The first Education for All (EFA) goal aims to expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As part of our countdown to the launch of our next report, we look back at the 2007 EFA Global Monitoring Report to see how far global progress on the goal has come.
The first Education for All goal reminds us that education needs to begin before children start in primary school. Indeed, the 2007 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Strong Foundations, showed that early childhood care and education is both a right in itself, ratified by 193 nations through the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is vital to give children a good start in life. It is also a catalyst towards all the other Education for All (EFA) Goals, and several Millennium Development Goals (MDG) too.
Children who participate in quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) programmes make better transitions to primary school, and are more likely to complete it (EFA goal 2). In addition, many ECCE programmes provide carers with access to parenting education and other forms of support, which can in turn improve adult learning and skills (EFA goals 3 and 4). Such programmes are also important for promoting gender parity in education (EFA goal 5), as they relieve older sisters and other female kin of care responsibilities, a common barrier to girls’ enrolment in primary school. Furthermore, such programmes are an opportunity to reduce gender stereotypes at an age when children are developing their understandings of identity. Finally, good-quality ECCE is linked with higher achievement at later education levels, and can in that way contribute to the quality of education systems as a whole (Goal 6).
With regard to the Millennium Development Goals, good quality holistic early childhood programmes which monitor children’s welfare at the same time as providing an education, can sport and reduce poverty, hunger (MDG 1) and child mortality (MDG 4), and can help combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG 6). Given the far-reaching development effects of these programmes, combined with the chronic need to find breakthrough methods to stop the millions of child deaths each year from malnutrition and disease, early childhood care and education should be given much more attention and recognition by the international community.
As it stands, large numbers of young children risk never having the hope of going to pre-school. Almost 20 million are born underweight. And, just as being malnourished can deny their right to play and the right to participate fully in society, by robbing them of their opportunities to develop health bodies and minds, malnutrition can remove them to the right to an education too.
Our recent policy paper showed the extent of the problem: around 28% of all children under five in the developing world are short for their age, an indicator of poor health status, which influences their ability to learn. In addition, many young children are denied the opportunity to attend pre-school which places them at a disadvantage for learning. As the 2010 PISA survey showed, the net effect of having attended pre-primary education is equivalent to a year of schooling or more in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy and Singapore.
While children from poor families stand to gain the most from early care and education, they are least likely to enrol. Access to these programmes is inequitable in many countries. In Ghana, for example, children from wealthy homes are almost four times as likely as poor children to attend an early learning programme.
When world leaders met to agree on the Education for All Goals in Dakar in 2000, they promised the world’s children that access to education would be equal by 2015. Three years before the deadline, it seems unlikely that their promise will be kept. Whether you are a boy or a girl, whether your parents are rich or poor, or whether you live in a city or the country still too often determines how well you will do in school. Increasing access to early childhood care and education for those who need it the most – the poor and marginalized – is a vital step in changing this pattern, and should be seen as an urgent priority for governments and donors.