Giving the youngest children the best chance to thrive
The foundations of development and learning are laid in the first five years of life. A new policy brief outlines how, over the past four years, GPE has steadily increased its focus on ECCE and made it a key area in its strategic plan, GPE 2020. The GPE results framework has two specific indicators focusing on the impact GPE seeks to achieve in ECCE.
December 12, 2016 by Karen Mundy, University of Toronto
10 minute read
Children singing and dancing in their pre-school classroom at  Jean de la Mennais School in Burera district in rural Rwanda. Credit: GPE: Alexandra Humme

The foundations of development and learning are laid in the first five years of life.

The critical building blocks include: adequate health and nutrition, nurturing and a protective home environment, cognitive stimulation through positive play, and responsive interactions between the child and caregiver.

As GPE’s new policy brief on early childhood care and education (ECCE) highlights, early childhood programs result in better learning outcomes and can even improve health and income later in life. In addition, ECCE programs can increase the efficiency of education systems by improving children’s readiness for primary school, resulting in less repetition and dropout.

While much progress has been made, many challenges remain to improve access to quality ECCE services.

  • Worldwide, there are still more than 150 million children ages 3 to 5 who do not have access to pre-primary education, including more than 80% of children in low-income countries.
  • Financing remains a major challenge: relative to other areas of education, funding for ECCE has not kept pace with enrollment growth.
  • The poorest and most marginalized children – who have the most to gain from good quality ECCE programs – are frequently left out.
  • Conflict is a serious and growing barrier, with less than 5% of children having access to pre-primary schooling in some countries affected by conflict.  

GPE is dedicated to supporting ECCE in partner countries

Policy brief. GPE’s work for early childhood care and education

Policy brief. GPE’s work for early childhood care and education


Over the past four years GPE has steadily increased its focus on ECCE and made it a key area in its strategic plan, GPE 2020. The GPE results framework has two specific indicators focusing on the impact GPE seeks to achieve in ECCE:

  • Indicator 2: More children under 5 years developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial wellbeing
  • Indicator 6: Increased pre-primary enrollment.

Support for ECCE sector planning and analysis

GPE supports ECCE by investing in stronger education sector plans, mobilizing and delivering financing for these plans, and supporting effective and inclusive policy dialogue and monitoring.  

Through education sector plan guidelines jointly developed with UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, and companion guidelines on education sector analysis developed with UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, GPE has helped create a roadmap to support the mainstreaming of ECCE into education sector plans.

 Incorporating ECCE is an important consideration for getting an education sector plan endorsed by development partners and accessing additional GPE financing.

GPE supports the exchange of good practice

GPE is actively involved in supporting partners to share new knowledge and good practices based on evidence, and to address ECCE challenges in technical workshops, peer-learning events and conferences.

The largest GPE knowledge grant to date (GRA grant of US$8.5 million) supports the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning (PEARL) project, focused on ECCE and early grade reading research in the Pacific.

In partnership with the World Bank, the project has conducted the largest census to date of school readiness indicators among 3 to 5 year old children in Tonga and Tuvalu, with plans to collect similar data in Samoa and Kiribati.

More than 10 partner developing countries are using GPE funds to enhance management and information systems that help measure quality and outcomes in ECCE.

For example, the ministry of Education in the Kyrgyz Republic, in partnership with the World Bank and UNICEF, used a GPE grant to measure children's readiness to learn based on the Early Development Instrument.

Funding for ECCE is appallingly low

Building on previous international and regional benchmarks, the Education 2030 Incheon Declaration recommends that national governments allocate 4 to 6% of their gross domestic product (GDP) and/or at least 15 to 20% of their total public expenditure to education.

Although a similar benchmark has not been set for ECCE, evidence suggests a public investment of 1% of GDP at a minimum is required to ensure the provision of quality ECCE services.  The national average expenditure on pre-primary education is less than 0.1% of GDP in developing countries.

Current estimates indicate that to reach the SDG 4.2 target to provide one year of pre-primary education for all children, the financial support will need to increase nearly sevenfold from US$4.8 billion to US$31.2 billion annually.  

GPE increases its funding to ECCE

In response to these challenges, GPE has stepped up its funding for ECCE. GPE has invested about US$180 million in grants since 2002 to support more than 30 developing countries to implement ECCE components of education sector plans.

ECCE components in GPE grants range from under US$1 million to more than US$20 million. With GPE financing, countries improve ECCE by:

  • developing policy guidelines and service standards,
  • training pre-primary teachers and facilitators
  • building and rehabilitating classrooms
  • establishing early learning assessment systems
  • distributing learning materials
  • supporting parent education and community-based early learning programs
  • organizing campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of ECCE.

A number of countries have dedicated their entire GPE implementation grant to ECCE activities: Guyana, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Mongolia and Nicaragua.

Support for ECCE in countries affected by fragility or conflict

Conflict is a serious and growing barrier to ECCE services. GPE aims to ensure practical solutions in these settings. About half of GPE’s partner developing countries with active grants containing ECCE components are affected by fragility or conflict.

Conflict and fragility adversely affect governments’ and families’ ability to provide ECCE opportunities for young children. Traditional funding mechanisms make it difficult for many development partners to operate in these countries, especially in unstable or dangerous environments. But GPE gives it high priority.

In Uganda for example, as part of a larger teacher and school effectiveness program, GPE is supporting the rollout of an ECCE teacher education certificate program, the revision of the ECCE policy and guidelines and a costed plan of existing models of ECCE delivery, in collaboration with the World Bank.

In Nigeria, children in the northern states have little or no access to pre-primary education and insurgent activities and attacks on schools are a direct threat to schooling, especially for girls. In response, GPE is providing technical support and a grant of US$7.65 million - in partnership with ministries of Education, USAID and the World Bank - to improve teaching and learning materials in pre-primary schools and promote parent and guardian engagement in early childhood development

A new initiative to strengthen ECCE

GPE has played a unique role in supporting developing countries to include ECCE in education sector plans and has stayed involved in many countries as plans are put into action, with focus on reaching marginalized groups – including nomadic families, children with special educational needs, and children affected by fragility and conflict.

In the coming months, GPE will implement a new initiative: BELDS (Better Early Learning and Development at Scale) to build knowledge and exchange good practice on how to strengthen ECCE within national education systems.

BELDS will also provide technical and financial support for better evidence and strengthened sector planning and monitoring around ECCE.

There is a need to continue to explore what works to improve ECCE, especially in countries affected by fragility or conflict, and an equally pressing need to bring to scale effective approaches that have been shown to make a difference.

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