Why early childhood care and education matters (2024)

Why early childhood care and education matters (1)

© Tuane Fernandes

10 November 2022

Last update:20 April 2023

The right to education begins at birth.

But new UNESCO data shows that 1 out of 4 children aged 5 have never had any form of pre-primary education. This represents 35 million out of 137 million 5-year-old children worldwide. Despite research that proves the benefits of early childhood care and education (ECCE), only half of all countries guarantee free pre-primary education around the world.

UNESCO’s World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education taking place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 14-16 November 2022 will reaffirm every young child’s right to quality care and education, and call for increased investment in children during the period from birth to eight years.

Here’s what you need to know what early childhood care and education.

Why is early childhood care and education important?

The period from birth to eight years old is one of remarkable brain development for children and represents a crucial window of opportunity for education. When children are healthy, safe and learning well in their early years, they are better able to reach their full developmental potential as adults and participate effectively in economic, social, and civic life. Providing ECCE is regarded as a means of promoting equity and social justice, inclusive economic growth and advancing sustainable development.

A range of research and evidence has converged to support this claim. First, neuroscience has shown that the environment affects the nature of brain architecture – the child’s early experiences can provide either a strong or a fragile foundation for later learning, development and behaviours. Second, the larger economic returns on investment in prior-to-school programmes than in programmes for adolescents and adults has been demonstrated. Third, educational sciences have revealed that participation in early childhood care and education programmes boosts children’s school readiness and reduces the gap between socially advantaged and disadvantaged children at the starting gate of school.

From a human rights perspective, expanding quality early learning is an important means for realizing the right to education within a lifelong learning perspective. ECCE provides a significant preparation to basic education and a lifelong learning journey. In 2021, only 22% of United Nations Member States have made pre-primary education compulsory, and only 45% provide at least one year of free pre-primary education. Only 46 countries have adopted free and compulsory pre-primary education in their laws.

How has access to ECCE evolved?

Overall, there has been significant global progress in achieving inclusive and high-quality ECCE. Globally, the ratio for pre-primary education has increased from 46% in 2010 to 61% in 2020. The global ratio for participation in organized learning one year before the official primary school entry age also increased to reach 75% in 2020. However, in low- and lower-middle-income countries, fewer than two in three children attend organized learning one year before the official primary entry age. Furthermore, the proportion of children receiving a positive and stimulating home environment remains significantly low with only 64% of children having positive and nurturing home environments. Great regional disparities remain the biggest challenges. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 40% of children have experienced a positive and stimulating home learning environment compared to 90% of children in Europe and Northern America.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted ECCE?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effect on ECCE and amplified its crisis. Young children have been deemed the greatest victims of the pandemic, experiencing the impact of on their immediate families, and because of stay-at-home orders of lockdowns, having been deprived of essential services to promote their health, learning and psychosocial well-being. Some children will start basic education without organized learning experiences to the detriment of their readiness for school. It was estimated that the closure of ECCE services has resulted in 19 billion person-days of ECCE instruction lost with 10.75 million children not being able to reach their developmental potential in the first 11 months of the pandemic.

What are the consequences on foundational learning?

ECCE is a pre-requisite for meeting the right to learn and to develop. In particular, access to pre-primary education is a basis for acquiring foundational learning including literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional learning. Yet, according to the recent estimate, about 64% of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story at age 10. The roots of this learning poverty start in ECCE and its lack of capacity to make children ready for school.

What is the situation regarding ECCE teachers and care staff?

As the calls grow for higher quality ECCE provision, teacher shortages and quality has received increasing attention. The number of teachers who received at least the minimum pedagogical teacher training, both pre-service and in-service, increased from 68% to 80% between 2010 and 2020. It is estimated that ECCE services need another 9.3 million full-time teachers to achieve the SDG target. Most Member States have established qualification requirements for ECCE teachers, while far less attention has been focused on ECCE teachers’ working conditions and career progression. The low social status, poor salaries and job insecurity of ECCE teachers and care staff tend to have an adverse impact on attracting and retaining suitably qualified early childhood educators.

