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PISA in Focus No. 40: Does pre-primary education reach those who need it most?

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Publication Date: 
10 Jun 2014



  • Attendance in pre-primary education is associated with better student performance later on.
  • Fifteen-year-old students in 2012 were more likely than 15-year-olds in 2003 to have attended at least one year of pre-primary education.
  • The gap in pre-primary attendance rates between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged pupils is growing.

As is true for nearly every endeavour, the better prepared one is, the greater the likelihood of success. Education is no exception. Young children who have learned how to behave in groups and have been introduced to the basics of letters and numbers tend to be more open to and ready for the school experience than children who haven't. Pre-primary education serves this purpose well; and if all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, had access to high-quality pre-primary programmes, these programmes could also help to reduce the inequities in readiness for school that are related to pupils' family backgrounds. But results from PISA 2012 find that disadvantaged students are disproportionately missing out on this formative education opportunity.

PISA consistently finds that 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary education tend to perform better than those who had not attended pre-primary education, even after accounting for the students' socio-economic status. In 2012, in OECD countries that participated in both PISA 2003 and 2012, the difference in PISA mathematics scores between these two groups of students was 51 points - the equivalent of markedly more than a year of formal schooling.