The evidence is clear that investments in education are the most effective - and lead to the most equitable outcomes - when they focus on the early years.
We know that early childhood education is one of the best investments to prepare children for learning and enable them to thrive throughout their school life and beyond. Without access to good quality, equitable and inclusive early education, children risk being left behind, limiting their ability to learn and thrive in school and later in life.
Yet access remains low, particularly for the most disadvantaged children, and the need for strengthening countries’ knowledge and capacity to deliver quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) is urgent - an area that GPE’s KIX program will address in the coming months.
GPE tracks progress on pre-primary education
While the ECCE sub-sector has experienced rapid growth throughout the world, in developing countries access rates for disadvantaged and marginalized children remain far below those from higher economic groups. Indicator 6 of GPE’s results framework tracks progress on access to pre-primary education through the pre-primary gross enrollment ratio.
Access to ECCE has been on the rise in GPE partner countries, with current overall enrollment at 38% compared to just 19% in 2002.
Yet efforts will need to drastically increase to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4.2 of universal access to quality pre-primary education.
Expanding ECCE programs in developing countries
As countries continue to expand access to pre-primary education, it will be crucial that they find program models that work for their context and can operate at scale while remaining of good quality.
Countries will need to learn from each other and adapt best practices from one another in scaling their ECCE programs, and additional research and innovation will be needed to feed into policy dialogue, planning and budgeting processes, and implementation.
Moreover, universal access to quality preschool education will require a swift expansion in national and international financing.
Thankfully, there is a growing body of global public goods – including tools, methods, frameworks, evidence, standards, resources and activities – that are available to countries in planning and implementing quality pre-primary education.
ECCE is a focus area for GPE’s Knowledge and Innovation Exchange
The design of the GPE Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX), included a discussion paper on ECCE to map existing knowledge and highlight gaps and opportunities. One benefit of the paper was that it consolidated existing tools and research in the area of ECCE, thereby making this information easily accessible to countries.
I would like to say thanks for sending me this kind of document that includes so many wonderful information about ECCE… It will be tangible information for the Ministry, especially for all parts that work with ECCE in the government and private sector… for our references, practice, and use in the implementation of ECCE programs in our country.
Safia Ali Rijaal, Director of Pre-primary and Primary Education in the Ministry of Education in Zanzibar
The ECCE paper details opportunities for KIX in 5 areas: 1
- planning and financial resource allocation
- program standards and curriculum
- teachers and the ECCE workforce
- families and communities
- data collection, monitoring and evaluation.
Given GPE’s work in strengthening sector planning and analyses, we focus here on the first area– yet, please consult the full paper for a discussion of the global goods, remaining gaps and challenges, and opportunities in all 5 areas.
Need for more tools, funding and capacity building for ECCE
We know that system-level planning for ECCE is a challenge for developing countries. This includes education sector planning, resource allocation and implementation of services. Planning for ECCE can be more challenging than for other parts of the sector given the varying models of service provision, differing curricula and pedagogy, varying degrees of government oversight, and relative low levels of public spending – which can become increasingly complex in contexts of fragility and conflict.
As the paper highlights, a variety of tools and resources exist to inform planning for ECCE, including a chapter on it in the ESA Methodological Guidelines and an upcoming 5-week massive open online course on strengthening planning for the pre-primary subsector.
There are also several regional and global tools to help developing country partners cost their ECCE programs and plan for expansion and improvement.
Despite these tools, ECCE sections of education sector analyses and plans are often weak and countries’ pre-primary sub-sectors lack sufficient resources to budget, plan and manage high-performing ECCE systems.
In partnership with UNICEF, GPE’s ongoing Better Early Learning and Development at Scale (BELDS) initiative also responds to countries’ need strengthen their ECCE. BELDS aims to strengthen ECCE within sector planning and budgeting by strengthening the ECCE capacity in a few pilot countries and by developing a global toolkit.
Apart from these initiatives, ECCE partners will need to continue to work together to revise current planning tools and provide additional technical capacity building to make quality early learning programs a reality everywhere.
Developing country partners who were engaged in the consultation process for KIX noted the low domestic budgets for pre-primary, which result in funding gaps for teacher pay, materials, infrastructure, training and other critical needs.
Even with strong sector plans for ECCE, pre-primary education may lack sufficient funding and/or political will for implementation. There remain global gaps in knowledge and tools around financing options and high-level advocacy for greater domestic financing for ECCE, something that KIX will address.
As the proposals for the KIX global call are submitted by October 1st - and the regional grant proposals in April/May 2020 – it will be exciting to see how KIX investments provide tangible capacity development, research support, and innovative practices to help countries in providing quality and equitable pre-primary education at scale.
Additionally, the KIX Regional Hubs will provide an opportunity for countries to learn from their peers on innovative approaches to strengthening ECCE.
This blog draws from the KIX ECCE paper, written by Frances Aboud and Kerrie Proulx.