What are the policies, governance and financing implications?

It is time for societies and governments to implement relevant policies to recover and transform their ECCE systems. ECCE is seen by many countries as a key part of the solution to a myriad of challenges including social inclusion and cohesion, economic growth and to tackle other sustainable development challenges. According to the 2022 Global Education Monitoring Report, 150 out of 209 countries have set targets for pre-primary education participation by 2025 or 2030. The proportion of countries that monitor participation rates in pre-primary education is expected to increase from 75% in 2015 to 92% in 2025 and 95% in 2030. It is expected that the pre-primary participation rate for all regions will exceed 90% by 2030. In Central and South Asia, East and South-East Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, participation rates are expected to be nearly 100%. At the same time, it is projected that participation rates in Northern Africa and Western Asia will be about 77% by 2030.

What are the obstacles to ensuring access to quality ECCE?

  • Policy fragmentation: In many countries, ECCE policies and services are fragmented and do not leverage whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to addressing the holistic needs and rights of families and their young children. This is particularly challenging for national governments with limited resources, low institutional capacities and weak governance.
  • Lack of public provision: Non-state provision of ECCE continues to grow in many contexts, and the role of non-state actors in influencing policy development and implementation is evident. Non-state actors provide a large proportion of places in pre-primary education. In 2000, 28.5% of pre-primary aged children were enrolled in private institutions, and this rose to 37% in 2019, a figure higher than for primary (19%) or secondary (27%) education.
  • Insufficient regulation of the sector: Specific regulations and standards for ECCE are not in place in most countries. Regulations usually do not establish quality assurance mechanisms and those that do, tend not to focus on outcomes.
  • Chronic underfunding: An average of 6.6% of education budgets at national and subnational levels were allocated to pre-primary education. Low-income countries, on average, invest 2% of education budgets in pre-primary education, which is far below the target of 10% by 2030 suggested by UNICEF. In terms of international aid, pre-primary education remains the least funded sector.

What are the solutions?

Political will and ownership are key to transforming ECCE. UNESCO’s review highlights progress in some countries, giving an indication of what is required to successfully strengthen the capacity of ECCE systems:

  • Expanding and diversifying access: Increasing investment and establishing a legal framework to expand ECCE services are essential steps. Innovative ECCE delivery mechanisms such as mobile kindergartens with teachers, equipment for learning and play, have been deployed in some countries to reach remote areas and provide children with pre-primary education.
  • Enhancing quality and relevance: ECCE curriculum frameworks should cover different aspects of early learning and prepare children with essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions to transit smoothly to formal education.
  • Making ECCE educators and caregivers a transforming force: For the transformation of ECCE to take place, ECCE educators need to be adequately supported and empowered to play their part.
  • Improving governance and stakeholder participation: Countries have adopted different modes of governance. There are generally two systems that are followed, an integrated system and a split system.
  • Using funding to steer ECCE development: Strengthening domestic public financing is important for providing affordable ECCE. Since ECCE services are offered by different ministries, there must be a clear demarcation of funding and financing rules for different sectors and different ministries. Innovative financing may include earmarking resources from economic activities and other sources.
  • Establishing systems for monitoring and assessing whole-of-child development. System-level action in strengthening the availability and reliability of data obtained from assessments enables efficient and timely monitoring of programmes and child developmental milestones.
  • Galvanize international cooperation and solidarity. The World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education is an opportunity to mobilize existing global, regional, and national networks to increase focus on identifying and sharing innovations, policies and practices.
UNESCO’s World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education
UNESCO’s work in early childhood care and education

Related items

  • Education
  • Early childhood
  • Early childhood education
Why early childhood care and education matters (2024)


Why does early childhood education matters? ›

Early childhood experiences from birth to age 8 affect the development of the brain's architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. A strong foundation helps children develop the skills they need to become well-functioning adults.

