One, two, three star! Pre-school attendance and numeracy skills development

The potential of quality early childhood care and education to transform childrens’ lives is now widely recognised in research, in policy and in service delivery. Most significantly at a global level, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 4.2 states that by 2030 countries should: ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’.

In 2005, when the Young Lives younger cohort were in pre-school, Ethiopia’s pre-school system was still emerging and dominated by private kindergartens for urban families.

Conversely, India already had a long-standing public pre-school system, but perceived quality weaknesses contributed to an increasing growth in a largely unregulated private pre-school sector.

Similarly, Peru also had a public pre-school system, but with the complexity of two distinct types of pre-school of different quality (CEI and PRONOEI). It also had a significant private preschool sector for better-off families, often seen as an entry point into better quality private schools.

Finally, Vietnam had a well-established public pre-school education system, integrated within the school system, and generally accessible, except to the most disadvantaged and marginalized minority groups.

According to Young Lives data, in 2006 pre-school attendance was almost universal for our sample in Vietnam (91 percent), Peru (89 percent) and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India (87 percent) but very limited in Ethiopia (25 percent), and most of those children attended private pre-schools. In all countries, pre-school attendance was more common in urban areas and among wealthier households. A forthcoming report by my colleagues and I commissioned by the World Bank, documents the relationship between pre-school attendance and numeracy skills development over time, as measured at the age of 5, 8 and 12. While causal relationship cannot convincingly be established within the confines of the report, we provide suggestive evidence on the positive role of preschool for skills development, particularly in Vietnam and in Ethiopia, respectively the country with the highest and the lowest pre-school enrolment.