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A child's most important steps happen before they set foot in a primary school. By their fifth birthday, their brain will already be 90% developed and the foundations for success at school and in later life will be in place.
Early childhood, from birth to age five, is the most critical developmental stage in a child’s life. To allow the brain to grow and the child to develop to their full potential, children need quality nurturing care - including play, health, protection, nutrition and early learning.
Without adequate nutrition, children risk their development being stunted, with lifelong consequences. Access to health care is also vital.
Early childhood interventions should support four key developmental domains - physical, cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional development. However, while progress is being made in some areas, children’s early learning is too often neglected, putting millions of children at a disadvantage before they even start school.
Having a pre-primary education can also have a significant impact on a child’s future prospects in education and in adult life. It’s particularly vital for the most marginalised young children in the poorest countries.
In Mozambique, for example, children in rural areas who enrolled in pre-school were 24% more likely to go on to attend primary school - and show improved understanding and behaviour - compared to children who had not.
Supporting early learning is the best investment a government can make - for the child and the country. Every $1 invested in early childhood care and education can lead to a return of as much as $17 for the most disadvantaged children.
It reduces inequality in the education systems and leads to better outcomes for all children. Pre-primary education is a key foundation to ensure the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) are met for all.
However, despite all the evidence that pre-primary education is vital, millions of children are continuing to miss out on the chance of a great start in life.
Access to pre-primary education continues to be a lottery, dependent upon where a child is born. 85% of children in low income countries do NOT have access to pre-primary education. Compare that with high-income countries, where 82% ARE in pre-primary schools.