Unicef report highlights Pacific island governments’ lack of investment in early childhood education
About four in every 10 children in the Pacific islands are not enrolled in pre-primary school, contributing to the more than 175 million children – around half of pre-primary-age children globally – not enrolled in pre-primary education, UNICEF warned in a new report released in April.
Failure to participate in pre-primary programs puts children at a disadvantage from the start. Access to pre-primary education varies in the Pacific island countries, where some countries are making good progress to increase enrolment, including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.
“Pre-primary schooling is our children’s educational foundation – every stage of education that follows relies on its success,” said UNICEF Pacific representative, Sheldon Yett. “In the Pacific islands progress has been made and more children than ever before are enrolled in pre-primary education. But the most vulnerable are still 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 mastering early literacy and numeracy skills than children missing out on early learning. In the Pacific island countries, reports indicate children who attend pre-primary programs also have higher achievement results in literacy and numeracy later in primary school.
Access to pre-primary education varies in the Pacific island countries, where some countries are making good progress to increase enrolment, including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.
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 determining factor.
Across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programs. For some countries, the rich-poor divide is even more apparent.
In 2017 an average of 6.6 percent of domestic education budgets globally are dedicated to pre-primary education, with nearly 40 per cent of countries with data allocating less than 2 percent of their education budgets to this sub-sector. According to the 2017 Pacific Regional Council for Early Childhood Education report, many countries in the Pacific islands set aside less than 5 per cent of total education expenditure for pre-primary education, which is well below the international benchmark of 10 per cent expenditure on pre-primary education.
This lack of worldwide investment in pre-primary education negatively impacts 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. In fact, only 422,000 pre-primary teachers currently teach in low income countries. With expanding populations, assuming an ideal pupil-teacher ratio of 20 to 1, the world will need 9.3 million new pre-primary teachers to meet the universal target for pre-primary education by 2030.
“If today’s governments want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy, they need to start with early education,” Yett said. “If we are to give our children the best shot in life to succeed in a globalized economy, leaders must prioritize, and properly resource, pre-primary education.”
UNICEF is supporting 14 countries in the Pacific islands to increase access to pre-primary education. Good progress has already been made in a number of countries, including Fiji, Cook Islands, Tokelau, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia.
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 percent of their national education budgets to scale up early childhood education and invest in teachers, quality standards and equitable expansion. (Unicef)