New report calls for DFID to increase investment in early years education

5For5 Ecd 3
A child eats her lunch during the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya (Theirworld / Adriane Ohanesian)

Early childhood development

A new report from the House of Commons International Development Select Committee calls for the Department for International Development to increase its financing for education - and prioritise Early Childhood Development.

Early years’ education for children in low-income countries has just become a ‘high priority’, according to a new report out today.

The news comes as it was revealed 85% of children in the developing world don’t have access to pre-primary education.

In fact, only 0.6% of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) bilateral education budget is being spent on pre-primary education.

The UK International Development Select Committee’s report called for more investment “the DFID does not apportion enough of its budget to pre-primary education, and needs to do more work in this area.”

And urged it to “take full advantage of the lifelong impact of education, to focus on early years’ education, when a child’s brain is developing.

Minister of State for International Development Alistair Burt MP conceded pre-primary education had been “neglected in the past” and promised it was now a “high priority”.

He said: “The recognition of the importance of early years’ education, building on that first 1,000 days and everything you do with the child at the earliest stage, is very important.

“It has not been funded well enough in the past. It has been an area that has been neglected. It does bring the highest returns in the future, and the returns are greatest for the most marginalised children, including those with disabilities and those living in conflict and emergencies.

“Do we take it seriously? Yes, we do. I am not sure about where the budget is going but, as part of in-country programmes, it now has a very high priority.”

Ben Hewitt, Theirworld’s Director of Campaigns and Communications said: “The evidence is clear that investing in the early years brings the biggest return on investment in later years, yet despite this DFID spends less than 1% of its education budget in this area.

“In light of this important report, all eyes are now on DFID to step up its commitment to the very youngest children, especially the poorest and most marginalised, and invest 10% of its education budget in pre-primary education.”

Theirworld is calling for countries and donor governments to give 10% of their education budgets to pre-school children. And a major report from the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has echoed this call.

Launched at the UN General Assembly in New York, it urged governments and partners to invest urgently in services that give young children the best start in life.

“What’s the most important thing children have? It’s their brains,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as he launched the Early Moments Matter for Every Child report.

“But we are not caring for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies – especially in early childhood, when the science shows that children’s brains and children’s futures are rapidly being shaped.

A child’s brain is 90% developed by the time he or she is five years old, so the early years are vital when it comes to a child’s potential. With the proper care, food, stimulation and protection, a child will flourish.

Which is why Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign has been calling for investment in early childhood development and the five key areas of nutrition, protection, play, health and learning.

A UNICEF spokesman said: “Investing in early childhood education can be a powerful way to reduce gaps that, often, put children with low social and economic status at a disadvantage.

“Studies show that the returns on such investments are highest among poorer children, for whom these programmes may serve as a stepping stone out of poverty or exclusion.

In the report, UNICEF also pointed out that early years’ education can, “increase the likelihood of primary school attendance, decrease grade repetition and dropping out” and “improve school readiness which in turn results in better primary school outcomes, particularly for poor and disadvantaged students”.

Again, UNICEF argued that “DFID should support efforts to strengthen governments’ ability and commitment to deliver quality pre-primary education at scale as well as encourage programme partners to continue to innovate and develop models that are needed to reach the most marginalised children and families”.

The World Bank, for example, which accounts for 43% of all ODA spending on pre-primary education, only commits 2.7% of its total education portfolio to this area.

DFID’s expenditure on early years (pre-primary) education is low in comparison to its investments in other stages of education – just under 0.6% of its bilateral education budget.

Senior Education Adviser at DFID, Ian Attfield, said: “You get the biggest bang for your buck if you invest in pre-primary education”.

In the report, he went on to argue that there may be areas where DFID’s contribution to early years education is under-represented in official figures, as “traditionally most pre-primary classes are run out of the primary schools”.

It was also explained that “early years schooling can mean that children are more likely to stay in school, learn better throughout their school education and have better health and higher incomes later in life, yet it has been neglected in terms of funding.”

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