This month, for the first time, it will be mandatory for children in Costa Rica to complete two years of pre-primary education before going to primary school.
This is in line with the call in Target 4.2 of the SDG agenda for children to be “ready for primary education”.
It is also in line with one of the thematic indicators for measuring progress towards target 4.2 in the SDG agenda: 4.2.4 Number of years of (i) free and (ii) compulsory pre-primary education guaranteed in legal frameworks.
In making this move to two years of compulsory pre-primary education, Costa Rica is stepping out ahead of many other countries in the world. In total, before Costa Rica’s announcement, the latest data showed that pre-primary education was compulsory for at least two years in only 11% of countries as the below table shows.
As the table also shows, however, Costa Rica is following other countries in its trend setting region: Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest percentage of countries making two years of pre-primary education compulsory of any region in the world.
The policy change also recognises the suitability of the indicators chosen to measure progress towards Target 4.2. In Costa Rica, by latest UIS estimates, only 29% of children were enrolled in pre-primary education and early childhood educational development programmes. This compares to a regional average of 42% and a global average of 52%, showing that Costa Rica had some catching up to do. This enrollment rate was also the third equal lowest in the region, equal to Honduras, and above Guatemala (19%) and Panama (25%).
Work is now being done in Costa Rica to ensure that there are schools for these children to attend. Parents have been informed of this new policy change and made responsible for ensuring they follow it. The only ones excluded are those who are able to prove there is no pre-primary school in their vicinity. To counter this, the Minister of Education has asked all regional directors to map out the children who are excluded from pre-primary school and will use this to also inform the allocation of teachers around the country.
The move is a reflection of the importance of early childhood education for stimulating learning in the long term and will help to iron out inequalities between those receiving support in early childhood development and those not. Our latest GEM report emphasized the importance of the home environment for child development, through activities such as telling stories, singing, playing or drawing. By one count, in Costa Rica, 68% of children benefitted from positive and stimulating home learning environments. This means, of course, that 32% do not. For these families, this shift in Costa Rica towards universal two-year pre-primary education could make a particular impact. Let us hope that the new year brings more such news.