Since the decision of the Bicameral Budget Commission to resort to resources from the Fund for Excellence in Education and Research (FEEI) was announced, an intense debate has been generated about the relevance of this decision. UNICEF regrets the possible decrease in 2022 of USD 17 million in EIFF resources, adding to a reduction of USD 23 million in 2021.
The first years of life are a unique opportunity to enhance children’s abilities to lay the foundations for a healthy life. According to the Center for Child Development at Harvard University, 80% of the brain’s neural connections are formed during the first three years of life.
Investing in creating the right conditions for this stage of life has the highest rates of return in human capital. According to Nobel laureate in economics James Heckman, the annual rate of return on investments in early childhood development for disadvantaged children is between 7 and 10%, the result of better results in education, health and economic productivity. Ensuring optimal development at this stage continues to be a challenge for Paraguay.
Early childhood indicators in the country are below the South American average. According to the 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), prepared by Unicef and the current National Institute of Statistics (INE), attendance at early childhood education programs has been 31%, less than 54% of the average regional.
The pandemic has exacerbated this previous picture of high inequalities of opportunities for our future citizens. According to the INE, there has been an increase in child poverty, which went from 32.5% to 36.3% of all children and adolescents between 2019 and 2020.
Early childhood has been especially impacted, varying from 31.4% to 36.7% the total number of children up to four years of age living in poverty.
A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that, over the last 12 months, the closure of Paraguayan preschool institutions should imply a reduction in the future income of these children of the order of 5.2% of GDP throughout its life cycle.
At a global level, UNICEF recommends that countries allocate at least 10% of their education budget to preschool education. However, in 2020, the Ministry of Education and Sciences (MEC) has allocated 2.4% of its budget to financing educational care in pre-garden and garden.
In the event that the decision to redirect FEEI resources is not rectified, in the long term it would result in mortgaging the possibility of scaling up the first early childhood development program to scale under Kunu’u, the national strategy comprehensive early childhood care.
Currently, 74% of the approximately USD 26 million allocated to initial and early childhood education is financed by the FEEI, with only the remaining 26% coming from the Treasury.
Insufficient funding for early childhood development and early education is counterproductive, as this initial formative stage has the potential to increase the effectiveness of investments at all levels of education.
Early childhood and childhood must be a national cause that includes a democratic plurality of social actors to reach an agreement on objectives that can be met with due budget.
“If we change the beginning of the story, we change the whole story” has been one of Kunu’u’s mottos. For this reason, betting on the development of early childhood and initial education is the shortest way so that no one is left behind.
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It is urgent to prioritize early childhood in the budget