23 January 2022

On Monday 24th January, the world will celebrate the International Day of Education, a day proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 2018 in recognition of the vital role that education plays in building sustainable and resilient societies; promoting the skills needed for sustainable development; eradicating poverty and hunger; improving health; reducing inequality; and promoting peace and respect for human rights. 

Education is foundational to social change. It is intrinsic to equality. And it is a fundamental human right. Decades of research, advocacy and practice demonstrate that inclusive, quality, free public education develops individual potential and strengthens communities, acting as a powerful catalyst for equality. 

Yet as the world celebrates the fourth International Day of Education, yawning chasms in access to and enjoyment of education can be seen. Some 258 million children and youth do not attend school. The scars of school absence can be seen in rates of illiteracy; 617 children and adolescents cannot read or do basic maths, and 758 million adults are illiterate. 

How can these vast inequalities be tackled? There is no silver bullet,  but a strong case for going back to beginnings can be made. There is growing convergence across multiple disciplines of the significance of the early years on later social, cognitive and physical development. Put simply, the early childhood care and education (ECCE) we receive is foundational to how we are enabled to develop, our long term wellbeing, and our health. Not only this, but quality ECCE sets a strong foundation for learning and makes education systems efficient, by increasing participation and achievement in school and lowering school repetition and drop out rates. ECCE can reduce gender inequalities and offer broad societal benefits like enhanced social cohesion, lower rates of future violence and crime, higher individual income and stronger national development. Finally, it acts as a powerful equalizer, holding the potential to expand opportunities for disadvantaged children

Despite this phenomenal potential, there are vast inequalities in access to ECCE. One out of two children - that is, half of all children in the world - do not receive any pre-primary education. Others receive it at a cost, with just 25% of states holding legal provision for free and compulsory pre-primary education.

At Right to Education Initiative, we believe that early childhood care and education is a gateway to improved education for individuals, to better systems, and to stronger communities. We believe that access to at least one year of free, quality pre-primary education should be a right established in international law. 

As we approach Education Day, we’re highlighting news, resources and developments relating to ECCE, making the case for an increased focus on the early years as a means of strengthening education systems and improving the right to education for all:

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