New report reveals record aid spending on pre-primary education – but millions of the world’s poorest children are still missing out on vital early years support

International aid to pre-primary education has reached a record high, but millions of the world’s poorest children are still missing out on preschool because of a chronic lack of funding by donor countries, according to a new report published today.

  • Early years education aid reached a record $282m in 2022 – but is still only 1.4% of total spending on overseas education, far below the internationally agreed 10% target
  • Donors spend 21 times more on higher education than on pre-primary education
  • Theirworld is calling on world leaders to commit $1 billion in new funding to children’s early years by 2028

Analysis by University of Cambridge for the global children’s charity Theirworld reveals that global aid to pre-primary education increased by 40% between 2021 and 2022, reaching $282m, the highest since records began in 2002.

But this rise was driven largely by spending by a single donor, the World Bank, which invested $181m on pre-primary education in 2022, almost two-thirds of total aid to pre-primary education.

Despite record spending, investment in pre-primary education still accounted for only a fraction – 1.4% – of the international community’s spending on education in 2022. For bilateral donors, this share was just 0.4%, far below the target agreed by more than 147 UN member states and agencies in Tashkent in 2022 that 10% of government and donor education budgets should be dedicated to pre-primary education.

Of the main donors to education, only UNICEF and the Global Partnership for Education met this target in 2022. The U.S, Japan, Switzerland, France and Norway were among 10 countries that committed less than 0.5% of their education aid budget to pre-primary education. The Netherlands, Israel, Romania, Hungary and Denmark did not spend a single penny on pre-primary education.

Of the world’s 26 low-income countries, Central African Republic, Liberia, D.P.R. Korea and Yemen did not receive a single cent in aid for pre-primary education in 2022.

In addition, of the 114 countries receiving aid for pre-primary education, 95 countries received less than $5 per child, including Afghanistan, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Syria, which received less than 20 cents per child.

Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld, welcomed the increase in spending on pre-primary education, but urged donor countries to step up to meet the goal set by world leaders in 2015 that by 2030 every girl and boy should have access to quality early childhood development, care and education.

The record investment in pre-primary investment is a positive sign that donors are finally recognising the early years as a crucial part of children’s long-term development,

Justin Van Fleet, President of Theirworld

He continued: “But the undeniable truth is that spending on children’s early years is still too low. Prioritising investment in pre-primary education for all children, especially those most at risk of being excluded from learning, has profound long-term benefits for society, yet despite this, donors are spending 21 times more on higher education that on pre-primary education. This imbalance must be addressed urgently.”

Professor Pauline Rose, director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, and one of the report’s authors, said:

“It is shocking that only two of the top donors to education meet the international 10% target for funding to pre-primary education. It’s even more alarming that the vast majority of countries that receive aid to pre-primary education receive less than $5 per child.

“All the evidence shows that the benefits of pre-primary are greatest for marginalised and disadvantaged children, who are often least prepared for primary school and therefore most likely to be left behind. World leaders need to act now to give all children the chance of a better future.”

As part of its Act For Early Years campaign, Theirworld is calling on world leaders to commit $1 billion in new funding to children’s early years, between ages 0 to 5, when 90% of a child’s brain develops.

Last year more than 150 organisations joined the charity in calling on the G20 to tackle the lack of funding in early years that mean that half of the world’s children – more than 175 million – are not enrolled in preschool.

The report – A Turning Point? An updated scorecard on donor funding to pre-primary education – analyses data submitted by international donors to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee Creditor System.

Download the report

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact Nicole Martin, [email protected] 07768 695 087.

Who is hitting the 10% target?

  • UNICEF 18.7%
  • Global Partnership for Education 11%
  • World Bank 6.7%
  • Canada 2.4%
  • Qatar 2%
  • EU 1.3%
  • UAE 1.2%
  • Australia 1.1%
  • Germany 1%
  • UK 0.7%
  • USA 0.4%
  • Japan 0.4%
  • France 0.2%

Who are the major contributors?

  • World Bank – $180.6m
  • EU – $34.5m
  • UNICEF – $13.1m
  • Canada – $6.5m
  • USA – $4.8m
  • Japan – $4.2m
  • Germany – $4.1m
  • UK – $3.4m
  • Qatar – $3.2m
  • Australia – $2.6
  • UAE – $2.6m

About Theirworld

Theirworld is a global children’s charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation. Its mission is to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and the skills they need for the future.

The Act For Early Years report is here:

About the REAL Centre

The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre is part of the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. The Centre pioneers research into overcoming barriers to education, such as poverty, gender, ethnicity, language and disability, and promotes education as an engine for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

The Centre applies rigorous research methods, drawing together the faculty’s strengths in development conceptualising, measuring and analysing education inequalities, and in identifying the pathways through which excellence and equality in education transforms societies. It works in partnership with organisations and individuals in priority countries, jointly defining, planning, implementing and analysing the research in ways that contribute to joint publications. And it ensures impact by linking evidence with policy at a national and global level.