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Pre-primary education is critical for establishing a solid foundation for a child‘s social, emotional and overall well-being. The early years of a child‘s life build the basis for lifelong growth, and children who fall behind in these early years often never catch up with their peers, leaving them more likely to drop out of school and fail to reach their full potential. Though there are varying standards, pre-primary educational programmes are typically designed for children 3 to 5 years of age.

Access to pre-primary education has increased globally, but many children still haven’t been reached
Globally, the gross pre-primary enrolment rate increased by 27 percentage points in the last 19 years, from 34 per cent in 2000 to 61 per cent in 2019. Despite this progress, as of 2019, there were at least 175 million children aged 3 to 6 years old who were not enrolled in school, according to a UNICEF global report on early childhood education. Looking at children aged one year younger than the official starting age for primary school in their country, one in four children around the world were still out of school. Over the past decade, the number of out-of-school children in this age group decreased from 44 million in 2010 to 35 million in 2019. However, most of this improvement occurred in the 5 years between 2010 and 2014, when the number fell from 44 million to 37 million – between 2015 and 2019, it only decreased by 2 million. Reasons for this slowed pace of improvement likely include rapid population growth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an increase in emergencies and humanitarian crises. These data predate the COVID-19 disruption, and without immediate action, the additional challenges posed by the pandemic can further negatively impact pre-primary attendance.

Evidence suggests that pre-primary education attendance varies dramatically across regions and socioeconomic backgrounds
Unlike enrollment, which refers to children listed in school registries, attendance means a child actually attended school at a particular point in time. SDG4.2.2 tracks attendance among children aged one year younger than the official age for starting primary school in their country, and globally, only 75 percent of these children attend school. However, among these children, a much lower proportion from poorer families and rural areas attend school. Across countries, while almost 90 per cent of pre-primary age children from the richest wealth quintile attend school, only 60 per cent of the children from the poorest wealth quintile do so. A similar pattern is observed based on the area in which a child lives, with pre-primary attendance rates for children in urban areas exceeding those of their rural peers by 14 percentage points.

Gaps in attendance by place of residence also vary across regions. In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as East Asia and the Pacific, the gap favors urban areas by only 3 percentage points. In contrast, in the regions of Eastern and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa, the gap favors urban children by more than 20 percentage points.

Data further show that the divide in attendance by wealth quintile is particularly prominent in Africa. Specifically, children from the poorest quintile in the West and Central Africa region attend school at just a third of the rate of their peers from the richest quintile.

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