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Living in a wealthy country does not guarantee education equality, UNICEF report says

In Croatian kindergartens, there are three times more children from wealthier households than from poorer households

The headline of Foto: Innocenti UNICEFThe headline of "An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries” by the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, Florence, October 2018

Zagreb/Florence/New York, 30 October 2018

Today, the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti published its Report Card 15. The report shows that living in a higher-income country does not necessarily guarantee equal access to quality education and that children in less wealthy countries often perform better at school despite fewer national resources. The report titled “An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries” ranks 41 Member States of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the extent of educational inequalities at preschool, primary and secondary school levels. It examines the link between children’s achievement and factors such as parents’ occupation, household income, place of residence, migration background, gender, and school characteristics.

Based on the level of equality in preschool education, Croatia is in 24th place (out of 41 countries):

• Among all the states in the report, according to the criterion that measures household income, Croatia has the highest level of inequality regarding access to preschool education: only 22% of the poorest children attend kindergarten, in comparison with three times more children from the richest households (70%).
In urban settlements in Croatia, four out of five children over 3 years of age attend kindergarten, while in rural settlements only one in three children attend kindergarten.
Sixteen per cent of children under three and 51% of children between three and school age attend structured preschool programmes at least one hour per week.
• Lithuania, Iceland and France have the highest rate of preschool attendance from the earliest age to school age, while Turkey, USA and Romania have the lowest rates.

Children playing and learning at the Foto: MIlej/UNICEFChildren playing and learning at the "Zlatni dani" children's workshop in Babina Greda, which partly compensates for the lacking kindergarten infrastructure in the area, May 2018

In regard to education equality, Croatian secondary school students are in 7th place.

Before the age of 15, 80% of children in Croatia reach the basic level of reading skills. According to the OECD definition, these are the skills that “enable children to be effective and productive participants in society”.
• Secondary school students in Croatia are in the top third of countries for the equality of the most successful and least successful students when it comes to reading skills. For comparison, 15-year-olds in Latvia, Ireland and Spain show the highest level of equality in reading skills, while Malta, Bulgaria and Israel have the most unequal level.

The report does not include data on the education inequality in primary school because Croatia did not take part in the PIRLS 2016 research.

The research delivers several interesting global insights:
• In 16 of 29 European countries, children from the poorest fifth of households have a lower school attendance rate than children from the richest fifth. This pattern persists throughout the child’s schooling.
In 21 out of 25 countries with a substantial level of immigration, first-generation immigrants often do less well at school at the age of 15 than non-migrant children.
Girls have better reading scores than boys in all countries. These gaps tend to widen as children grow older, but there are also large differences between countries. Girls in Bulgaria have significantly higher reading scores than boys, while girls and boys in Ireland have almost equal scores.
Children whose parents have more prestigious jobs are much more likely to attend higher education programmes than other children, even if they do equally well at school.

Children taking part in the activities of UNICEF's programme Foto: VKljajo/UNICEFChildren taking part in the activities of UNICEF's programme "Schools for Africa" at the "Šarena loptica" kindergarten in Zagreb.

The report points out that providing a fair start for all children today is essential for achieving both equality and sustainability, and that the problems are not inevitable but rather shaped by policy.

“What our report shows is that countries can offer children the best of both worlds: they can achieve standards of excellence in education and have relatively low inequality,” said Dr Priscilla Idele, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. “But all rich countries can and must do much more for children from disadvantaged families as they are the most likely to fall behind.” 

The Innocenti report also provides recommendations to reduce inequalities in children’s education. To achieve this, it is necessary to:

  • Guarantee high-quality, early-childhood education and care to all children
  • Ensure all children achieve a good minimum level of core skills
  • Reduce socio-economic inequalities
  • Close the gender gaps in academic achievement
  • Focus on equality, not just averages.

You can download the full UNICEF report at the following link: http://www.unicef-irc.org.

Updated: 30 October 2018
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