The family and home environment are critical to a young child’s survival and development. However, access to good-quality care and education programmes outside the home are also important in providing children with the basic cognitive and language skills they need to flourish in school. Such programmes can also help foster social competency and emotional development. In fact, it is widely recognized that early childhood care and education form the foundation of a high-quality basic education.
That said, too few children are attending preschool programmes. And those that are tend to be from the richest 20 per cent of the population. Investing in early childhood education can be a powerful way to reduce gaps that often put children with low social and economic status at a disadvantage. Studies show that the returns on such investments are highest among poorer children, for whom these programmes may serve as a stepping stone out of poverty or exclusion.
COVERAGE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAMMES
Despite the proven benefits of preschool programmes, access and attendance remain very low in many developing countries. Attendance in early learning programmes among children aged 3 and 4 is less than 50 per cent in the majority of countries and areas with available data.
Note: Data for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nepal and Senegal differ from the standard definition.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and other nationally representative surveys, 2005─2012.
DISPARITIES BASED ON WEALTH
The data show that, even in countries where a majority of children are attending an early childhood education programme, children from the poorest quintile are less likely to be able to access and utilize such programmes.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on MICS, 2005─2012.
 Heckman, James J., ‘Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children’, Science, vol. 312, no. 5782, 30 June 2006, pp. 1900─1902.
The main source of nationally representative and comparable data on attendance in early childhood care and education programmes is the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). Some Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and other national household surveys have also included questions on children’s attendance in preschool programmes.
Questions on attendance in organized early childhood care and education were first collected in the birth registration and early learning module during the second round of MICS (MICS2). For the third round of MICS (MICS3), conducted mainly in 2005 and 2006, information about preschool attendance was again collected in the birth registration and early learning module. Beginning with the fourth round of MICS (MICS4), questions on attendance in early childhood care and education were included in the consolidated early childhood development module included in the questionnaire for children under 5.
Mothers or primary caregivers are asked whether each child aged 36 to 59 months living in the household is currently attending any organized early learning or early childhood education programme, whether public or private, and for how many hours per week. In some cases, the question is customized to make specific reference to relevant country examples of early childhood education programmes.
Across all rounds of MICS that have collected data on attendance in early childhood education, the standard indicator definition refers to the percentage of children aged 36 to 59 months who are attending an early childhood education programme. This means that it is possible to explore trends over time for several countries that have completed multiple rounds of MICS.
MICS MODULE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
MICS surveys have a standardized modules on early childhood development.