175 million children around the world are not enrolled in pre-primary education

UNICEF’s new global report dedicated to early childhood education highlights Thailand’s achievement in increasing access to pre-primary education

10 April 2019
Teacher teaching student in the classroom
UNICEF Thailand/Grazter

BANGKOK, 10 April 2019 – More than 175 million children of pre-primary age are not enrolled globally, especially in low-income countries, with only 1 in 5 young children are enrolled in pre-primary education, UNICEF warned in a new report released today.

According to A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education, early childhood development (ECD) services, which include pre-primary education is the foundation for children’s future learning as well as future earning ability. The report revealed 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, the report noted. 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. On the other hands, 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.

In Thailand, however, the report noted a notable progress with 85 per cent of children aged 3-5 years are attending pre-primary education or early childhood education programmes. In addition, equity has been achieved among the different wealth groups. In 2005, 55 per cent of the poorest children attended an early childhood education programme, compared to 78 per cent of the richest children. By 2016, 86 per cent of children from the poorest households were attending early childhood education programmes.

The global report noted that Thailand’s remarkable success was the result of strong political will and attention to equity, including a policy to extend the country’s free education system to cover pre-primary education and to decentralize provision of pre-primary education and early childhood development services to the subdistrict level.

“Thailand should be proud of the achievement it has made in the past decade in ensuring that its young children have access to early childhood development and pre-primary education services,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Thailand’s commitment, adequate allocation of resources, as well as special focus on children from poor families has clearly yielded results as seen in the data.”

Yet, some challenges for ECD and pre-primary education services remain to be tackled in Thailand, Davin added. While the country has made a great progress in narrowing the gaps in pre-primary education enrolment among children in different income groups, disparities remain among children who have different mother-tongues, particularly migrant children and children from ethnic minorities.

According to Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted by Thailand’s National Statistical Office in 2015-2016, children living in households headed by a non-Thai speaker are less likely to attend ECD services or pre-primary education, and thus are more at risk of having lower development outcomes and being excluded from school in the future.  

The MICS Survey found that more than 20 per cent of children who did not attend pre-primary education have delayed development in literacy and numeracy. At the same time, they are less likely to attend primary education. Only 60 per cent of children living in households headed by a non-Thai-speaker attended primary education, compared with 78 per cent of children living in Thai-speaking households.

To help children to get the best start in life, the government must ensure that all groups of children have equitable access to ECD services and pre-primary education. At the same time, ECD professionals must have adequate training on holistic development that involves nutrition, child protection, parenting counselling skills and monitoring of child development and developmental delays, while parents must have knowledge and understanding about effective child care and positive parenting.

“Thailand should continue on the path of its equity focus, along with promoting the quality of services, so that this success benefits not only Thai children but also children from non-Thai speaking families, and to ensure that the impact is sustained throughout all levels of education.” added Davin.

Media contacts

Iman Morooka
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Thailand
Tel: 061-414-6488
Nattha Keenapan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Thailand Country Office


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