UNICEF says 377,482 children in Zambia, around 73.9 per cent of Grade 1 entrants-started school without any pre-school experience in 2017.
This has coincided with a new report released on Tuesday in which UNICEF warns that 175 million children of pre-primary age are not enrolled globally.
The report notes that countries with high numbers of children not in pre-primary education are missing a critical investment opportunity and are at risk of suffering deep inequalities from the start.
In low-income countries, only 1 in 5 young children are enrolled in pre-primary education.
“Pre-primary schooling is our children’s educational foundation – every stage of education that follows relies on its success,” said UNICEF Zambia Country Representative, Noala Skinner.
“Yet, too many children around the world 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.
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 determining factor.
Some key findings are that across 64 countries, the poorest children are seven times less likely than children from the wealthiest families to attend early childhood education programmes. For some countries, the rich-poor divide is even more apparent.
Other factors include the Impact of conflicts as more than two thirds of pre-primary-age children living in 33 countries affected by conflict or disaster are not enrolled in early childhood education programmes.
Yet, these are the children for whom pre-primary education has some of the greatest benefits. Pre-primary education helps young children affected by crises overcome the traumas they have experienced by giving them a structure, a safe place to learn and play, and an outlet to express their emotions.
Cycle of educational achievement is another key factors and 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 are 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. Across the Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR), governments on average dedicate 1.8 per cent of their education budgets to pre-primary education.
“If today’s governments want their workforce to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy, they need to start with early education,” said UNICEF Zambia Representative, Noala Skinner.
“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 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.