How does better access to kindergartens help mothers in labor markets?

Female labor force participation is much lower than male labor force participation in Ukraine. This is due to many factors, including own unwillingness or reluctance of a woman to work as well as many other factors that arise against her own will. One of such factors is  limited access to pre-school education. Lack of access means both the lack of places at kindergartens and low quality of services. Our calculations and experience of other countries indicate that pre-school enrolment rates  is positively correlated with female labor force participation. 

A ten percentage points increase in the preschool enrolment in the region is associated with an increase in female labor force participation from 57.5% to 58.9-59.3%, or by 209.5-269.3 thousand women. Although we assessed the level of labor force participation of women aged 15 to 70 (i.e., not only young mothers), the size of the effect is still significant. Additional employment may potentially bring from 46.2 to 59.4 billion UAH of extra GDP per year. 

Key challenges and solutions:

  1. The lack of places at pre-schools. We propose introducing a “Money follows the child” scheme in all Ukrainian regions. This will ensure a more even pre-school coverage of children in both public and private kindergartens. This scheme uses public funds to subsidize private kindergartens, which invest in increasing the number of places on their own, freeing up state resources. Our recommendation is to facilitate further establishing private kindergartens by easing up some regulations on food and premises. We propose  developing a mechanism for enrolling more children than the number of available places, given that a certain number of kids will not attend kindergarten. The low co-payment for parents who can pay also motivates them to withdraw a child for a period of absence. Such actions will also create a resource to improve the kindergarten’s facilities without informal fundraising.
  2. A long queue for enrolment at kindergarten. Introducing an electronic queue notifying principals directly if the queue moves due to the acceptance of a child to another kindergarten. This problem is closely related to the first one.
  3. Low quality of educational services. To improve the quality of qualifications, we suggest reforming the remuneration system in municipal organisations. In particular, the problem of low wages which arises due to single-rate tariffs needs to be addressed. As of now, the job of caregiver can be performed by technical staff; it is reasonable to provide an opportunity to get short-term teaching training, and thereby reduce the time spent on higher education. Thus, educated employees will be more motivated to work in kindergartens.
  4. Low quality meal plans. Deregulation and/or centralized development of several daily food intake norms will make meals more inclusive. The meal prices should be determined based on the consensus between parents and principals and all the related expenditures must be transparent.. Parents should have access to kitchen facilities to be able to control the quality of food and products. 
  5. Low quality facilities, lack of educational materials. In our opinion, the extra tuition fee paid by parents should be legalized in public kindergartens as those payments are being made anyway in informal and opaque ways. Shadow funds are used inefficiently, so legal payments with transparent reporting of expenditures are desirable. Such payments must be affordable for the families. Otherwise, it can have the opposite effect as a woman will be financially incentivized to stay at home with a child rather than to go to work.

In 2019 Centre for Economic Strategy analyzed the reasons for the differences between female and male labor force participation in Ukraine. At the time, a survey of women showed that the main obstacle for a mother to find a job lack of access to alternative childcare options.

Recommendations for regions:

To accurately determine the required number of places in kindergartens and solve the problem with queues, we recommend establishing an electronic queue for registration in all regions and introducing electronic tabulation, based on the example of a system developed in Kyiv.

The study was prepared within the Think Tank Development Initiative framework implemented by the International Renaissance Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE) with the financial support of the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the position of the Embassy of Sweden in Ukraine, the International Renaissance Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE).