40 million children miss out on early education in critical pre-school year due to Coronavirus

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NEW YORK, 22 July 2020 – At least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year as Coronavirus shuttered childcare and early education facilities, according to a new research brief published today by UNICEF.  

Produced by UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, the research brief looks at the state of childcare and early childhood education globally and includes an analysis of the impact of widespread Coronavirus closures of these vital family services.  

“Education disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are preventing children from getting their education off to the best possible start,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Childcare and early childhood education build a foundation upon which every aspect of children’s development relies. The pandemic is putting that foundation under serious threat.”  

Childcare in a global crisis: The impact of COVID-19 on work and family life notes that lockdowns have left many parents struggling to balance childcare and paid employment, with a disproportionate burden placed on women who, on average, spend more than three times longer on care and housework than men.    

The closures have also exposed a deeper crisis for families of young children especially in low- and middle-income countries, many of whom were already unable to access social protection services. Childcare is essential in providing children with integrated services, affection, protection, stimulation and nutrition and, at the same time, enable them to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills. 

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, unaffordable, poor-quality or inaccessible childcare and early childhood education facilities forced many parents to leave young children in unsafe and unstimulating environments at a critical point in their development, with more than 35 million children under the age of five globally sometimes left without adult supervision. 

Out of 166 countries, less than half provide tuition-free pre-primary programmes of at least one year, dropping to just 15 per cent among low-income countries.  

Many young children who remain at home do not get the play and early learning support they need for healthy development. In 54 low- and middle-income countries with recent data, around 40 per cent of children aged between 3 and 5 years old were not receiving social-emotional and cognitive stimulation from any adult in their household. 

Lack of childcare and early education options also leaves many parents, particularly mothers working in the informal sector, with no choice but to bring their young children to work. More than 9 in 10 women in Africa and nearly 7 in 10 in Asia and the Pacific work in the informal sector and have limited to no access to any form of social protection. Many parents become trapped in this unreliable, poorly paid employment, contributing to intergenerational cycles of poverty, the report says.  

Access to affordable, quality childcare and early childhood education are critical for the development of families and socially cohesive societies. UNICEF advocates for accessible, affordable and quality childcare from birth to children’s entry into the first grade of school.  

The research brief offers guidance on how governments and employers can improve their childcare and early childhood education policies including by enabling all children to access high-quality, age-appropriate, affordable and accessible childcare centres irrespective of family circumstances.  

The guidance also outlines additional family-friendly policies including: 

  • Paid parental leave for all parents so that there is no gap between the end of parental leave and the start of affordable childcare; 
  • Flexible work arrangements that address the needs of working parents; 
  • Investment in the non-family childcare workforce including training; 
  • Social protection systems including cash transfers that reach families working in non-formal employment. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is making a global childcare crisis even worse,” Fore said. “Families need support from their governments and their employers to weather this storm and safeguard their children’s learning and development.”  

Unicef UK’s Save Generation Covid appeal is supporting children and families impacted by Coronavirus across the world, including ensuring access to vital vaccines. To help #GenerationCovid visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate. 

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About UNICEF 

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.  

For more information please visit unicef.org.uk  

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  • The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since World War Two.   
  • Children’s lives are being upended. Their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations lost, their food supply cut off.   
  • An additional 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services like vaccinations. That’s one every 15 seconds. 
  • UNICEF’s “Save Generation Covid” appeal is the largest ever for children in our 73-year history, and we urgently need funds for lifesaving support and services to ensure that children survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.  

Together we can Save Generation Covid. Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help save #generationcovid.  

For more information, please contact:  

Yemi Lufadeju, T: +44 20 7375 6199 E: YemiL@unicef.org.uk  

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk