Increasing equitable access and quality of early childhood education (ECE) is one of the priority areas of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX), a joint endeavour with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). As GPE partner countries expand the coverage and quality of ECE, evidence is needed for innovative policy approaches, to implement contextualized learning through play approaches, to support pre-primary to primary school transition, and to improve parental engagement and overall quality.
KIX ECE grantees participated in a Southern Africa Regional Conference on early childhood development, hosted by the Government of Zambia in collaboration with The African Early Childhood Network, from March 28 to March 30, 2023, in Lusaka, Zambia. Participants from more than 9 countries shared their experiences, lessons, practices, and emerging priorities on Early Childhood Development and Education in the Southern Africa region.
At the conference, KIX ECE grantees participated in an interactive preconference master class on applied behavioural design and a knowledge synthesis side event. They also showcased emerging evidence from their projects and innovations.
Insights from KIX ECE research projects
- Inclusive ECE programmes that are designed and implemented collaboratively with communities and local health facilities promote participation of children with disabilities in learning, play and access to medical assessments.
- Parental and teacher beliefs on play impact the extent to which they facilitate and support children’s play. When parents and teachers understand the importance of play and play activities, they support and facilitate learning through play, both at home and school.
- Teachers embrace play-based pedagogy when governments fully mainstream play-based methodology in the curriculum at school and during teacher training. Collaboration between researchers and ministry of education is important to ensure a review of early years’ curricula to institutionalize play-based learning.
- In-service teacher training which is district led can have a significant impact on transforming the culture of learning at school levels. The proximity to mentors offers teachers social support and motivation to consistently transfer knowledge, skills and abilities learned.
- Teacher mentors who are trained specifically in ECE and play based approaches are transforming gender norms and inclusive practices in early learning classes/schools.
- While school readiness has been acknowledged as important for learning, there should be guidelines on what it should constitute and how it should be determined and achieved.
- Children can be a resource to help meet the psychosocial and learning needs of other children and families living in difficult circumstances and encouraging parents to appreciate the role of older children in supporting learning for younger children is important.
- Improving access to education involves proactively sharing knowledge with all stakeholders at all levels, strengthening community ownership and ensuring the government is engaged from the beginning.
The theme of the conference was partnerships for better early childhood education and development outcomes in Southern Africa with an overarching focus on the Africa we want for our children. Among the key conference messages were the importance of including at least one year of pre-primary education in formal schooling and including children with disabilities in early childhood development and education, as well as the value of childcare and the immense benefits it offers on the productivity of families.
The conference communique calls stakeholders to acknowledge the best practices in ECE to scale across multiple domains including design, testing and implementation of promising practices. The communique emphasises the importance of promoting the availability of quality ECE data, translation, and utilization of existing research evidence to improve the quality of services. This includes evidence on best practices and successful interventions to promote learning through play and contextually relevant options.
KIX mobilizes evidence through applied research to generate new knowledge to support the scaling of promising and proven innovations on early childhood education. Each project is unique, and KIX is synthesizing emerging findings while aligning the focus to contextual realities and priorities and sharing emerging evidence with the goal of contributing to strengthened education systems.