Early Childhood and Primary Education

While considerable progress has been made in achieving education for all, it continues
to be the most disadvantaged who are at the highest risk of educational exclusion, underachievement and early drop-out (UNESCO, 2006). Most often, these problems have been conceptualised as about ‘children’s readiness for school’. Poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of resources and stimulation in the early years have been identified as key factors, leading one group of scholars to estimate that more than 200 million children are failing to fulfil their developmental potential (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007).

Focusing on children’s readiness to benefit from schooling is at best an oversimplification, and in some ways amounts to ‘blaming the victim’ for the inefficiencies of educational systems. A more balanced view recognises that school systems are currently part of the problem as much as they are a solution to that problem. In resource-poor developing countries that make up two thirds of the world (referred to as the Majority World), the very children who might most benefit from quality education are, as a general rule, least likely to have access to good programmes at either pre-primary or primary levels. These children are also least likely to progress through to school completion, thus perpetuating intergenerational cycles of poverty and inequality (Arnold et al., 2006). The exceptions are encouraging, but they are few and far between. The challenge for policy is, in short, as much about ‘schools’ readiness for children’ as about ‘children’s readiness for school’ (Myers and Landers, 1989).

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