This blog is part of a series on GPE’s initiative on early childhood education: BELDS (Better Early Learning and Development at Scale). The blog explains how the BELDS approach works through the experience in Lesotho, one of the four pilot countries.
Every day, 53,0001 young children, from toddlers to age 5 years, attend pre-school in Lesotho. They learn the alphabet, numbers, and shapes and how to play with other children. Under the supervision of teachers and caregivers, the children are eager to come to school and learn and play together in a safe, stimulating environment.
But not all children are so lucky. Nearly 6 in 10 children aged 3–5 years receive no pre-school education with enrolment rates as low as 4 percent in remote and mountainous highland districts. These children lag behind their peers from the start of Grade 1 and often do not catch up.
Too many children don’t attend preschool
Globally, more than half of young children, or 175 million boys and girls, are not enrolled in pre-primary education, missing a critical step in preparing for school and lifelong learning.
By contrast, children enrolled in at least one year of pre-primary education are more likely to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school, less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school, and therefore more able to fulfil their potential and contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies when they reach adulthood2.
Pre-primary education provides the highest return on investment of all the education sub-sectors3. Yet it is often an under-funded sector. In Lesotho for example, the pre-primary sub-sector receives the smallest budget allocation from the national education budget, less than 1% of the national education budget for the last 10 years.
Lesotho is making pre-primary education a priority
But there is new momentum to prioritize pre-primary education in Lesotho. Recently, at the High-Level Political Forum on SDG 4.2, I, as Minister of Education and Training committed to strengthening the pre-primary sector in the country. With this commitment and with support from partners like UNICEF and GPE, we are confident that all 5-year-olds in Lesotho will soon benefit from pre-primary schooling.
For us, the education sector can be represented by four bridges. The bridge from home to early childhood education, the bridge to primary, the bridge to secondary, and the bridge to tertiary or higher education. A child’s educational journey involves crossing these bridges. If the “early childhood bridge” is not strong, a child will have more challenges and difficulties in crossing the subsequent bridges. In Lesotho, we have to strengthen this first bridge.
Integrating early childhood education systematically into national education sector planning and policy implementation cycles is a key strategy to strengthen this “first bridge” and ensure children enter schools ready to learn and succeed in primary education and beyond.
In Maseru in June, the launch of the Better Early Learning and Development at Scale, supported this process.
What is BELDS?
Making progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal – Target 4.2 – universal access to quality pre-primary education for all children is a bold challenge, as nearly half of the world's preschool age children are not enrolled in an early education program.
A critical solution is to ensure that early childhood education (ECE) is systematically integrated into national education sector planning and policy implementation cycles. To this end, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF have partnered under the Better Early Learning and Development at Scale (BELDS) Initiative. BELDS pilots an innovative and systematic approach to strengthen national capacity to plan and cost early childhood education programs and ensure they are a part of education sector planning and implementation processes.
With pilots in four partner countries (Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Sao Tome & Principe), BELDS aims to raise the profile of ECE to become an essential part of education sector planning through capacity building activities, cross-country peer learning and exchange, and the development of a global toolkit of resources that can inform the work across regions.
BELDS is funded by GPE with support from the Open Society Foundation, Comic Relief, Hilton Foundation and Dubai Cares.
ECE is also one of 6 key thematic areas for GPE's Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX).
Identifying priorities for ECE with all partners
More than 60 stakeholders from the Ministry of Education and Training from all 10 districts of Lesotho, Lesotho College of Education, National University of Lesotho, Civil Society organizations, UNICEF and the World Bank attended a BELDS inception workshop.
Stakeholders discussed and analyzed ECE opportunities and challenges related to planning, curriculum, teachers, resources and monitoring and evaluation in the pre-primary sub-sector. Based on this detailed analysis, strategies were developed to respond to the main challenges, with the aim of progressively growing the pre-primary system while improving quality and ensuring a focus on the most vulnerable children.
Importantly, key areas of focus were agreed upon, including:
- The prioritization of one year of pre-primary education through the expansion of one-year reception classrooms to every primary school in Lesotho;
- Dedicated and increased domestic financing for pre-primary education;
- Improving quality of pre-primary education by strengthening the quality of standards, curriculum and teacher training and,
- Engaging families and communities to support opportunities for learning and development among young children.
BELDS’ planning approach has a lot of promise in Lesotho. We are leveraging the findings of the BELDS workshop to inform the broader education sector analysis (ESA) that is currently under way. The ESA will inform the development of the education sector plan (ESP), which is currently under development. The ESP will outline the vision, priorities and strategies for the sector over the medium-term. We want to remain ambitious and realistic in our ability to reach all Basotho children. So through the ESP process, we will discuss, plan and cost a strategy for the expansion of reception classes across the country by 2024.
We know from a recent national study4 on preschool quality in Lesotho, that reception classes with no parent fees show higher levels of quality and positive child outcomes compared to private preschools. Food pedagogy and availability of learning and play materials are also important in the context of early learning outcomes. A well-trained and motivated workforce is also key, which is why strengthening the pre-primary workforce, and implementing a new curriculum as the scale up the reception classes across the country takes place will be a priority.
At the High-Level Political Forum, when asked what the one thing is we should prioritize to make universal access to ECE a reality by 2030, Minister Rapapa replied, “Political will and engagement at the highest level.” We couldn’t agree more. The five-year scale up strategy for reception classes being developed in collaboration between the Ministry, UNICEF and other development partners, is a testament to this commitment and will help make Lesotho’s vision a reality.
GPE and UNICEF encourage partners and countries to engage in the BELDS initiative through upcoming peer learning events and a forthcoming global toolkit aimed to support countries with integrating early childhood education into Sector plans. Together we can make universal access to quality pre-primary education a reality for all children!
- EMIS Statistical Bulletin, Lesotho 2017
- UNICEF (2019). “A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing Quality Early Childhood Education”.
- Heckman, James J., et al., ‘The Rate of Return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program’, Journal of Public Economics, vol. 94, no. 1–2, 2010, pp. 114–128, accessed 23 February 2019
- Lesotho early childhood education care and development national study, World Bank, 2018