Half of the world’s children (175 million) between 3 and 6 years old are not enrolled in pre-primary education programs, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report published April 8.
The percentage jumps to 78 percent of pre-primary-age children not enrolled in lower-income nations.
Pre-primary education refers to education programs for children ages 3 to 6 that prepare them to enter their years of primary education (kindergarten through grade 12 in the U.S.).
While enrollment has increased from 32 percent worldwide in 2000 to 50 percent in 2017, significant work remains to achieve the sustainable development goal of universal pre-primary education by the year 2030.
While every region of the world has seen increased enrollment since 2000, North America saw the least (moving from 70 to 71 percent) while East Asia and the Pacific saw the most (increasing from 42 to 81 percent).
Less than 25 percent of nations have universal (or nearly universal) pre-primary enrollment, while 17 percent of countries have less than 25 percent of children in early childhood education programs.
Enrollment increases with a nation’s economic status, moving from 22 percent (low-income nations) to 36 percent (lower-middle income) to 75 percent (upper-middle income) to 83 percent (high-income).
Overall, children in higher income nations are seven times as likely as those in lower income nations to be enrolled in pre-primary education.
National income levels as defined by the World Bank are:
- Low income: $995 or less gross national income per capita
- Lower-middle income: between $996 and $3,895
- Upper-middle income: between $3,896 and $12,055
- High income: $12,056 or more
A few of the benefits of early childhood education are providing skills that help students succeed in primary school, improving attendance and increasing the likelihood of children finishing their education, and enhancing economic opportunities (both in the future for the children and in the present by allowing primary caregivers to enter the workforce).
In every nation assessed in the report, children in pre-primary education programs scored higher than the national average on literacy and numeracy skill assessments.
“A young child’s brain is full of innate potential, and the early years offer an irreplaceable window of opportunity to set a path towards success in primary school and later in life. Quality early childhood education generates a positive sequence of learning – while lack of access to pre-primary education widens achievement gaps and restricts opportunities,” the report said.
“Children who fall behind at a young age often never catch up with their peers, perpetuating cycles of underachievement and high dropout rates that continue to harm vulnerable children into their youth.”
The full report is available here.