Global Reports

Global Early Childhood Development Reports

CG Global Report Introduction

1. Equity in Early Childhood: The Cornerstone of a New Global Development Agenda

In 2015, the global community made a number of steps forward, with the ratification of a new development agenda focused on sustainability, and with a landmark agreement among all countries to address climate change. In many ways these agreements outline a new era for the global community, including both high- and low-income countries, with a central emphasis on addressing inequity between and within countries. However, alongside creation of these historic agreements, millions of children were still plagued by the issues that were intended to be addressed in the previous global accord – undernutrition, lack of access to quality schooling, and pervasive, persistent poverty. These problems are now increasingly intertwined with regional conflicts, the spread of terrorism, and the increasing pressures of climate change on environments, food supplies, and disease. The good news of the new agenda is that for the first time, young children are explicitly mentioned in the global goals. On the other hand, the global community faces a considerable challenge in successfully implementing the proposed agenda, especially for children whose development is at risk due to poverty, poor health, disabilities or emergency situations.

Against this backdrop, the CG selected “equity” as the theme for its global report. Early childhood is increasingly shown to be the time of life when children are set on trajectories towards good health and lifelong well-being, including success in school and beyond, or where inequities take hold and prove harder to dispel as time goes by. By focusing on equity, the CG and its contributing authors draw attention to the issues around equity as they are manifested in early childhood. Equity also requires a much deeper look at the mechanisms by which children’s environments affect their development. While gender and family income, for example, are important factors influencing equity, there are many other elements which also affect equity, including environmental exposures, health status, and access to quality schooling including instruction in the mother tongue. While the conditions that promote children’s healthy development may be universally relevant, how equity is defined and experienced by children and families is also uniquely expressed in different countries and regions. Addressing equity, then, requires a careful look at the conditions that affect young children’s lives in any one situation or environment, along with interventions that could help promote equity.

This report is released as the CG marks its 30th anniversary. As the CG looks back, a number of themes emerge.1 First, the global early childhood community has grown exponentially over the last thirty years, with new organizations and early childhood professionals emerging as leaders in every region. This tremendous growth reflects the increasing understanding of the importance of early childhood development, and is something to celebrate. Second, the early childhood community is united in their desire to focus on equity, with a large percentage stating that equity is important to their work and should be highlighted as part of the next early childhood agenda. Third, the CG’s work to promote national and regional networks is a key element of the strategy to promote equity, by ensuring that local voices are at the table to help policy makers and early childhood stakeholders understand equity in early childhood and generate workable plans to address it.

Taken together, the early childhood community faces an exciting new era, coupled with tremendous responsibility to work together to better address equity through effective policies for all children, including children with disabilities; support for early childhood professionals; design and implementation of innovative programs; and continued investments in the local and global infrastructure to support young children’s development.

Below please find an overview of what young children face today, followed by a brief review of the chapters and case studies included in the CG’s global report.

2. Situation Analyses of Young Children’s Well-Being

Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Education for All (EFA) targets were proclaimed in 2000, considerable progress has been made in regard to enhancing the wellbeing of young children (defined here as aged 0-8). While EFA goals were intended to apply to all countries, the MDGs were focused more on specific settings in which people faced the greatest hardships. As part of these two agendas, the rates of under-5 mortality and malnutrition, for example, have decreased significantly around the world, and participation and enrolment rates in early childhood development programmes, including in pre-primary education, have shown an equally significant increase. More generally, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. About 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. Over 2.3 billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water. And the proportion of undernourished people in developing regions decreased from 23.2 per cent in 1990–1992 to 14.9 per cent in 2010–2012 leaving, however, one in eight people in the world chronically undernourished. But despite such progress, many of the global 2015 targets of the MDGs and EFA will not be achieved. Globally, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 47 per cent over the last two decades, from 400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 210 in 2010 – but this progress will not meet the MDG target of reducing the ratio by three quarters. Nor will the target on sanitation be achieved. From 1990 to 2012, 2 billion people gained access to a latrine, flush toilet, or other improved sanitation facility (up to a percentage of 64%), but this rate of progress will not meet the MDG target. Although under-5 mortality rates have decreased significantly, more rapid progress is needed to meet the 2015 target of a two-thirds reduction in child deaths. And despite large increases in pre-primary and primary school enrolments in the last decade or two, many of the most disadvantaged children in the world will never receive a formal education, let alone one of good quality. In addition, an uncounted number of young children suffer from neglect and physical and psycho-emotional stress and abuse and grow up in contexts of extreme poverty, domestic and/or social violence, and the lack of consistent, comforting care. It is estimated, in fact, that 250 million children under the age of 5 live in countries affected by armed conflict, and the 56% of maternal and child deaths take place in “fragile” settings.

And global social, economic, political, and cultural trends – including the digital divide, environmental degradation, the depletion of raw materials and natural resources, increasing food insecurity, climate change, the increased incidence of natural and manmade disasters, rapid urbanization, continuing population increases in countries which can manage them least well, increasing social unrest and intra-community and intra-national conflicts, and an increase in disparities between those who have and those who have not – all leading to an ever larger number of more “fragile” contexts, will only make the situation of young children more challenging.

1. Reference the CG survey
2. This Section will later be enriched further with information arising from the Learning Metrics Task Force of the Brookings Institution et al focusing on school readiness, results from UNICEF’s MICS4 and MIC5 (fieldwork being completed mid-2014 with submission of data for the Secretary General’s report by March 2015), data from indicators being developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children from birth to 8 years, the increasing number of national Early Grade Reading Assessments being implemented around the world, EFA progress reports being written for regional preparatory meetings late in 2014 leading up to the global EFA conference in Korea in 2015, and policy information from the World Bank’s SABER ECD: Systems Approach to Better Education Results.

In considering in more detail the situation of the world’s young children, this report will analyze three age ranges: 0-3, 3-6, and 6-8.

1. Children aged 0-3

“The early years of life…are a highly sensitive period for brain development…The first three years are especially important as this is the period of the most rapid development of optimal learning and brain development…Under-nutrition, environmental toxins, stress…can all influence the brain’s structure.

2. Children aged 3-6

For children aged 3-6, although health and nutrition concerns persist (including the effects of stunting, the need for immunization against childhood diseases, and the early identification and mitigation of disabilities), the major focus of wellbeing shifts to the nature of their cognitive development and early education. In terms of the latter, both the supply of and demand for pre-primary education have increased in the last decade — in some regions dramatically. In 1999 the global gross enrolment ratio (GER) for pre-primary education (see Tables 1 and 2) was calculated by the EFA Global Monitoring report at 33% (compared to around 27.5% in 1990); the GER, virtually identical for girls and boys, ranged from 76% in North America and Western Europe and 54% in Latin America to 10.6% in Sub-Saharan Africa. A similar range could be found between developed countries (75%) and developing countries (27%) and across countries with low income (11%), lower middle income (22%), upper middle income (43%), and upper income (72%). By 2012 the global GER had increased by 64% to 54% (again identical for girls and boys). Especially remarkable were the improvements (albeit from a low base) in South and West Asia (a 150% increase from 22% to 55%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (a 95% increase from 10.6% to 19.5%) and for developing countries (81%) and middle income countries (87%).

Table 1

Table 1