Indicator B2. How do early childhood education systems differ around the world?

There is a growing consensus among OECD countries about the importance of high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC). However, the type of ECEC services available to children and parents in OECD countries differ greatly. There are variations in the targeted age groups, governance of centres, funding of services, type of delivery (full-day versus part-day attendance) and the location of provision, whether in centres or schools, or at home (OECD, 2017[1]).

The organisation of national ECEC systems is diverse across countries, primarily regarding the highest administrative authorities in charge and whether the system is split or integrated at the national level. More than 70% of the OECD countries with available data have integrated early childhood education and care services, where one or more authorities are responsible for administering the whole ECEC system and setting adequate intentional education for children from the ages of 0 or 1 until they start primary education (see Box B2.1 in (OECD, 2019[6])).

Generally, formal ECEC services can be further classified into two categories:

The ECEC services reported in the ISCED 2011 classification (OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2015[7]). To be classified as ISCED level 0, ECEC services should:

  • have adequate intentional educational properties

  • be institutionalised (usually school-based or otherwise institutionalised for a group of children)

  • have an intensity of at least 2 hours per day of educational activities and a duration of at least 100 days a year

  • have a regulatory framework recognised by the relevant national authorities (e.g. a curriculum)

  • have trained or accredited staff (e.g. educators are required to have pedagogical qualifications).

The other registered ECEC services that are considered an integral part of countries’ ECEC provision but do not comply with all the ISCED 0 criteria to be considered an educational programme (e.g. crèches in France or amas in Portugal). Many countries do have such programmes but not all are able to report the number of children enrolled in them. For this reason, the data are explicitly presented separately in Tables B2.1 and B2.2. This distinction is also made in the analysis below where averages can only be presented for ECEC services reported in the ISCED 2011 classification.

Informal care services (generally unregulated care arranged by the child’s parent either in the child’s home or elsewhere, provided by relatives, friends, neighbours, babysitters or nannies) are not covered by this indicator (see the Definitions section for more details).

Participation in high-quality ECEC in the first years of children lives can have a positive effect on their well-being, learning and development in the short and the long terms (OECD, 2018[8]) (OECD, 2018[2]). The length of parental leave and the age when ECEC services start becoming available influence the age at which children start these services. For instance, only 7 of the 22 countries with available data have enrolment rates of over 10% for children below the age of 1, namely Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Israel, Korea, Portugal and Spain. In contrast, once children reach the age of 1, 34% will be enrolled in ECEC (ISCED 0) on average, with enrolment rates of at least 50% at this age in Israel, Korea, Norway and Slovenia. Iceland also belongs to this group of countries (where enrolment rates exceed 50%) when the number of children in ECEC services outside ISCED 0 are taken into account. In Japan, one-third of 1-year-olds are enrolled in ECEC services outside the scope of ISCED 0. By the age of 2, enrolment in ECEC services has become the norm in many OECD countries. On average across OECD countries in 2018, 46% of 2-year-olds were enrolled in ECEC (ISCED 0). This proportion is 80% or more in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Korea, Norway and Sweden but less than 10% in Costa Rica, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey. This latter group of countries do have children in ECEC services outside ISCED 0: in particular, in Japan half of children are enrolled in ECEC services outside ISCED 0 (Figure B2.1).

Despite significant differences across countries, a common pattern is emerging. The share of children under the age of 3 enrolled in ECEC is rising in most countries with available data for the years 2005 and 2018. The rise has been particularly marked in many European countries (i.e. by 15 percentage points or more in Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), as a result of further stimulus from the objectives set by the European Union (EU) at its Barcelona 2002 meeting, to supply subsidised full-day places for one-third of children under the age of 3 by 2010 (OECD, 2017[1]). Globally, the rise in ECEC provision over recent decades is strongly correlated to the increase in women’s participation in the labour force, particularly for mothers with children under 3. Countries with higher enrolment rates of children under 3 in 2018 tend to be those in which the employment rates of mothers are highest (see Table B2.1 in (OECD, 2018[2])).

