9 April 2019 – 175 million children of pre-primary age are 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.
In 2008, Ghana included two years of pre-primary education (Kindergarten) as part of its constitutional commitment to Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). However, more than 400,000 children – approximately 1 in 4 pre-primary age children – are still not enrolled in kindergarten.
“Pre-primary schooling is our children’s educational foundation – every stage of education that follows relies on its success,” said UNICEF representative in Anne-Claire Dufay. “Yet, too many children in Ghana are 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. Children from the wealthiest households in Ghana are 9 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. In Ghana, less than 6 per cent is allocated to pre-primary education. Across the West and Central African region, governments dedicate 2.5 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.
In Ghana the ratio of pre-primary teachers is 39 to 1; and 75.2% are trained and is progressively improving. In 2012, the Ministry of Education channeled its resources into an innovative teacher training programme, under which nearly 8,000 young teachers from disadvantaged districts were trained through distance learning, over a four-year period, to close the trained teacher resource gap in basic schools.
“If today’s governments want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy, they need to start with early education,” said Anne-Claire Dufay. “If we are to give our children the best shot in life to succeed in a globalized economy, Ghanaian leaders must continue to prioritize, and properly resource, quality pre-primary education.”
UNICEF congratulates the Government of Ghana for its leadership and progress in pre-primary education. We urge the government to identify it as a spending priority and commit at least 10 per cent of their national education budgets to scale up early childhood education - investing in teachers, learning materials, and quality standards – to reach ALL children and ensure they are “ready to learn”. To ensure that the increased investments are efficient, effective, and equitable, we ask the Ministry of Education to intensify its efforts to strengthen monitoring and supervision and accompanying information management systems to better track and assess school readiness of children, especially the most disadvantaged children, for the successful achievement of the SDGs in Ghana.
UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being 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.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/ghana