Early childhood education and care

Public support for early childhood education and care (ECEC) services helps achieve a range of policy goals. Public investment in ECEC simultaneously enhances child development and helps children acquire the necessary skills to support their future lives, while it also supports parents in their daily quest to balance work and family commitments. As women traditionally engage most in care work, such supports particularly facilitate female labour force participation and are thus crucial to achieving greater gender equality in employment participation.

The extent to which children participate in pre-primary education (often children age 3 to 5 inclusive) varies across countries (Figure 3.6). Over the 2009-19 period, enrolment rates in pre-primary education in Asia/Pacific economies increased steadily in about half of the countries while in some others greater gains were recorded. Pre-primary enrolment ratios tripled in Bangladesh and Lao PDR, and doubled in Timor-Leste and Kyrgyzstan. Gender gaps in ECEC participation are small (Figure 3.7). Girls in Georgia, Malaysia, Maldives and Sri Lanka are more likely to participate in ECEC services than boys, but boys are more likely to attend ECEC programmes in Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan.

Results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have shown that 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary education perform better on PISA tests than those who did not, even after accounting for their socio-economic backgrounds (OECD, 2011[1]). For the few countries in the region for which data is available, higher rates of ECEC participation in 2009 are associated with higher score of the 2018 OECD PISA reading and mathematics assessment (Figure 3.8).


[2] OECD (2020), Building a High-Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce: Further Results from the Starting Strong Survey 2018, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/b90bba3d-en.

[1] OECD (2011), “Does Participation in Pre-Primary Education Translate into Better Learning Outcomes at School?”, PISA in Focus, No. 1, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/5k9h362tpvxp-en.

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