With a growing focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE) as a key factor for better learning outcomes, governments and practitioners are trying to determine how to have the largest impact.
While there has been great work done in the field of ECCE, knowledge and capacity gaps remain on how to ensure equitable access to quality ECCE within education systems.
To understand these gaps, an online survey was sent to all 65 GPE partner counties and circulated to early childhood civil society organizations in Africa. The goal of the survey was to assess country perceptions of ECCE needs and priorities, in regards to data, planning, and implementation.
From November 2017 to February 2018, 40 partner countries and 18 civil society representatives have completed the survey (the survey remains open for additional countries to participate). The 12-question survey was sent to GPE focal points, who are largely Directors of Planning within ministries of Education, with instructions to work with their ECCE technical experts to complete it.
The survey results provide excellent insight into countries’ needs and priorities regarding the ECCE sub-sector. Our 5 key takeaways are as follows:
- There is high interest in learning about different models of ECCE
- Priorities to scale up quality ECCE are based on existing approaches
- There is a need for continued advocacy and support
- ECCE data and planning needs are closely interrelated
- Not everyone has the same perception
While governments may only implement or oversee a couple of ECCE models (i.e. formal school-based centers or community-based programs), there is demand for learning about other models and their implementation in other country contexts. In addition to school-based and community-based models, countries seek more information on transition between ECCE to primary school, parental education, accelerated school readiness, and home-based learning. While scaling the availability of quality school-based models may be a country’s long-term goal, utilizing these other models may be a more cost-effective option for improving access to ECCE for marginalized children in the medium term.
Just over 90% of countries surveyed prioritize improving teacher competencies, training, and mentoring to advance ECCE quality. Likewise, a majority of responses focus on improvements to ECCE curricula and learning standards and over 40% prioritize construction or renovation to ECCE physical spaces.
These are common ECCE activities in GPE implementation grants. While scaling quality ECCE will certainly involve these three types of activities, countries may want to give attention to other quality aspects, including parental and community engagement, teacher incentives and pay, developmentally appropriate play and learning materials, quality assurance (including monitoring and regulation), as well as leveraging the private sector.
A majority of countries reported that there is a high level of political will for ECCE, but just under half said there is only somewhat to no political will. Similarly, the main bottlenecks for accelerating ECCE are financing, coordination across ministries and partners, ministerial capacity to implement and lead. Strong top-down as well as bottom-up advocacy has the ability to explain the importance of ECCE and get governments and practitioners to increase ECCE support.
The survey asked participants to rank their ECCE data and planning needs, across data generation, data analysis, data use and integration, costing current provisions, costing scale-up scenarios, conducting a financing options analysis, and developing yearly or multi-year action plans for ECCE.
Overall, country priorities were evenly spread across these 7 categories. In follow-up conversations, it was not unusual for countries to switch their key data or planning priority and express needed support in several of these areas. Rather than targeted technical support in one particular area, it may be most beneficial to support countries in a range of activities that would lead to stronger analysis and planning in the ECCE sub-sector.
Not surprisingly, a country’s expressed ECCE needs and priorities depend on who you ask. Some countries submitted several entries, illustrating that even within government, opinions can differ on specific needs and priorities.
For example, there could be a disconnect between general education planners and officers working specifically on ECCE. The responses from civil society also emphasized slightly different things than the government. In-country dialogue (for example within the local education group) involving a number of actors is critical to best understand existing resources and needs. This can lead to developing a strategy on concrete ways to scale quality ECCE services to the most vulnerable children.
While the results of the survey are interesting on their own, they are one piece of a larger country-driven approach to better support ECCE in partner countries. Moving forward, the survey results provide country-specific information for supporting planning on ECCE through GPE’sgrants, as well as initial direction and priorities for building global knowledge, innovation, and good practice for ECCE under the BELDS and KIX initiatives.