In many OECD countries, ECEC begins for most children long before they turn 5 years old and there are universal legal entitlements to a place in ECEC services for at least one or two years before the start of compulsory schooling (Box B2.1). On average, 88% of 3-5 year-olds are enrolled in ECEC (ISCED 0) and primary education – usually in pre-primary education (ISCED 02) at that age. In about half of the 41 countries with available data, the enrolment of children between the ages of 3 and 5 is near universal, i.e. at least 90% (Table B2.2).

The highest enrolment rates of 3-year-olds in ECEC (ISCED 0) are found in Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, where they exceed 95%. Almost nine out of ten 4-year-olds (88%) are enrolled in pre-primary and primary education across OECD countries. In the EU23 countries (countries that are members of both the EU and the OECD), 91% of 4-year-olds are enrolled. OECD enrolment rates at this age vary from 98% or more in Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Spain and the United Kingdom, to less than 50% in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Turkey (Table B2.2).

This situation is the result of the expansion of ECEC services over recent years in many countries. Between 2005 and 2018, the average enrolment of 3-5 year-olds in pre-primary or primary education in OECD countries rose by more than 10 percentage points. A few countries have seen spectacular increases in ECEC over this period, for example Lithuania, Poland, the Russian Federation and Turkey. In contrast, other countries have not shown much change. For instance, Switzerland reported one of the lowest enrolment rates in 2005 and this is still the case in 2018 (Figure B2.2). This is due to the fact that there are almost no compulsory education programmes for 3-year-olds in Switzerland and the offer corresponding to ISCED level 02 is intended for children aged 4 and over.

Over this period, the increased focus on ECEC policy has resulted in the extension of compulsory education to younger children, increased provision of free ECEC for some ages and targeted population groups, universal provision for older children and, in some countries, the creation of integrated ECEC programmes from the age of 1 until entry into primary education. For instance, compulsory education coincided with the start of primary school in most countries a decade ago. In contrast, compulsory education started at pre-primary level in around one-third of countries with available data in 2018 and at the age of 3 in France (from September 2019), Hungary, Israel and Mexico (Table B2.2 and Box B2.2).

Parents’ needs and expectations regarding accessibility, cost, programme, staff quality and accountability are all important in assessing the expansion of ECEC programmes and the type of providers. When parents’ needs for quality, accessibility or affordability are not met by public institutions, some parents may be more inclined to send their children to private pre-primary institutions (Shin, Jung and Park, 2009[9]).

In most countries, the share of children enrolled in private institutions is considerably larger in early childhood education than at primary and secondary levels. Private institutions can be classified into two categories: independent and government-dependent. Independent private institutions are controlled by a non-governmental organisation or by a governing board not selected by a government agency and receive less than 50% of their core funding from government agencies. Government-dependent private institutions have similar governance structures but they rely on government agencies for more than 50% of their core funding (OECD, 2018[10]).On average across OECD countries, about half of the children in early childhood educational development services (ISCED 01) are enrolled in private institutions. This average, however, hides huge discrepancies across countries. In Chile, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Slovenia and Sweden, 20% or less of the children in early childhood educational development programmes attend private ECEC institutions, while in Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Korea, New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey and the United Kingdom, more than three-quarters of all children attend private institutions (Table B2.3).

Public institutions are usually less common for children under the age of 3 than for older ones. About two-thirds of children enrolled in pre-primary education (ISCED 02) attend public institutions across OECD countries, and almost three-quarters of children across EU23 countries, reflecting the development of policies promoting the public provision of ECEC among most European countries. In a few countries, however, pre-primary remains mostly private: in Australia, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, at least 75% of children attending pre-primary programmes are in private institutions (Table B2.3).

