Early childhood education

Quality early learning and preschool education are essential for children’s development. These services support them to be ready for success in primary school and beyond.

Children enjoying books at a preschool in Laos. Early childhood education is essential for development.

Children who have attended preschool education are more likely to enter school on time, are less likely to drop out or repeat grades, and are more likely to complete primary and secondary school

Although rates are increasing, around 50% of all preschool-age children are not enrolled in preschool education globally. In low-income countries, this figure rises to 80% and these numbers are expected to have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does early childhood education affect gender inequality? 

While global data does not show significant differences between girls and boys in terms of enrolment in pre-primary education, figures are thought to conceal local gender differences.

For instance, in some countries, girls from rural areas or poor families will have less access to early learning than their brothers. Girls can also be kept out of preschool to help with domestic chores or to look after younger children. 

Our own research has shown that even in communities where enrolment and attendance rates for girls and boys were roughly equivalent, their opportunities to learn were different. Girls had fewer opportunities to use outdoor play space and equipment which is important for learning motor skills. When teachers focused on areas in which they believed children were naturally more able, boys were provided with less opportunities to learn literacy skills and girls to learn numeracy skills. In addition, books and posters largely reinforced existing gender stereotypes.

Plan International works alongside educational authorities and school committees to encourage parents to send both boys and girls to preschool. We also work with educational authorities to ensure preschool curricula and teaching materials challenge rather than reinforce gender stereotypes.

In addition, we train educators on gender and encourage them to provide equal opportunities to girls and boys to play, learn and develop. Promoting a greater role for fathers in their children’s learning and encouraging men to become preschool teachers is another way we are promoting gender equality through our early learning work.

Early learning promotes gender equality in China

Preschool teachers in Shaanxi province are promoting gender equality through their work following training and guidance from Plan International.

What is Plan International’s approach to preschool education?

Currently, Plan International provides early learning programmes in over 25 countries. We ensure our work in this area is aligned with national standards and international best practice.

We emphasise the importance of learning through play for young children alongside structured learning. We also train, mentor and support educators so they can implement a daily routine that is fun, age-appropriate and stimulates all areas of development.

Our programmes tap into local culture and support children to learn in the language they speak at home. We also prioritise children’s protection and ensure they play and learn in spaces that are clean and safe.

We support children who are hard to reach or on the move with mobile and short course learning options such as summer schools.

During emergencies, our work on early learning focuses on social and emotional learning, psychosocial support and learning through play.