South Asia has recorded the highest increase in pre-primary enrolment worldwide according to a joint UNICEF-UNESCO report.
New Delhi, August 2012 - The number of children enrolled in nursery and kindergarten in South Asia has nearly doubled over the last decade with 47% children enrolling in pre-primary programmes in 2009 as against only 25% in 2000, according to a report jointly released by UNICEF and UNESCO on Tuesday.
The report titled ' Asia-Pacific End of Decade Notes on Education for All - Goal 1: Early Childhood Care and Education '(ECCE) shows that South Asia posted the highest growth in enrolment globally. "This shows how much early childhood care and education has gained ground in the region," said Lieke van de Wiel, UNICEF South Asia's regional adviser for education.
In East Asia and the Pacific, the gross enrolment rate has also increased, rising in most countries from 39% to 52% over the same period. "Governments in South Asia and partners in education should be congratulated for this significant achievement of providing young children aged three to six years a chance to enrol in pre-primary programmes thus fulfilling their right to an education," said Van de Wiel speaking at the launch of the report as part of the South Asia regional conference on ECCE - Towards Evidence Based Policies and Practices Before and Beyond 2015.
"Despite this positive development, we should not be complacent. Countries in the region still need to do much, much more to provide pre-primary education to children in South Asia," she added.
The report examines progress and challenges to early childhood programmes in Asia and the Pacific and includes recommendations on what needs to be done to support young children, their families and communities, in all the areas where the child is growing - physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually by 2015.
"The first eight years of a child's life is a critical period when incredible growth and development occur. It is therefore imperative that we provide holistic and high quality ECCE programmes," said Alisher Umarov, chief of education, UNESCO New Delhi cluster office for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, on behalf of UNESCO Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok.
ECCE programmes cover a wide-range of services such as parenting programmes, community-based childcare, and formal pre-primary education often in schools.
Exposure to quality ECCE is crucial as this takes place at a time of tremendous brain development that lays the foundation for latter learning. The report notes the growing evidence that children who have participated in high quality ECCE programmes exhibit considerable gains in social, educational, health and intellectual spheres than those who have not participated.
However, despite these benefits, public funding for ECCE remains negligible. Although ECCE policies are in place, there are significant gaps in implementing the policies.
"What is needed in Asia and the Pacific is that ECCE policies should focus more on the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups," said Umarov of UNESCO. There is growing evidence that marginalized children benefit the most from ECCE. Expanding quality ECCE, particularly to the most marginalized, therefore could help promote equity and inclusion in education and society in general.
The report is part of a series of six reports that reviews the progress of the Asia-Pacific region towards the Education for All (EFA) goals. End of Decade Notes covering the other EFA goals will also be released in the coming weeks.
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