Why does access to education and childcare matter? ›

Brain Development

During the first five years, a child's brain is at its most flexible, making this a critical period for learning and growth. Waiting until kindergarten is too late. Children who receive quality early education demonstrate greater cognitive and socioemotional growth than children who do not.

What are the benefits of being an early childhood educator? ›

Here are some of the unique benefits that come with working in early childhood education.
  • Rewarding Work Experience. ...
  • Discounted Childcare. ...
  • Health Insurance. ...
  • 401K and Life Insurance. ...
  • Good Work-Life Balance.
Sep 29, 2021

Why is it important to have education? ›

Educating children not only secures their personal life but collectively contributes to the development of a more reliable nation and the world. It can yield a better surrounding in which people can differentiate between right and wrong, know the importance of voting, adhere to laws, and reduce crimes.

What is the value of early childhood education programs especially for poor children? ›

early childhood programs have the potential to lift multiple generations out of poverty. Those treated in Perry were able to build the foundations for stronger family lives that resulted in larger gains for their children, despite living in similar or worse neighborhoods than the untreated families.

What is the most important reason for including health education in early education programs? ›

In turn, providing health education as early as possible can help youth to develop positive well-being, academic success, and healthy outcomes into adulthood.

Why is childcare so important to society? ›

In addition, it helps children develop skills they will need for success in school and in their lives outside of school: Social, emotional and communication skills. Pre-literacy and basic mathematical skills and concepts. An awareness of their environment and the roles of the people in it.

Why should everyone have equal access to education? ›

Low Barriers to Entry or Access: Equitable education lowers the barriers that make accessing it difficult for many people. Such barriers include lack of adequate transportation, not having access to technology or connectivity, and excessive paperwork or other bureaucratic requirements for registration and enrollment.

Why preschool is the most important year in a child's development? ›

Isn't my child learning enough at home or at child care?" Research shows that kids who attend quality preschool may have higher math and reading skills, are better prepared for kindergarten, behave better in class, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Why are you passionate about childcare? ›

Most people choose to work in childcare because they enjoy working with children. You may have a large number of siblings, relatives, or younger family members to care for, or you may have worked as a babysitter for several years and believe that this is the groundwork for a career you can be passionate about.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of early childhood education? ›

  • Pro 1: A learning environment that can be difficult to do at home.
  • Pro 2: A place to practice social skills.
  • Pro 3: Relationships with other trusted adults.
  • Pro 4: Exposure to new experiences.
  • Pro 5: Preparation for school.
  • Con 1: Difficult schedule.
  • Con 2: High costs.
  • Con 3: Kids getting sick.
Mar 3, 2022

How has your education contributed to who you are today? ›

Through education I've learned hard work, decisiveness, and persistence can lead to opportunities I never knew could exist. My education as a college student has shaped me to dig deep within myself and overcome mental boundaries. Additionally, education has shaped me to challenge myself at whatever I do.

Is education a privilege or a right? ›

Yes! All kids living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen.

Why is knowledge important? ›

Knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: It actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more — the rich get richer.

Why it's important to support access and participation for every child in high quality inclusive settings? ›

In inclusive environments, educators value the full range of children's abilities and minimize all barriers to children's participation in play and learning activities with their peers. Make sure that all children in your learning environment take pride in their identity and are equally valued by their peers.

Why is access to healthcare important for children? ›

Health care can influence children's physical and emotional health, growth, and development and their capacity to reach their full potential as adults. All children are at increased risk of developing preventable conditions if appropriate care is not provided when they are sick or injured.

What factors affect access to education? ›

What causes lack of education?
  • Lack of schools. School is much more than a building where teaching takes place. ...
  • Not understanding the importance of education. ...
  • Lack of money. ...
  • Unfavorable geographical position. ...
  • Prejudice. ...
  • Inadequate conditions.
Sep 23, 2021


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