Quality pre-primary education is the foundation of a child’s journey: every stage of education that follows relies on its success. Yet, despite the proven and lifelong benefits, more than 175 million children – nearly half of all pre-primary-age children globally – are not enrolled in pre-primary education.
Nearly half of all pre-primary-age children around the world are not enrolled in preschool.
In low-income countries, the picture is bleaker, with only 1 in 5 young children enrolled. Children from poor families are the least likely to attend early childhood education programmes. For children who do have access, poorly trained educators, overcrowded and unstimulating environments, and unsuitable curricula diminish the quality of their experiences.
Failure to provide quality early childhood education limits children’s futures by denying them opportunities to reach their full potential. It also limits the futures of countries, robbing them of the human capital needed to reduce inequalities and promote peaceful, prosperous societies.
Why should universal access to pre-primary education be a global priority?
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 and less likely to repeat grades or drop out. As adults, they contribute to peaceful societies and prosperous economies. Evidence of the ways in which pre-primary education advances development exists around the world.
Yet, global disparities in enrolment persist. More than half of low- and lower-middle-income countries are not on track to ensure at least one year of quality pre-primary education for every child by 2030, as set out by the Sustainable Development Goals.
What should governments do to ensure pre-primary education for all?
1. Scale up investment
Pre-primary education provides the highest return on investment of all education sub-sectors. Yet, it receives the smallest share of government expenditure compared to primary, secondary and tertiary education.
2. Progressively grow the pre-primary system, while improving quality
Efforts to scale up access to pre-primary education should not come at the expense of quality. Quality is the sum of many parts, including teachers, families, communities, resources, and curricula.
Without adequate safeguards for quality, expansion efforts can intensify education inequities. It is only by investing in quality as education systems grow – not after – that governments can expand access and maintain quality.
9.3 million new teachers are needed to achieve universal pre-primary education
Only 50% of pre-primary teachers in low-income countries are trained
Only 5% of pre-primary teachers globally work in low-income countries
3. Ensure vulnerable populations are not the last to benefit
Access to early childhood education has been slow and inequitable, both across and within countries. Worldwide, vulnerable children are disproportionately excluded from quality pre-primary education – even though it can have the greatest impact on them.
To ensure no child is left behind, Governments should adopt policies that commit to universal pre-primary education and prioritize the poorest and hardest-to-reach children at the start of the road to universality, not the end.
*Early childhood education
The richest children are 7 times more likely to attend ECE* programmes than the poorest
Children of mothers with secondary education are 5 times more likely to attend ECE* programmes
Children in urban areas are 1.5 times more likely to attend ECE* programmes than those in rural areas
Equitable attendance in ECE* programmes exists between girls and boys
What does UNICEF call for to achieve universal pre-primary education?
What does UNICEF do to advance pre-primary education?
UNICEF works to give every child a fair start in education. We support pre-primary education in 143 countries around the globe by:
- Building political commitment to quality pre-primary education through evidence generation, advocacy and communication
- Strengthening policies and advocating for increased public financing for pre-primary education
- Bolstering national capacity to plan and implement quality pre-primary education at scale
- Enhancing the quality of pre-primary programmes by supporting the development of quality standards, curricular frameworks, teacher training packages and more
- Collecting data and generating evidence for innovative approaches that deliver quality pre-primary education for vulnerable children
- Delivering conflict-sensitive early childhood education and psychosocial support to young children and their families in humanitarian situations
More from UNICEF
Learn more about this innovative partnership and knowledge initiative from UNICEF and the Global Partnership for Education that helps countries effectively plan for early childhood education.