Aid to pre-primary education cut at the peak of Covid-19


  • New analysis shows a cut in aid spent on pre-primary education by almost 10% at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021
  • First decline in pre-primary spending since 2017 prompts allegations that world leaders are failing the world’s poorest and youngest children
  • G20 failing to meet 2018 pledge to prioritise early years investment

Aid spent on pre-primary education fell for the first time for three years during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report published today.

New analysis by Cambridge University academics for the global children’s charity Theirworld shows that between 2020 and 2021 international donors cut their spending on pre-primary education by almost 10%, the first decline since 2017.

The findings have prompted allegations from education campaigners that world leaders are ignoring the education of the world’s poorest and youngest children and reneging on a promise they made five years ago to invest in the early years.

Numerous studies have shown that pre-primary education is crucial to a child’s development and that children who miss out on early years learning fall behind others even before they start primary school.

The report finds that at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis aid spent on pre-primary education fell by 9.4%, from $209 million in 2020 to $189 million in 2021.

World leaders have committed to spending 10% of their education budgets on early childhood education and learning – a target which Theirworld and partners have been campaigning for since 2017.

But despite its long-term benefits, aid spending on pre-primary education remains consistently low, with donors spending 27 times more on post-secondary education in 2021 – the majority of which never leaves donor countries.

Spending on pre-primary education accounted for just 1.1% of the international community’s aid to education in 2021, down from 1.2% in 2020.

Of the top 35 donors to education generally in 2021, eight donors including the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania and Saudi Arabia did not spend a single cent from their aid budgets on pre-primary education.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany and Norway were among eight countries that committed less than 0.5% of their education aid budget to pre-primary education. The UK devoted just 0.3%, down from 0.8% in 2020.

Of all the donor countries, Italy committed the largest share of its education aid budget to pre-primary education at 18.8%, up significantly from 1.9% in 2020. This was largely due to a major commitment to pre-primary education in Jordan.

Only UNICEF consistently meets Theirworld’s recommended target of investing at least 10% of education aid budgets in pre-primary education. However, last November more than 140 countries at least committed to meeting this target at a UNESCO conference on early childhood education in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Of the 120 countries receiving aid for pre-primary education, 114 received less than $5 per child in 2021, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Syria, which received less than 10 cents per child, the new research shows. Eritrea and Sudan received nothing.

The latest analysis comes only weeks after Theirworld launched its Act For Early Years campaign calling on governments around the world to prioritise spending on early childhood development.

It wants the G20 countries to revive a pledge they made five years ago – but haven’t yet fulfilled – to invest in early childhood development.

Sarah Brown, Chair of Theirworld: said: “These new figures raise the alarm that the international community is missing its own targets, and moreover that investments in preschool and learning are being cut.

“The G20 made a promise five years ago to transform the investment in early childhood development. They urgently need to review and revitalise its commitments, as does the whole international community, if we have any hope of meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target of quality early childhood development, care and education for every child by 2030. For every child the early years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s our duty to ensure they are not wasted.”

Professor Pauline Rose, director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, and one of the report’s authors, said: “It is shocking to see the further neglect of donor spending on pre-primary education during Covid-19, pushing the world’s poorest children further to the margins.

“While donors protected the already significantly larger spending on higher education scholarships for students to study in donor countries at this time, pre-primary education spending was cut from an already extremely low level. It’s time that international donors prioritise spending on pre-primary education to give young children the chance of a better future.”

The report – A Diminished Priority: An Updated Scorecard on Donor Funding to Pre-primary Education during Covid-19 – analyses data submitted by international donors to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee Creditor System.

Notes to Editors
For more information, please contact Nicole Martin, 07768 695 087

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About Theirworld

Theirworld is a global children’s charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation. Its mission is to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and the skills they need for the future.

The Act For Early Years report is here:

About the REAL Centre
The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre is part of the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. The Centre pioneers research into overcoming barriers to education, such as poverty, gender, ethnicity, language and disability, and promotes education as an engine for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

The Centre applies rigorous research methods, drawing together the faculty’s strengths in development conceptualising, measuring and analysing education inequalities, and in identifying the pathways through which excellence and equality in education transforms societies. It works in partnership with organisations and individuals in priority countries, jointly defining, planning, implementing and analysing the research in ways that contribute to joint publications. And it ensures impact by linking evidence with policy at a national and global level.