Making the Case for Pre-Primary Education
In the 2018 Education Policy, pre-primary education is recognized as a crucial part of basic education. USAID is committed to increasing access to high-quality pre-primary education, especially for vulnerable and marginalized populations, with a focus on improving learning outcomes. But what is pre-primary education? And what are the benefits of prioritizing such programming?
What is Pre-Primary Education?
Pre-primary education is one component of the larger field of early childhood development (ECD). ECD refers to the period of time between conception and approximately 8 years of age when children develop across social, emotional, cognitive, and physical domains.
Pre-primary education is one type of early learning, generally reaching children between 3 and 6 years of age. Pre-primary education includes any group-based, organized instruction and can be school- or community-based. While programs may look different across contexts, considering schedules, learning models, settings, or other features, all pre-primary programming focuses on early learning. Content covered often includes emergent literacy and numeracy, social and emotional, and physical skills.
Benefits of High-Quality Pre-Primary Education
Pre-primary programs offer numerous benefits to students and communities alike, especially in low-income contexts. In addition to developing early academic skills and preparing children for entry into primary school, pre-primary programs often can integrate elements of nutrition, health, and safety programming by coordinating with other sectors.
High-quality pre-primary education can help prepare children to succeed in primary and secondary by developing foundational skills across the domains of literacy and numeracy, social and emotional, physical skills, and approaches to learning that will be needed throughout their educational careers. Access to such quality programming has been demonstrated to increase school completion rates, lower dropout rates, and improve students’ learning outcomes. At a systematic level, the efficacy of education systems benefit from reduced dropout rates and fewer instances of grade repetition.
The Necessity of Pre-Primary Education in a COVID-19 World
The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious consequences for the education sector, and particularly within early childhood education. Before the pandemic, at least 175 million young children (nearly 50 percent of the world’s pre-primary-aged children) did not have access to such programming. In low-income countries, the percentage of pre-primary-aged students without access reached as high as 80 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic and the school closures have amplified the risk that children face, particularly those in low-income and crisis-affected countries. Without access to quality education, they are at risk of missing out on both learning and future income.
Pre-Primary Education in Action
Around the world, both prior to the pandemic and since, education systems and organizations are responding to the need for pre-primary education with diverse, contextually and developmentally appropriate programming. The examples highlighted below are from the broader pre-primary sector, not from USAID programs.
Little Ripples, by iAct, is a refugee-led ECD program active in Chad, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Greece. Focusing on empowering refugees and communities affected by humanitarian crises, Little Ripples provides child-centered pre-primary education to support children’s social and emotional, cognitive, and physical development. In addition to supporting young students, the program prioritizes building long-term capacity among refugee populations, allowing educators to understand and reflect their students' unique needs and experiences. Little Ripples offers a participatory teacher training program, curriculum and program activities adapted to the culture and context, and a meal program. Its curricula and pedagogy are grounded in play-based learning, trauma-informed approaches, and restorative practices.
In Mongolia, access to pre-primary education has been severely limited by lack of capacity. Families enter lotteries, hoping to win one of the few spaces in formal kindergartens for their children. UNICEF has been supporting early childhood programming outside of formal classroom settings to reach the Mongolian government's goal of enrolling every 2 to 5 year old in early childhood education. Offered in traditional Mongolian gers, children are provided with more space for play-based learning and opportunities to foster self-reliance, confidence, and early academic skills. This has proven to be a cost-effective way to serve the community’s most disadvantaged children, boosting their development and providing smooth entry into the formal education sector.
A Call to Action
As education systems plan for the next era of learning, adapting to the new context set by the COVID-19 pandemic and utilizing the innovations and creative solutions that have arisen in the past year, it is critical that pre-primary education is not overlooked. Check out USAID’s guidance: How to Develop High-Quality Pre-Primary Programs to learn more about planning, designing, and implementing high-quality pre-primary programming.