Early Childhood Education

Children who attended two to three years of quality preschool do better in school than those who missed out

Two children in kindergarten playing with construction toys
UNICEF/2016/Georgiev

The challenge

During the first five years, children’s brains develop at a once-in-a-lifetime speed. To take full advantage of that rapid brain growth, science has helped the development of Early childhood education programmes and opportunities for children, to build a foundation that will last a lifetime.

Yet, while the country has seen improvements in pre-school enrolment from 22% in 2012 to 35% in 2017, it is far behind the EU target rate of 95%. Too many children are missing out on the opportunity to develop skills to fulfill their potential.

Not all children have equal access to high quality early childhood education

Depending on where they live, the wealth of their families, their ethnicity, disability or simply because they are different, some children are more at risk of missing out on early education. Poverty facing children are particularly at high risk since only one out of 300 children visits any form of pre-school education. This not only hampers their mental and physical development, but it also perpetuates the poverty cycle across generations. High quality early childhood education programmes have a substantial and positive impact on the child’s further development, enabling children from disadvantaged families to achieve a balanced educational start.

Children with disabilities are also at greater risk of missing out on early childhood education. Currently, less than five percent of children with disabilities are enjoying the benefits of visiting some form of pre-school.

Missing out on early childhood education creates achievements gaps

Early childhood education plays a crucial role in the development of children and has significant positive socio-economic effects on the whole of society.  Empirical studies devoted to this subject corroborate this evidence, including studies on investment in early childhood education conducted by James Hackman, and a recent study on the correlation between attending early childhood education and scores achieved in PISA tests, conducted in 34 OECD countries.

In the country, there are not enough preschool facilities, particularly in impoverished rural areas, where they are most needed. Furthermore, a significant percent of parents still believe that it is better for children to be at home than in preschool institutions, not comprehending the real benefit of early childhood education for the development and the achievements of their children.

Too often, as well, the quality and the implementation of programmes for early learning is insufficient and teaching staff could benefit from capacity development programmes based on the latest research and achievements in science regarding brain development. 

Early childhood education does not just support academic learning, rather it builds other skills in children that are crucial for learning and brain development. Development of “non-cognitive skill” - such as intellectual curiosity, perseverance, social skills and emotional stability – during childhood and adolescent years are just as important for children’s success in lifelong learning, social integration, personal development and latter employability.

For UNICEF, the fact that too many children are missing out on this chance for a better life is simply unacceptable!

The solution

UNICEF is committed to ensure that every child in the country has access to quality early childhood education. For this to be achieved, we are working on increasing access and coverage by diversifying preschool services through establishing of Early Childhood Development Centers. These centers implement short programmes of three hours a day with flexible working hours according to the needs of the children, the parents and the communities. They play a crucial role in providing a stimulating learning environment and better developmental results among children in remote and rural areas where kindergarten facilities are missing.

UNICEF has  contributed to the development of a standards-based Programme for Early Learning and Development, developing institutional capacity for improving the legislative framework, introducing quality assurance in preschool services through licensing and relicensing procedures among service providers and results based monitoring.

We are developing resources, manuals, guidebooks and other teaching and learning materials to support service providers in better implementation of early learning and development programmes, and are conducting studies to support government officials and responsible institutions to develop evidence based polices for improving the wellbeing of all children in the country as a prerequisite for better educational results.

We are working on increasing awareness about the importance of early childhood education and decreasing barriers, so that all children in the country can fully exercise their right to quality early learning and development!