Prospective teachers should be provided with high-quality initial training. The type of qualification, duration of training and the programme content provided can influence how well initial teacher education prepares teachers for their role. Evidence from the literature shows that the level and duration of initial staff training are positively associated with overall ECEC quality (Manning et al., 2017[11]). Highly qualified staff result in a more stimulating environment and high-quality pedagogical practices, which boost children’s well-being and learning outcomes (Box B2.2).

The most prevalent level of qualification for almost all ECEC teaching staff is a tertiary qualification. In 18 out of the 25 countries with available data, an individual can teach in ECEC (ISCED 0) with at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent (ISCED level 6). However, there are some exceptions. In the Slovak Republic, pre-primary teachers can start teaching with an upper secondary diploma, but an increasing number of teachers now have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In Germany, they can begin teaching after graduating from a tertiary professional programme (e.g. Erzieherausbildung, at ISCED level 6); in Austria and Israel, they typically graduate from a two-year short-cycle tertiary programme (ISCED 5). At the other end of spectrum, in France (since the academic year 2010/11) and Portugal pre-primary school teachers are required to have a master’s degree or equivalent (ISCED 7). In Poland, the master’s or equivalent degree is not a prerequisite, but most ECEC teachers enter the profession with this level (Table B2.3).

However, no matter how high the quality of pre-service training, it cannot be expected to prepare teachers for all the challenges they will face throughout their careers. Given the changes in student demographics, the length of most teachers’ careers, and the need to update knowledge and competencies, initial teacher education must be viewed as only the starting point for teachers’ ongoing development. Recent research also shows that in pre-primary education, the effects of specialised in-service training on process quality are greater than those of pre-service training, particularly when it comes to collaborative work, support for play and support for early literacy, mathematics and science (Assel et al., 2006[12]; de Haan et al., 2013[13]).

Research demonstrates that enriched, stimulating environments and high-quality pedagogy are fostered by better-qualified practitioners, and that better-quality staff-child interactions facilitate better learning outcomes. In that context, lower child-staff ratios are found to be consistently supportive of staff-child relationships across different types of ECEC settings. Smaller ratios are often seen as beneficial, because they allow staff to focus more on the needs of individual children and reduce the amount of class time needed to deal with disruptions (OECD, 2020[14]).

The ratio of children to teaching staff is an important indicator of the resources devoted to education. Child-staff ratios and group sizes are part of the regulations used to improve ECEC quality. On average across OECD countries, there are 14 children for every teacher working in pre-primary education but wide variations are observed across countries. The ratio of children to teaching staff, excluding teachers’ aides, ranges from fewer than 10 children per teacher in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand and Slovenia, to 20 or more in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Israel and Mexico. In some countries, this ratio has decreased significantly over the last years. Over the last years, t fell by 3-4 students per teacher in Chile (2013-18), in Germany (2005-13), in Korea (2010-2018) and Latvia (2010-18). In Saudi Arabia, the child-teaching staff ratio increased by 5 children between 2013 and 2018 but the ratio in 2018 remains comparable to the OECD average (Figure B2.3).

Some countries – Austria, Chile, France, Israel, Lithuania and Norway – also make extensive use of teachers' aides, which can be seen from the smaller ratios of children to contact staff compared to children to teaching staff. Teachers' aides assist teachers in their daily tasks and deal with children with special needs. In most countries, they have an upper secondary qualification, often vocationally oriented (Figure B2.3).

Child-to-staff ratios matter more for interactions with children under the age of 3 than for 3-5 year-olds (OECD, 2018[8]). On average across OECD countries, there are 7 children for every teacher working in early childhood educational development services (ISCED 01) and this ratio reaches more than 20 to 1 in Indonesia. As with pre-primary education, the ratio decreases when teachers’ aides are taken into account. In most countries, the ratios of children to contact staff (teachers and teachers’ aides) are smaller in early childhood development programmes than in pre-primary education (Table B2.3).

