Theirworld calls for action to unlock early years education for millions of disadvantaged children

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Investing in pre-primary education for the most disadvantaged children helps to prevent them being left behind (Aisha Faquir)

Early childhood development, Global Partnership for Education, Justin van Fleet, Theirworld

Theirworld has warned that some of the world’s poorest children are missing out on vital education in the first few years of their lives because of a woeful lack of investment.

A commitment to devote just 10% of education budgets to the early years would reap quick dividends – placing millions more children around the world into pre-primary education.

Only one in four children aged three to five attend some form of pre-school education in sub-Saharan, West and Central Africa, falling to less than 2% for the poorest children in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This compares to 94% in the UK or other rich countries.

Research shows that 90% of brain development takes place before a child turns five. But education for the under-fives is chronically underfunded, especially in the world’s poorest countries. 

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UNESCO data shows that 82% of children aged five and six in high-income countries are enrolled in pre-primary education – but only 15% in low-income nations (GPE / Carolina Valenzuela)

In a typical year, governments spend 6.6% of their education budgets on early childhood education, falling to 3% in poorer regions. Donor countries contribute less than 1% of education aid to pre-primary education.

This week the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – one of the major funds for education in lower-income countries – will hold a board meeting as it builds its strategy from now to 2025. The decisions made this year will determine how billions of dollars in education financing will be spent.

Theirworld is urging GPE to recognise the 10% target for early childhood education in its new funding strategy. We are also calling for all national sector plans to include pre-primary education.

Here’s how you can take action…

Write to your GPE Board Member

Write to your GPE Board Member

Write to your board member and ask them to make sure early years education funding has clear financial backing in their next strategy.

Theirworld President Justin van Fleet said: “Every child has a right to a quality and inclusive education, starting with good quality preschools, playgroups or nurseries. So it is a tragedy that around the world 175 million children are denied this right because of a chronic lack of funding in early years education.

“Countries have already agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, so it’s important to acknowledge the costs to achieve them. It’s time for governments, donors and international agencies to prioritise quality early childhood education. 

“We’re calling for at least 10% of education budgets to be dedicated to the education of young children. The youngest children are just learning to speak – so we need to speak up for them. And the GPE board members have a unique opportunity to lead on this issue.”

In March, Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors wrote to every member of the GPE board to ask for their support for this campaign. You can see here how board members responded to the letter and whether they will be supporting the 10% call to action.

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Early years learning around the world

The average percentage of children who are enrolled in early childhood education globally is 50%. Here is a breakdown by region:

81% - East Asia and Pacific; 75% - Europe and Central Asia; 74% - Latin America; 71% - North America; 33% - Eastern and Southern Africa; 31% - Middle East and North Africa; 30% - West and Central Africa; 23% - South Asia.

GPE – which is funded by donor governments and philanthropists – is planning its new strategy for 2021-25, which will direct how billions of dollars is devoted to education. This funding is essential for countries to support their education plans.

Theirworld is urging the GPE board to agree to three points to strengthen its commitment to early childhood education:

  • Ensure the next strategy places a strong focus on early childhood, by requiring that all national sector plans include early childhood education. 
  • Aim to invest at least 10% of GPE’s education financing into early childhood education in partner countries over the next strategy period. 
  • Require national governments to prioritise domestic investment in early childhood education in their sector plans. 

“This is an opportunity for GPE to take the lead and shape the commitment of donors over the coming decade,” said Michael Simpson – Senior Research and Project Manager, Early Childhood Development, at Theirworld – in a blog published today.

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Studies show that investing earlier in a child’s life will cost less than remedial interventions later on in the education system (Aisha Faquir)

In 2015, world leaders agreed that no child would miss out on pre-primary education. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have a target that states: “By 2030, 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.”

Without access to good-quality, equitable and inclusive early childhood education, children risk being left behind, limiting their ability to learn and thrive in school and later life. 

Early childhood education is particularly vital for the most disadvantaged children, including the poorest and those with disabilities. 

Although countries spend well under 10% of education budgets on early years, the international community devotes even less. While there has been an increase in overall aid to education, aid to pre-primary education was just 0.5 % of the total in 2017, according to a Theirworld report last year.

What is the Global Partnership for Education?

GPE helps the most vulnerable children in the poorest countries get access to education. It works with almost 70 developing countries to help them develop and implement quality education sector plans and build strong education systems.

It has allocated grants totalling $5.3 billion since 2003. In partner countries, 77% of children completed primary school in 2016, compared to 63% in 2002.

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