UNICEF has today released a global report on early childhood education that shows that Ethiopia's commitment to promoting pre-primary education has led to an increase in gross enrollment from less than two per cent in 2000 to more than 45 per cent in 2017. However, despite these impressive gains, more than half of children of pre-primary age across the country remain excluded, contributing to the 175 million children missing out on pre-primary education globally.
The report notes that the growth in pre-primary enrollment in Ethiopia was encouraged by the National Policy Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education, which focused on making one year of pre-primary education widely available for children. However, this growth has not been even as evidenced by persistently huge variations across regions. For example, while Addis Ababa and Tigray have high gross enrolments rates of 93 per cent and 88 per cent respectively, only 4.5 per cent of children in the Somali Region and 14 per cent in the Afar Region are enrolled.
Countries with the highest numbers of children not in pre-primary education are missing a critical opportunity to build human resources and are at risk of suffering deep inequalities from the start, the report notes. In low-income countries, on average only 1 in 5 young children are enrolled in pre-primary education.
"Pre-primary education is foundational for our children's success in primary and secondary education and beyond," said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF's Representative in Ethiopia. "Yet too many children in Ethiopia 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. A 2016 study by Young Lives, a collaborative research project led by a team from Oxford University, found that urban children in Ethiopia who attended pre-primary education were 26 per cent more likely to complete secondary education at the proper age than their non-pre-school counterparts.
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 determinant. Across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programmes.
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 were 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.
This lack of worldwide investment in pre-primary education negatively impacts the 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. Ethiopia currently has only 23,000 pre-primary teachers and needs nearly half a million by 2030.
"If today's leaders want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow's economy, they need to start by investing more in early childhood education," said Ms Mellsop. "If we are to give our children the best chance to succeed in a globalized economy, our leaders must prioritize, and properly resource, pre-primary education."
UNICEF is urging governments to make at least one year of quality pre-primary education universal and a routine part of every child's education, especially the most vulnerable and excluded children. To make this a reality, UNICEF urges governments to commit at least 10 per cent of their national education budgets to scale up early childhood education and invest in teachers, quality standards, and equitable expansion.
(With Inputs from APO)