Sustained public financial support is critical for the growth and quality of ECEC programmes. Appropriate funding helps to recruit trained staff who are qualified to support children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. Investment in early childhood facilities and materials also helps support the development of child-centred environments for well-being and learning. In countries that do not channel sufficient public funding towards achieving both broad access and high-quality programmes, some parents may be more inclined to send their children to private ECEC services. Moreover, if the cost of ECEC is not sufficiently subsidised, the ability of parents to pay will greatly influence the participation in ECEC among children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds (OECD, 2017[1]).

In pre-primary education, annual expenditure for both public and private settings averages about USD 9 000 per child in OECD countries in 2017, ranging from less than USD 1 600 in Colombia to more than USD 15 000 in Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg and Norway. Annual expenditure per child enrolled in early childhood educational development services (ISCED 01) is significantly higher than for pre-primary education (ISCED 02), averaging about USD 12 800 for ISCED 01. The smaller child-to-staff ratio in early childhood development services is one of the main drivers of this difference (Tables B2.3 and B2.4). The average number of hours children spend in ECEC settings per year also influences different countries’ spending (see Box B2.2 in (OECD, 2018[15])).

Spending on ECEC can also be analysed relative to a nation’s wealth. Expenditure on all ECEC settings accounts in 2017 for an average of 0.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) across OECD countries, of which more than two-thirds is allocated to pre-primary education. While 0.3% or less of GDP is spent on pre-primary education (ISCED 02) in Australia, Colombia, Greece, Japan and Turkey, countries such as Denmark, Iceland, Israel, Norway and Sweden spend at least 1% of GDP (Table B2.4).

The differences on expenditure are largely explained by enrolment rates, legal entitlements and the intensity of participation, as well as the different starting ages for primary education. On the latter point, the shorter duration of pre-primary education, as a result of children’s earlier transition from pre-primary to primary education in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom, partly explains why the expenditure on ECEC as a percentage of GDP is below the OECD average in these three countries. Similarly, late entry into primary education, as in Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, means a longer duration of ECEC than in other countries and may explain why they spend more as a percentage of GDP than the OECD average (see the information on starting ages for primary education in Table B2.2).

To avoid this distortion, the indicator on the financing of ECEC has been presented by age as well as by ISCED level since the 2019 edition of Education at a Glance. This methodology avoids the distortion arising from the differences in age groups attending ECEC, and compares expenditure on children of the same ages, giving a more accurate picture of countries’ investment in young children. As this indicator is presenting estimates then the data should be interpreted with caution. Across OECD countries, the share of national resources devoted to 3-5 year-olds enrolled in ECEC and primary education is 0.6% of GDP. It ranges from 0.3% of GDP in Greece, to 1% or more in Iceland and Norway. While the share remained constant on average among OECD countries with available data, there are marked differences in trends across countries. About half of countries experienced a decrease between 2013 and 2017, while in contrast Chile displayed the most notable increase, from 0.7% of GDP to 0.9% (Figure B2.4).

The source of funding for ECEC settings varies across countries. In many countries, the public sector provides universal access from a certain age. Governments may also delegate responsibility for the public funding of ECEC to local authorities. In general, public funding of ECEC is more decentralised than at any other level of education (OECD, 2018[15]). Generally, there has been a substantial and increasing public investment in ECEC, although there are differences between pre-primary (ISCED 02) and early childhood educational development (ISCED 01). On average, public sources account for 70% of total expenditure on early childhood educational development, while for pre-primary education, the share of public expenditure is 83%. Japan and the United Kingdom are the only countries where private funds account for more than 40% of total expenditure on pre-primary education. In the United Kingdom, most of the private funding comes from households. In Japan, the high cost is shared between households, foundations and the business sector (Table B2.4).

ECEC services: The types of ECEC services available to children and parents differ greatly. Despite those differences, most ECEC settings typically fall into one of the following categories ( (OECD, 2017[1]) and Table B2.5):

  • Regular centre-based ECEC: More formalised ECEC centres typically belong to one of these three subcategories:

    • Centre-based ECEC for children under the age of 3: Often called "crèches", these settings may have an educational function, but they are typically attached to the social or welfare sector and associated with an emphasis on care. Many of them are part time and provided in schools, but they can also be provided in designated ECEC centres.

