Education at a Glance 2021

Education at a Glance 2021
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

On September 16th, the OECD published the Education at a Glance 2021 report. The annual study is one of the main sources on the state of education around the world. It provides the most recent data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems across OECD countries and a number of partner economies. All levels of education are covered, and here we provide an overview of the main results related to early childhood education and care (ECEC).

The findings show that:

  • More children under the age of 3 are enrolling in ECEC. The share has risen from 22% in 2015 to 25% on average across OECD countries. Ireland’s rate is 25%. Korea (65.2%) and Norway (55.1%) have the highest enrolment rates;
  • Although participation in ECEC is not compulsory in all countries, enrolment of 3-5-year-olds is very common across OECD countries. In more than half of the countries with available data, the enrolment of children between the ages of 3 and 5 is nearly universal. The highest enrolment rates of 3-5-year-olds in ECEC and primary education are found in Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, where they equal or exceed 97%;
  • In 2018, expenditure on ECEC settings accounted for an average of 0.9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) across OECD countries. Ireland’s expenditure was 0.2%. This includes financing from both public and private sources. Countries such as Chile, Iceland, Israel, Norway and Sweden spent at least 1% of GDP;
  • About a third of children in pre-primary education are enrolled in private institutions on average across OECD countries. By “pre-primary education” the report refers to the years immediately prior to starting compulsory schooling, typically 3-5;
  • The source of funding in ECEC does not necessarily reflect the entity providing the service. The public sector provides at least 50% of total costs, even in countries where almost all pre-primary children attend private institutions. In New Zealand, for example, although 99% of pre-primary children attend private institutions, the private sector provides less than 20% of total costs;
  • Between 2015 and 2019, the number of children per teaching staff at the pre-primary level dropped across most OECD and partner countries.

Every year the OECD calculations provide proof of the very low investment level in the early childhood education and care sector in Ireland. This year was no different. There is substantial space for expansion of services, so it reaches more children in Ireland – especially under 3s. This expansion should be closely guided by quality principles, ensuring that all children in Ireland have access to high-quality services. None of this is achievable without investment. To ensure we transition to a resilient future, Early Childhood Ireland calls on the government to meet the commitment in the national early years strategy, First 5, to at least double investment by 2028. If members have any questions, please contact our policy team.

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