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  • School children at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees-run school at Al-Baqa'a in Palestine.

    School children at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees-run school at Al-Baqa'a in Palestine. | Photo: EFE

Published 12 April 2019

Studies have shown that at least one year of pre-primary school assists students in developing the critical skills needed for success in the rest of their education, and eventually, adulthood.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has released the first-ever global report on early childhood education, which reveals that the majority of worldwide governments is failing to invest in pre-primary education and causing children to experience significant inequality from an early age. 

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The number of children affected by this level of governmental negligence is over 175 million. Low-income countries largely contribute to this figure, as only 1 in 5 children in the affected regions is enrolled in pre-primary education.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore pointed out the gravity of missing out on what she refers to as "our children's educational foundation." Studies have shown that at least one year of pre-primary school assists students in developing the critical skills needed for success in the rest of their education, and eventually, adulthood. 

Fore said that missing out on pre-primary education "increases their risk of repeating grades or dropping out of school altogether and relegates [students] to the shadows of their more fortunate peers.” Children who are fortunate enough to receive pre-primary education double their likelihood of being on target in terms of literacy and numeracy skills.

Research shows that poverty is the main contributing factor for determining pre-primary attendance. Other factors include mothers' level of education, location and the impact of conflict or disaster.

Another major factor affecting low-attendance rates in pre-primary education is lack of government investment. In 2017, West and Central Africa's figures showed that 70 percent of children do not receive early education, with the government investing only 2.5 percent to the sector.

The same year, less than two percent of domestic education budgets globally were allocated for early education. 

The regions with the most pre-primary education investment are Europe and Central Asia, with investments of over 11 percent of their domestic education budget. UNICEF has suggested that at least 10 percent of national education budgets should be allocated for early education, which will contribute to the quality of educators and educational standards. 

The agency has recommended that governments make pre-primary education universal for at least one year. This policy was implemented in South Africa in 2000, which resulted in a current rate of only 5 percent of students not enrolled in pre-primary education.

UNICEF stresses that pre-primary education should be considered as a general standard for every individual's educational career, and that focus should be put on students who are disproportionately vulnerable and excluded. 

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