Well, they’re all under the age of five. However, there is a stark contrast to the realities of their lives. 

The aspect of their lives that they should have in common, according to the Bill of Rights - namely, their ability to access education – is the one aspect where they differ. 

This should not be the case – whether or not a child has working parents, is born in a developed country or not, is a female or male. It should not determine whether the child can exploit their rights because a child is a child, regardless of their circumstance.

Therefore, as a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld, I’d like to urge you as you meet this week, may you discuss the early childhood development (ECD) crisis that millions of children are facing globally. 

Too many young children, like these in India, are on the streets instead of in pre-primary education

If these children’s issues are ignored even further by global leaders then we’ll be leading them into a life of deeper poverty, displacement and insufficient empowerment to better their own lives and communities.

I understand education (grade 1 to 12) will be on the agenda during the discussions taking place at this year’s G20 summit. However, I’d like to especially urge you to not overlook the importance of ECD and the enrolment of all children in pre-primary schools. 

Far too many children aged five and under are sitting idle in refugee camps during the day because world leaders have not prioritised their education.

The biggest problem with these forgotten children’s lack of access to schooling is that when they turn seven and are expected to be enrolled in school, they’ll be about five years behind the rest of their peers in developed societies. 

This will, therefore, place them at a disadvantage which may result in them struggling to grasp first-grade education - considering that they won’t know how to read, write and differentiate between colours and shapes etc.

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This may sound like basic education that any seven-year-old can catch up on. However, there is no time in grade one to catch up on pre-school education because grade one has its own workload. 

If displaced children do not access early childhood development education, then they may never catch up with their peers in their lifetime.

I am hoping this week that you revisit the promise that world leaders made towards ensuring that all children have access to education – and you’ll discuss a way forward, considering that the fulfilment of this promise has not been met and the promised funds have not been used accordingly to date. 

I am hoping that the prospect of mobile pre-schools and shipping container classrooms will be considered as an immediate relief to the educational crisis while classrooms are being built - because this is a cost-effective way to introduce educational structure to children living without structure. 

We can no longer hold off ECD from underprivileged, marginalised and displaced children because it is one of the only sure ways to ensure that young children are given proper care and grow into productive adults.

However, if I am asking for too much, my final request is that you support children under the age of five by backing the new funding initiative, the International Finance Facility for Education, which will help ensure children have quality pre-primary programmes suitable for them.

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