Majority of countries do not ensure the right to pre-primary education, according to new UNESCO study

A new UNESCO study on the right to pre-primary education shows that the legal provisions for free and compulsory pre-primary education are lacking in 2/3 of the world’s countries.

Of the 193 countries examined in this study, 63 countries have adopted legal provisions for free pre-primary education and 51 countries have adopted pre-primary education as a compulsory level in national legal frameworks.

“We are concerned about the status of pre-primary education from a legal rights perspective and the fact that too few countries have established pre-primary education as a right,” says Borhene Chakroun, Director of Policy and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO.

Despite the low take-up of legal frameworks, the study shows that enrolment in pre-primary education has been increasing since 1999 worldwide, with an acceleration since 2010. Yet, 1 out of 2 children still does not receive pre-primary education today.

Early childhood care and education is increasingly recognized as an essential element in realizing a wide range of educational, social and economic rights. It enables all children, including the most vulnerable, to start school on an equal footing with their peers and improve overall educational achievement and enhance social equity.

The paper has found that countries with free or compulsory pre-primary education have higher rates of early childhood well-being.

The country cases in this study show that the adoption of free and compulsory education could affect the quality of education in some countries due to the level of teacher preparedness, and adequate training could be weakened with the sudden expansion of pre-primary education. Addressing the expanding capacity of teacher training institutes and the recruitment of trained pre-primary teaching personnel is therefore essential.

By emphasizing a rights-based perspective to the implementation of pre-primary education, the study aims to complement existing literature on Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.2, which focuses mainly on policy outcomes.

Based on the findings, the study proposes a set of levers for policymakers to promote the inclusion of early childhood and pre-primary education as a human right within long-term education and development objectives.

Read also the advocacy brief accompanying the study and presenting the main findings

UNESCO is convening an Innovative Dialogue on Early childhood care and education (ECCE) on 28 January 2021 to engage global leaders, policy-makers and ECCE stakeholders in a global partnership strategy. The COVID-19 response has relatively neglected young children, resulting in them becoming the greatest victims of the pandemic due to a lifelong impact on their education and well-being.


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