Setting New Targets for Success (September 2017)

5For5 Setting New Targets Image Credit Unicef

If the global community is serious about keeping its promise to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) by 2030, there is one major intervention that needs to happen: Investing in pre-primary education

Theirworld: Setting New Targets

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5For5 Setting New Targets Image Credit Unicef


If the global community is serious about keeping its promise to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) by 2030, there is one major intervention that needs to happen: Investing in pre-primary education.

Bright & Early

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical to their future development. By their fifth birthday, a child’s brain is already 90% developed.1 The seeds which determine how well they fare at school and later life, have already been sown.

There is robust scientific evidence for the lasting impact quality, nurturing care has on early brain growth, and how it keeps children in school longer. Quality nurturing care includes play, health, protection, nutrition and early learning. However, while progress is being made in some areas, children’s early learning is too often neglected, putting millions of children at a disadvantage before they even start school.

World leaders talk about these scientific findings and the need to make the most effective investments, and yet, despite this, less than 1% of education aid is actually going to one of the smartest investments: pre-primary education. This severe lack of investment is putting more than 200 million children at a disadvantage before they even start school. 

The benefits of early years education are greatest for the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, including children with disabilities, impacted by HIV/AIDS or caught up in conflict and disasters, who are often least prepared for primary school or most likely to miss out on the opportunity completely.

There’s a cruel irony at play, too. While 85% of children in low-income countries are not getting the access they deserve to pre-primary education, on the flipside, in high income countries, things are reversed: 82% of young children have access to preprimary education. It’s time to end this inequality. And when we do, the benefits will be obvious, not to just the children, but to society as a whole:

  • Knock-on effect: Children from marginalised backgrounds who attend quality preprimary education are more likely to enrol and stay in school.
  • Better learners for life: Decent pre-primary education has a positive impact on learning throughout school, all the way into secondary education.
  • Health & wealth: Children who have benefitted from quality pre-primary education are shown on average to have better health and higher incomes later in life.
  • Return on investment: It’s not just the child or their family who benefit. In economic terms, paying for early learning is one of the best investments a government can make. Every $1 spent can lead to a return of as much as $17 for the most disadvantaged children

Fair share, fair start

According to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4.2) governments and their international partners have committed to a target by 2030, 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”. But globally, we are falling way behind this. Pre-primary is one of the most neglected areas of education aid, receiving less than 1% globally. Not one donor is meeting the minimum benchmark, and many donors lag way behind.

The core responsibility for pre-primary lies with national governments around the world who need to increase the overall share of national resources to education and begin reorienting their education budgets to ensure two years of free pre-primary, with funding in place by 2020 to allocate at least 10% of their education budget to this sub-sector.

But to support the poorest and most marginalised children, domestic commitment and investment needs to be supported by international aid donors, particularly in the poorest countries.

Setting targets for international support for pre-primary education in the early years is the focus of this scorecard. It is time donors matched their commitments with action. If it is true that “no education target will be considered met unless met for all,” then the following changes need to happen:

What are we calling for?

ODA resources (aid) to education should increase in volume. With this overall increase, aid should be targeted to benefit the poorest, with all donors allocating at least 10% of all education ODA to pre-primary education, even in humanitarian crisis. This means:

  • Government donors to commit a minimum of 10% of their education aid funding (ODA) to pre-primary education, targeting the poorest and most marginalised countries and 
  • The World Bank should allocate at least 10% of its education aid funding to pre-primary education, up from 2.7% — and reach $375 million annually by 2020.
  • The Global Partnership for Education should increase allocations to pre-primary from 4% to 10% of its budget, reaching at least $40 million next year at their current funding levels and $200 million annually following a successful replenishment.
  • UNICEF, as one of the largest multilateral donors to education, should reverse the decline in funding and ensure at least 10% of its education budget is spent on pre-primary education.
  • All humanitarian response plans should include targets holistically addressing the needs of children ages 0-5, and Education Cannot Wait should prioritise pre-primary education, reaching the 10% target.
  • Donors countries, potential recipient countries and the G20 should call on the new International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) to include investments in pre-primary education as part of its model.

This scorecard is based on the original research for Theirworld’s report: ‘Bright and Early:  How Full Financing pre-primary education gives every child a fair start in life,’ written by Pauline Rose and Asma Zubairi, REAL Centre, University of Cambridge. For all full referencing see this report.

Additional Methodology: The Pre-Primary Education Targets are based on OECD DAC Constant 2014 dollars. The Bilateral education ODA projections include disbursements reported to the DAC and imputed multilateral contributions to the education sector.  Targets assume donors gradually shift 15% of total ODA to education while scaling up to reach 0.5% of GDP to aid by 2030. For countries already achieving these targets, contributions are kept constant. Theirworld used the total ODA Education projections and calculated the 10% allocation to pre-primary to set the targets.

Download the full scorecard

Download the full scorecard, including data on:

  • Lack of investment, from multilateral to bilateral
  • Failure to invest…
  • … and a bias towards post-secondary
  • Setting New Targets: A two-pronged solution —
    Increase and redistribute
  • A Humanitarian Crisis: the current support for
    Early Childhood Development