Children not enrolled in pre-school face inequalities early in life
MANILA, Philippines — Young children who are not enrolled in pre-school are at risk of facing deep inequalities from early in life, a global report released recently by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) showed.
On the other hand, 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.
The report entitled “A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education,” revealed that children with access to pre-school are also less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school.
Hence, they are more able to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies and economies when they reach adulthood.
The report also highlighted the lack of investment in pre-primary education by a majority of governments worldwide.
“Students who attended a pre-school before starting kindergarten continued to demonstrate higher performance in literacy, mathematics and social and emotional development in elementary school,” said Julia Rees, Unicef Representative, citing Unicef Philippines’ ongoing longitudinal study on early childhood care and development which echoes findings from the global report.
Across the globe, children with pre-primary education are more than twice as likely to be on track in early literacy and numeracy skills than those missing out on early learning.
In countries where more children attend pre-primary programs, significantly more children complete primary school and attain minimum competencies in both reading and math by the time they finish primary school.
“This suggests that the positive relationship between pre-school and cognitive performance can be observed for at least the first two years of schooling,” Rees added.
In 2009, only 20 percent of three- to four-year-old Filipino children were enrolled in pre-school, Unicef said, explaining that parents believed that their children were too young to go to school and that centers are too far from their homes.
Enrollment percentage has since doubled to 42 percent in 2013. While this is a significant improvement, enrollment needs to increase to ensure that every Filipino child gets a headstart in life.
Meanwhile, the rate of enrollment in kindergarten for all children increased to 79 percent in 2014 compared to 57 percent in 2010. Unicef said the rise is likely due to the implementation of the Universal Kindergarten Act of 2012, which mandates compulsory and free kindergarten education.
The rise in enrollment may also be attributed to the increase in public sector spending on education, according to Unicef.
Children in conflict areas
Globally, the report noted 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.
“Disasters and conflict can also impact pre-primary aged children. In Mindanao, 57 percent of three- to four-year-olds and 22 percent of five-year-old children were not enrolled in pre-school and kindergarten in 2017, respectively,” Unicef said.
“Pre-primary education helps young children affected by crises overcome trauma by giving them a structure, a safe place to learn and play, and an outlet to express their emotions,” it added.
Unicef has been supporting the government and non-state actors to fill in the supply-side gaps and has been aiming to reach children in conflict-affected areas, disaster-prone areas, remote and disadvantaged areas.
Programs such as the Tahderiyyah for Muslim children, Supervised Neighborhood Play, and Kindergarten Catch-up Education are in place.
Public investment in early education
In 2017, Unicef said 6.6 percent of domestic education budgets on average globally are dedicated to pre-primary education, with nearly 40 percent of countries allocating less than 2 percent of their education budgets to this sub-sector.
The 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 percent of the world’s pre-primary-age children, but scarcely 32 percent of all pre-primary teachers. In fact, only 422,000 pre-primary teachers currently teach in low-income countries, according to Unicef.
“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,” it added.
In the Philippines, the Early Years Act of 2013 and the Universal Kindergarten Law in 2012 require the government to strengthen the system for providing early childhood care and development services, including early learning for children zero to four years old and providing kindergarten services for all five-year-olds.
Unicef continues to advocate for more funding to implement the Early Years Act and Universal Kindergarten Law.
“These will help increase access to quality early childhood education, especially by disadvantaged and marginalized children,” it said. “Unicef believes that every Filipino child has the right to quality and accessible education, especially in the early years of life.” /ee
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