Call to action for the Best Start in life: Stop neglecting pre-primary education investments
The development of millions of children will suffer unless governments step up and increase their commitment to pre-primary education for every child. Almost half the world’s children (over eighty percent in low-income countries) are excluded from the significant benefits of pre-primary schooling, according to a new scorecard Theirworld is releasing today.
Lack of access to the cognitive and social skills that pre-school fosters in children between the ages 3-5 — such as early reading and math, and social interaction — can have a life long impact on a child’s physical and mental health, learning, behaviour and ability to reach his or her full potential when they start primary school.
For this reason, learning interventions need to start before primary school in order to ensure that children are ready for school and set up to succeed. These early interventions are especially critical for marginalised and disadvantaged children, who are often least prepared for primary school and therefore most like to be left behind.
Marginalised and disadvantaged children benefit the most from these early interventions. Pre-primary education is one of the most cost-effective and successful strategies for levelling the playing field for disadvantaged children and reducing both economic and social inequalities, helping close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers early on. While disadvantaged children without access to early learning programmes find themselves on average more than two grades behind in school and earning 30% less as adults, pre-primary graduates often outperform their peers in both school readiness and primary school achievement.
Yet, despite its clear benefits, pre-primary education is the least funded of all education sectors, routinely neglected and under-prioritised. In 2014, donor funding for pre-primary education made up only 1.15% of total education aid, compared to the more than 40% allocated to higher education.
What’s more, the majority of pre-primary funding reaches only a very small number of countries and is not systematically directed to the regions with the lowest enrolment levels, where it would have the greatest impact. In 2014, only 10 countries received 74% of the total aid to pre-primary education.
Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education” by 2030. At this rate, most countries don’t stand a chance to achieve universal access by then.
“The benefits of early years education are greatest for the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, who are often least prepared for primary school or most likely to miss out on the opportunity completely. Disadvantaged children without access to early learning programmes find themselves on average more than two grades behind in school and earning 30% less as adults, thus contributing to the intergenerational cycle of poverty” said Sarah Brown.
Theirworld’s Best Start campaign calls for higher prioritisation and increased donor support to Early Childhood Development as essential to making quality pre-primary education available to all children. We are currently working on a project funded by the Conrad N Hilton Foundation looking at how we can make the case for greater global investment in Early Childhood Development.
 UNESCO. (2015). Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges. (pp. 46). Paris, France.
 Young, Mary E. (2015).“Looking back to the future: early human development in 2030.” Early Childhood Matters 124: pp. 97-100.