Pre-school care, combining basic education with health and nutrition programmes, remains the missing link for millions of children in developing countries, UNESCO said in a report released on Thursday in Paris.
The UN organisation argues in its annual report on education that such programmes are key to cutting mortality among children and ensuring they achieve their full potential in later years.
Across the world in 2004, 37 per cent of children attended a nursery school – catering to pupils aged three to around six – compared to 17 per cent in 1975, a big increase but still a long way from UN objectives.
Care programmes aimed at very young children – under the age of three – are non-existent in more than half of countries, UNESCO said. Yet in many developing countries, rising numbers of women at work, “migration, urbanisation and the HIV/AIDS pandemic are weakening ties between extended and nuclear families and creating child care needs that current arrangements do not meet,” the report warned.
Unesco director-general Koichiro Matsuura called in a statement for a high-level political drive to develop healthcare and education for the “youngest and most vulnerable children”. The report calls them the "forgotten link in the education chain".