    • Centre-based ECEC for children from the age of 3: Often called kindergarten or pre-school, these settings tend to be more formalised and are often linked to the education system.

    • Age-integrated centre-based ECEC for children from birth or age 1 up to the beginning of primary school: These settings offer a holistic pedagogical provision of education and care (often full-day).

  • Family childcare ECEC: Licensed home-based ECEC, which is most prevalent for children under age 3. These settings may or may not have an educational function and be part of the regular ECEC system.

  • Licensed or formalised drop-in ECEC centres: Often receiving children across the entire ECEC age bracket and even beyond, these drop-in centres allow parents to complement home-based care by family members or family childcare with more institutionalised services on an ad-hoc basis (without having to apply for a place).

Some of these ECEC services are in adherence with the criteria defined in the ISCED 2011 classification (see ISCED 0 definition). Others are considered an integral part of countries’ ECEC provision but are not in adherence with all the ISCED criteria. Table B2.5, available on line, makes the distinction between these two categories explicit.

Informal care services: Generally unregulated care arranged by the child’s parent either in the child’s home or elsewhere, provided by relatives, friends, neighbours, babysitters or nannies, these services are not covered in this indicator.

ISCED 01 refers to early childhood educational development services, typically aimed at children under the age of 3. The learning environment is visually stimulating, and the language is rich and fosters self-expression, with an emphasis on language acquisition and the use of language for meaningful communication. There are opportunities for active play so that children can exercise their co-ordination and motor skills under supervision and in interaction with staff.

ISCED 02 refers to pre-primary education, aimed at children in the years immediately prior to starting compulsory schooling, typically aged between the ages of 3 and 5. Through interaction with peers and educators, children improve their use of language and their social skills, start to develop logical and reasoning skills, and talk through their thought processes. They are also introduced to alphabetical and mathematical concepts, understanding and use of language, and are encouraged to explore their surrounding world and environment. Supervised gross motor activities (i.e. physical exercise through games and other activities) and play-based activities can be used as learning opportunities to promote social interactions with peers and to develop skills, autonomy and school readiness.

For data-reporting purposes, data from age-integrated programmes designed to include children younger and older than 3 are allocated to levels 01 and 02 according to the age of the children. This may involve the estimation of expenditure and personnel at levels 01 and 02.

Most prevalent level of qualification: Higher than minimum qualification (if most prevalent) to enter the teaching profession in the reference year refers to the level of qualification higher than the minimum that is held by the largest proportion of teachers (among all teachers at a given level of education, and not only among starting teachers) and recognised through a specific salary range (see Indicator D3).

Teachers and comparable practitioners: Teachers have the most responsibility for a group of children at the class or playroom level. They may also be called pedagogue, educator, childcare practitioner or pedagogical staff in education, while the term teacher is almost universally used at the primary level.

Teachers’ aides: Aides support the teacher in a group of children or class. They usually have lower qualification requirements than teachers, which may range from no formal requirements to, for instance, vocational education and training. This category is only included in the Education at a Glance indicator on children-to-staff ratio.

Please see Indicators C1 and C2 for definitions of expenditure per student on educational institutions and expenditure on educational institutions relative to GDP, and Indicator D2 for the definition of child-to-staff ratios.

Enrolment rates

Net enrolment rates are calculated by dividing the number of students of a particular age group enrolled in ECEC by the size of the population of that age group. While enrolment and population figures refer to the same period in most cases, mismatches may occur due to data availability and different sources used in some countries resulting in enrolment rates exceeding 100%.

Full-time and part-time children

The concepts used to define full-time and part-time participation at other ISCED levels, such as study load, child participation, and the academic value or progress that the study represents, are not easily applicable to ISCED level 0. In addition, the number of daily or weekly hours that represent typical full-time enrolment in an education programme at ISCED level 0 varies widely between countries. Because of this, full-time equivalents cannot be calculated for ISCED level 0 programmes in the same way as for other ISCED levels. For data-reporting purposes, countries separate ISCED level 0 data into ISCED 01 and ISCED 02 by age only, as follows: data from age-integrated programmes designed to include children younger and older than 3 are allocated to levels 01 and 02 according to the age of the children. This may involve the estimation of expenditure and personnel at levels 01 and 02. For more information please see the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics (OECD, 2018[10]) and Annex 3 for country-specific notes (

Estimated expenditure for all children aged 3 to 5 enrolled in ECEC and primary education as a percentage of GDP

The calculation of this new measure is based on the distribution of children aged 3 to 5 enrolled in ISCED 01, ISCED 02 and primary education (ISCED 1). For each country, the calculation was based on what proportion of all children enrolled at each of these three ISCED levels were aged 3 to 5. For instance, in Australia, children aged 3 to 5 accounted for 5% of all children enrolled in ISCED 01, 99% of all children enrolled in ISCED 02 and 12% of all children enrolled in ISCED 1. These percentages were used to estimate total expenditure for all children aged 3 to 5 enrolled in ECEC and primary education. Total expenditure for all children aged 3 to 5 are calculated by: 5% of all expenditure in ISCED 01 and 99% of all expenditure in ISCED 02 and 12% of all expenditure in ISCED 1. A similar calculation was made for all countries.

Data refer to the reference year 2018 (school year 2017/18) and financial year 2017.

Data from Argentina, the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS).

Data are based on the UNESCO-UIS/OECD/EUROSTAT data collection on education statistics administered by the OECD in 2019 (for details, see Annex 3 at and on a special survey administered by the OECD in 2019.

Data on subnational regions for selected indicators are available in the OECD Regional database (OECD, 2020[18]).


[12] Assel, M. et al. (2006), “An evaluation of curriculum, setting, and mentoring on the performance of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten”, Reading and Writing, Vol. 20/5, pp. 463-494,

[13] de Haan, A. et al. (2013), “Targeted versus mixed preschools and kindergartens: Effects of class composition and teacher-managed activities on disadvantaged children’s emergent academic skills”, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Vol. 24/2, pp. 177-194,

[5] Duncan, G. and K. Magnuson (2013), “Investing in preschool programs”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 27/2, pp. 109-132,

[16] European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2019), Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe. Eurydice Report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,

[11] Manning, M. et al. (2017), “The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment”, Campbell Systematic Reviews, Vol. 13/1, pp. 1-82,

[14] OECD (2020), OECD Education at a Glance database,

[18] OECD (2020), “Regional education”, OECD Regional Statistics (database), (accessed on 27 July 2020).

[6] OECD (2019), Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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[15] OECD (2018), Education at a Glance 2018: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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[1] OECD (2017), Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care, Starting Strong, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[4] OECD (2016), Walking the Tightrope: Background Brief on Parents’ Work-Life Balance across the Stages of Childhood, OECD, Paris,

[3] OECD (2011), How’s Life?: Measuring Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[7] OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2015), ISCED 2011 Operational Manual: Guidelines for Classifying National Education Programmes and Related Qualifications, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] Shin, E., M. Jung and E. Park (2009), A Survey on the Development of the Pre-School Free Service Model, Korean Educational Development Institute, Seoul.

Table B2.1 Enrolment rates of children under the age of 3 in early childhood education and care, by type of service and age (2005, 2010 and 2018)

Table B2.2 Enrolment rates in early childhood education and care and primary education, by age (2005, 2010 and 2018)

Table B2.3 Enrolment of children in early childhood education and care (ISCED 0) in private institutions, ratio of children to teaching staff and most prevalent qualification of ECEC staff (2018)

Table B2.4 Financing of early childhood education and care (ISCED 0) and expenditure on all children aged 3 to 5 (2017)

WEB Table B2.5 Coverage of early childhood education and care in OECD and partner countries (2019)


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