Advancing early learning for a better future
Strong evidence shows that the foundations of learning are largely laid in the early years of a child’s life, before they even enter primary school. This is why, to create more sustainable, peaceful and resilient societies, we must prioritize investments in early childhood education now.
Many concrete elements show that the foundations of learning are largely built during the first years of life, even before the child enters primary school.
Children who fall behind in these early years often struggle to catch up with their peers, perpetuating a cycle of underachievement and high dropout rates that continues to harm vulnerable young people.
Youngest students lost the most school days
The big differences in how countries have gone about reopening early childhood education (ECE) institutions. In lower-middle-income (LMIC) countries, preschool students lost an average of 106 face-to-face class days in 2022, more than any other level of schooling.
In comparison, the number of lost days for primary school students was 103, and 99 and 100 lost days for lower and upper secondary students, respectively. Yet less than a third of LRICs planned to undertake an assessment of gaps in early learning that may have accumulated during school closures due to COVID-19.
The cost of inaction is high. Investments in early childhood education were already underfunded and at risk before the pandemic.
We know that every dollar invested in quality early childhood education and affiliated services for disadvantaged children returns 10 cents more every year throughout that child’s life.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the education gap, especially in early childhood education.
It is estimated that the closure of preschools in 2022 will cost US$1.6 trillion in lost future income, equivalent to 12 years of total international development assistance. Yet many lower-middle-income countries are failing to consider early childhood education in their COVID-19 responses.
Guidelines for rebuilding resilient preschool structures
With schools reopening, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild resilient ECE systems. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.2 wants all children to have access to quality early childhood development and care and preschool education by 2030.
Only through adequate investment in ECE can we achieve our goal of ensuring equal access to quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning opportunities. lifelong for all. The benefits of investments made in ECE when schools reopen will be felt long into the future.
Prioritizing ECE now will enable more children to learn (by going to school earlier and longer), strengthen ties with families, boost economies, help gender equality and, in the long run, will help create more sustainable, peaceful and resilient societies.
The situation is critical, but the Guidance for Reopening Early Childhood Education Settings , which is aligned with the School Reopening Framework and WHO guidelines, provides additional resources specifically for to early childhood education institutions.
In particular, there are 10 guiding principles that can help policymakers plan and implement the reopening of early childhood education settings, with a focus on safe operations, training and staff support, child well-being and development, and parental communication and support.
While co-development of the Guide is a starting point, it is important to continue supporting families, teachers, schools and governments/ministries during the reopening process (and beyond) to ensure that we are on track to achieve SDG 4.2.
UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank encourage governments, donors and implementers to prioritize the reopening of preschools, put in place resource stimulus measures that integrate systematic preschool education and to roll out transition programs to help children who have not been deprived of preschool education because of the pandemic.
Want to learn more about early childhood education and reopening schools? Join UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank on the sidelines of the GPE Global Education Summit for a webinar