Nearly 16 million children in East Asia and Pacific Region are not enrolled in pre-primary education

UNICEF’s first-ever global report dedicated to early childhood education highlights a lack of investment in pre-primary education by the majority of governments worldwide

08 April 2019
 three laughing children run hand-in-hand outside the newly opened mobile ‘ger’ (traditional nomadic tent) kindergarten in Mongolia
UNICEF/UN0220810/Matas
Three laughing children run hand-in-hand outside the newly opened mobile ‘ger’ (traditional nomadic tent) kindergarten in Mongolia

Nearly 16 million children in East Asia and Pacific Region – around 19 per cent of pre-primary-age children – are not enrolled in pre-primary education, contributing to the 175 million children of pre-primary age not enrolled globally, UNICEF warned in a new report released today.

Countries with high numbers of children not in pre-primary education are missing a critical investment opportunity and are at risk of suffering deep inequalities from the start, the report notes. In low-income countries, only 1 in 5 young children are enrolled in pre-primary education.

“Pre-primary schooling is our children’s educational foundation – every stage of education that follows relies on its success,” said UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific, Karin Hulshof. “In East Asia and Pacific progress has been made and more children than ever before are enrolled in pre-primary education. But the most vulnerable are still denied this opportunity. This increases their risk of repeating grades or dropping out of school altogether and relegates them to the shadows of their more fortunate peers.”

A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education – UNICEF’s first ever global report on pre-primary education – reveals that children enrolled in at least one year of pre-primary education are more likely to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school, less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school, and therefore more able to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

Children in pre-primary education are more than twice as likely to be on track in early literacy and numeracy skills than children missing out on early learning. In countries where more children attend pre-primary programmes, significantly more children complete primary school and attain minimum competencies in both reading and math by the time they finish primary school.

Globally, the report notes that household wealth, mothers’ education level and geographical location are among the key determinants for pre-primary attendance. However, poverty is the single largest determining factor. Some key findings:

  • Role of poverty: Across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programmes. For some countries, the rich-poor divide is even more apparent. For example, in East Asia and Pacific, children from the wealthiest households in Lao, People’s Democratic Republic are five times more likely to attend pre-primary education than those from the poorest.
     
  • Impact of conflicts: More than two thirds of pre-primary-age children living in 33 countries affected by conflict or disaster are not enrolled in early childhood education programmes. Yet, these are the children for whom pre-primary education has some of the greatest benefits. Pre-primary education helps young children affected by crises overcome the traumas they have experienced by giving them a structure, a safe place to learn and play, and an outlet to express their emotions.
     
  • Cycle of educational achievement: Across countries with available data, children born to mothers who have completed secondary education and above are nearly five times more likely to attend an early childhood education programme than children whose mothers have completed only primary education or have no formal education.

In 2017 an average of 6.6 per cent of domestic education budgets globally are dedicated to pre-primary education, with nearly 40 per cent of countries with data allocating less than 2 per cent of their education budgets to this sub-sector. Mongolia is one of a few champion countries to have made inspiring investments, with 26 per cent allocated to pre-primary education. Across East Asia and Pacific, the picture is quite different with governments on average dedicating 5.3 per cent of their education budgets to pre-primary education.

This lack of worldwide investment in pre-primary education negatively impacts quality of services, including a significant lack of trained pre-primary teachers. Together, low- and lower middle-income countries are home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s pre-primary-age children, but scarcely 32 per cent of all pre-primary teachers. In fact, only 422,000 pre-primary teachers currently teach in low income countries. With expanding populations, assuming an ideal pupil-teacher ratio of 20 to 1, the world will need 9.3 million new pre-primary teachers to meet the universal target for pre-primary education by 2030.

“If today’s governments want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy, governments need to invest in early education,” said UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific, Karin Hulshof. “If we are to give our children the best shot in life to succeed in a globalized economy, leaders must prioritize, and properly resource, pre-primary education. Progress has already been made in a number of countries, including the Pacific Islands, Lao, People’s Democratic Republic and Mongolia. We urge other countries in the region to follow their lead.”

UNICEF is urging governments to make at least one year of quality pre-primary education universal and a routine part of every child’s education, especially the most vulnerable and excluded children. To make this a reality, UNICEF urges governments to commit at least 10 per cent of their national education budgets to scale up early childhood education and invest in teachers, quality standards, and equitable expansion.

Read the report now

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Shima Islam

Regional Communication Specialist

UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific

Tel: +66 (0)23569407

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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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