Early Childhood care and education: a continuing challenge in high population countriesDespite enormous demand, early childhood care and education remains a privilege for young children in most of the world’s nine high population countries known as the E-9 group (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan), according to a new report published by UNESCO.
The report, “Early Childhood Care and Education in E-9 Countries: Status and Outlook”, finds that an average of only 32 percent of pre-primary age children are enrolled in education structures at this level in these countries. It also finds that although there is clear awareness of the importance of the issue, this has not yet translated into concrete action. “Inequitable access and provision,” concludes the report, “are likely to continue posing challenges.”
According to the report, pre-primary education in the E-9 group is most developed in Mexico, where 76 percent of children over three years are enrolled, followed by Brazil (55 percent), China (39 percent), India (29 percent), Indonesia (19 percent), Nigeria (18 percent), Egypt (10 percent) and Pakistan (eight percent). Although accurate data are scarce, the report points out that in some of these countries, ECCE services are provided mostly by the private sector: in Indonesia, for example, almost 100 percent of pre-primary education is private.
The report acknowledges that several countries are concentrating their resources to achieve universal primary education, with little policy and investment attention spared for early childhood care and education. However, this is not the case for Egypt which is well on the way to achieving universal primary education, and “should be better placed to concentrate on pre-primary education and other ECCE services than countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, which still have pronounced problems with primary education.”
The report signals that the need and demand for ECCE services in the E-9 countries “are assumed to be enormous” and will continue to expand. Although they are difficult to measure, the report points to key indicators such as urban population growth, increases in the number of working mothers, demographic changes and the education profile of E-9 populations, which all tend to confirm this.
In all E-9 nations, urban populations are rising quickly. In 2000, 45 percent of the population in the E-9 group lived in urban areas. By 2015, this is expected to rise to 53 percent, ranging from 34.4 percent in Bangladesh to 87.7 percent in Brazil.
Across all nine countries an average of 49 percent of women were engaged in the formal workforce in 2000, ranging from 72.7 percent in China to 35.3 in Pakistan.
Women in the E-9 group are also having fewer children. Between 1970 and 1995, women had an average of 5.8 children each. By 2000 this had fallen to 3.5. This trend is expected to continue, slowing E-9 population growth rate from 2.1 in 2000, to 1.5 percent by 2015.
Children also have a better chance of survival in these countries today. In 1960, an average of 218 children out of every 1,000 born in the E-9 group died before their fifth birthday. In 2001, this had fallen to an average of 72. The under-5 mortality rate remains highest in Nigeria, where there are still 183 children in every 1,000 who die before the age of five.
The demographic trends, concludes the report, provide a real opportunity for E-9 governments, especially since there will be fewer children to cater for in the future. If they keep investment at a constant level, national authorities will have more resources available for improvements in the quality of ECCE.
Improving early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, is one of the six Education for All goals set by more than 160 countries at the World Education Forum (Dakar, Senegal, 2000). Although there is no numerical target to reach within a fixed time-frame, governments are urged to expand access, improve quality and ensure equity in ECCE services.