Few countries offer free early childhood education, study finds
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Few countries offer free early childhood education, study finds

by Freya Lucas

December 12, 2018

A new study by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) suggests that few governments make pre-primary education available on a tuition-free basis for two or more years, in spite of research showing that early childhood education (ECE) especially benefits children from low-income families.


The WORLD study researchers surveyed information about ECE approaches from 166 nations, using data from 2015 onwards, and explored whether making pre-primary education free is associated with higher enrollment rates. They analysed data from the 124 countries for which pre enrolment data was available.


Nations offering one year of tuition-free ECE had enrolments which were on average 16 per cent higher than those in countries where tuition fees were charged. Almost two thirds of high-income countries make tuition-free ECE available for at least one year, as compared with 45 per cent of middle-income countries and just 15 per cent of low-income countries.


Researchers also found that availability varied by region. In the Americas, for example, 75 per cent of countries had some tuiton-free ECE available, while 70 per cent of European and Central Asian countries had tuition-free options. In contrast, 25 per cent of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, 19 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, 17 per cent in South Asia, and 14 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa offer it.


The study, led by Natalia Milovantseva of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, is expected to be used by policymakers to assess how much progress is being made in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, and can be viewed here. It will be published in the December 2018 issue of International Organisations Research Journal.

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