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Fewer than half of the countries provide tuition-free pre-primary education

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Researchers from the Higher School of Economics and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center have found that 45% of countries, with only 15% of low-income countries, provide tuition-free pre-primary education. The results of the study will be published in the December 2018 issue of International Organisations Research Journal .

At the UN General Assembly in 2015, the sustainable development goals set on education included ensuring access to pre-primary education around the world. ‘Extensive research conducted worldwide has showed a critical link between pre-primary education completion rates and subsequent levels of educational attainment, employment and economic development,’ said lead researcher Dr. Natalia Milovantseva, an associate professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia. ‘And we know that in order to be accessible to all, educational programs must be tuition-free.’ The researchers began monitoring the global progress in achieving this goal by analyzing the data set on global inequality in the provision of universal pre-school education. The quantitatively comparable data were created by primarily reviewing national government reports to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as World Bank Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) country reports, a database of European Union (EU) country education policies, and other international sources. Overall, researchers analyzed 86% of UN member states (166 countries).

The research revealed that fewer than half of the countries studied (45%) provide at least one year of tuition-free pre-primary education, whether compulsory or not. Only 27% of all the countries studied (45 of 166) provide two or more years of free pre-primary education. Nineteen percent of countries provide tuition-free pre-primary education and also make it compulsory; among these, a minority (39%) provide it for two years or more. In contrast, among the 26% of countries that provide free but not compulsory pre-primary education, a majority (76%) provide it for two or more years.

The provision of pre-primary education varies substantially by region. In Europe and Central Asia 70% of countries provide at least one year of tuition-free pre-primary education. In the Americas, the percentage is slightly higher at 75%.  In comparison, a smaller fraction of countries in South Asia (17%), Sub-Saharan Africa (14%), Middle East and North Africa (25%) and East Asia and the Pacific (19%) offer at least one year of tuition-free pre-primary school.

The researchers also looked at disparities in provision of free pre-primary education across income levels. Provision of at least one year of free pre-primary education is much more common in high-income (62%) and upper-middle-income (63%) countries than in low-middle-income countries (27%) and low-income countries (15%).  

The study of the Higher School of Economics and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health illustrates the global accessibility gap between primary education and pre-primary preparation. As of 2014, 159 countries had made primary education free and compulsory. Yet fewer than half (44%) of the countries that provide free primary education also offer at least one year of free pre-primary education as of 2015.

December 20, 2018