Access to early childhood education (preschool)
For every child: learning from the beginning of life
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A strong body of evidence indicates that the foundation for learning is largely built during the first years of life, before a child enters elementary school.
Children who fall behind in these early years often fail to catch up with their peers, perpetuating a cycle of underachievement and high dropout rates that continues to disadvantage vulnerable populations.
Studies indicate that early learning opportunities and early education are essential to the development of girls and boys and their ability to thrive. Early learning opportunities refer to any opportunity for an infant, toddler or young child to interact with a person, place or object in his or her environment. Each interaction (positive or negative) or lack of interaction contributes to the child's brain development and lays the foundation for later learning.de la niña o el niño y sienta las bases para su aprendizaje posterior.
Evidence also highlights the importance of play in these interactions and early learning opportunities. Play is one of the most important ways that young children acquire essential knowledge and skills. For this reason, play opportunities and environments that promote play, exploration, and hands-on learning are at the core of effective preschool programs.
Lack of quality preschool education limits the future of children by denying them the opportunity to reach their full potential. It also limits the future of countries, robbing them of the human capital needed to reduce inequalities and promote peaceful and prosperous societies.
Universal preschool education is a global priority because:
- establishes strong foundations for learning,
- increases the effectiveness and efficiency of education systems; and
- it is an effective strategy for promoting economic growth.
The importance of early childhood learning is rooted in the second target of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which seeks to ensure that, by 2030, "all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood care and development services and quality pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary school."
In 2019, less than half (46%) of girls and boys under the appropriate age for entry into primary education in Latin America and the Caribbean were attending some form of educational provision. And there were wide differences between cycles. Early childhood development coverage (0 to 2 years) was barely 18.6%, while the gross preschool education rate (from 3 years to the start of primary school) was 77.5%, which means that a quarter of children in that age group in LAC are not in preschools.
At the current rate, only a quarter of girls and boys aged 0 to 2 years would be covered by early childhood development programs in 2030. In addition, available information shows that attendance in early education programs has been the most affected by the pandemic. Between 2015 and 2020, we observe a marked slowdown in the growth of preschool education. SDG indicator 4.2.2, regarding participation in educational programs one year before the start of primary education, shows that 5% still do not have access to any stage of this educational offer. This percentage is twice as high in rural areas and among children from the poorest households.
Without immediate action, the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic may have an even more negative impact on early childhood education.
What do we do?
Since it is necessary to accelerate efforts to overcome this early childhood learning crisis, we have proposed to support countries in the region to:
- integrate early education into their national education plans, with targets and strong accountability mechanisms, with a progressive allocation of 10% of the education budget for preschool;
- strengthen the capacities of their education officials to plan, implement and measure preschool education as a system;
- ensure the provision of quality preschool education with i) an appropriate relevant curriculum that allows for effective transitions between educational subsystems, ii) quality teacher training and mentoring in ways that promote play and active, responsive, child-centered pedagogical approaches, iii) appropriate and quality educational materials, and iv) robust quality assurance mechanisms that adequately guide decision making;
- mobilize families, communities, non-state providers and society in general to expand access and guarantee the quality of early education;
- advocate for innovative solutions to provide preschool education opportunities for the most marginalized children, such as migrants, indigenous children, those with disabilities, and those affected by conflict and other emergencies.