A Diminished Priority: An Updated Scorecard on Donor Funding to Pre-primary Education during Covid-19

Mireille Nininahazwe with young children at a community event held by Theirworld partner Ubongo at Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda (Theirworld/Mara Mambo Media)

This is the sixth report in a series dating back to 2017 by the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre for Theirworld. The series identifies donor performance in pre-primary education, with the latest report focusing in particular on the period from 2020 to 2021, the two years most severely affected by Covid-19.

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Prepared for Theirworld by Asma Zubairi and Pauline Rose of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge.

This report is based on the widely-recognised understanding that investing in the early years is vital for young children’s futures.  As evidence has shown, quality interventions in pre-primary education are a highly effective investment for individuals and societies, with up to 90% of a child’s brain development taking place between birth and the age of five.

In recognition of this, since 2017 Theirworld has been advocating for aid donors and national governments to commit 10% of their education spending to early childhood education. In 2017, UNICEF took up this pledge. There was wider recognition of this target in 2022, when 147 United Nations member states signed up to the Tashkent Declaration and Commitments to Action for Transforming Early Childhood Care and Education, which included a commitment to spending 10% of education budgets on pre-primary education.

However, just as the pandemic resulted in millions of young children missing out on vital care and learning, we find that pre-primary education was particularly adversely affected by the cut in aid funding at this time. This is likely to have longer-term repercussions.

An opinion survey conducted for Theirworld in seven countries across a range of income levels in March 2023 found that on average a quarter of parents had given up work or education to pay for childcare (Theirworld, 2023).

In this context, Theirworld has launched the Act For Early Years campaign, in order to raise awareness of what is – and has been for some time – a global crisis in the delivery of all early years services – childcare, education, health, safety and security – and to call for a global reset in how the world’s youngest children are supported.

A major challenge remains to the international community. In 2018, the G20 made ground-breaking commitments to early childhood development, stating that “investment in early childhood development, without any discrimination, should be a high priority”.

Yet 175 million children are still not enrolled in pre-primary education. Children born at the time of those promises will already have missed out on quality early childhood development.

The G20 needs to review and revitalise its commitments to the early years, beginning with its meeting in September 2023 in New Delhi.

The same is true for the whole international community if the pledge contained in Sustainable Development Goal target 4.2, that “by 2030 every girl and boy should have access to quality early childhood development, care and education”, is to be fulfilled.

For every child, wherever they live, investment in the early years, including pre-primary education, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is our duty to ensure they are not wasted.

Download the report below or get an accessible version available here.

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