Informing policy on early childhood education in Ethiopia

Young Lives advised on the roll-out of a new ‘zero grade’ before the start of primary school in Ethiopia, providing evidence on both supply- and demand-side constraints on good-quality early childhood development.

Exposure to quality early childhood education programmes is one of the most effective ways of improving children’s opportunities, both at school and in later life, but while most children in developing countries now have access to primary schooling, the provision of preschool education lags some way behind.

Early in the Young Lives study, pre-school attendance was very low in Ethiopia, at around 5 per cent, and the emerging pre-school system was dominated by private kindergartens for wealthy families in urban areas. The government started to consider the delivery of early learning in 2010, with all schools being asked to add a zero grade (O-Class) before the start of primary school.

Following initial consultations, the Young Lives team offered direct input into the draft section on early learning within the government’s five-year plan for education. They followed this with a series of small, highly-focused, exploratory studies which draw attention to key challenges in delivering national plans for good-quality early learning to scale, and implementing them in the regions.

The focus on early childhood in Ethiopia was given additional momentum by new initiatives, particularly the World Bank’s Early Learning Partnership (ELP) programme which commenced in August 2016. Young Lives’ research was used to help inform World Bank research priorities.

For example, Young Lives’ research found that the majority of children using the new O-Class provision, aimed at 6-yearolds, were in fact younger than the target age. This identified the need for ELP, and the early-learning policy more generally, to plan beyond O-Class and consider the needs of even younger children. 

Young Lives also conducted research in teacher training colleges and identified that there was a limited understanding of the needs of O-Class teachers, often a lack of suitable training content or approaches, and a failure to adapt the curriculum to the O-Class model and context; and that the pace of roll-out of teacher training for diplomas and certificates was too slow to meet the rapidly growing need. As a result, inservice training for pre-school teachers will form a core part of ELP.

Young Lives’ analysis of children’s ages in O-class was also used by the World Bank and Ministry of Education, and influenced their decisions on how the grants made by the World Bank’s General Education Quality Improvement Program (GEQIP) should apply to O-class.

In addition, Young Lives made significant contributions to the Education World Forum (EWF) Event in 2016 and 2017. In January 2016 Young Lives was requested to brief the Ethiopian Minister of Education, as an input to the preparation of his presentation to the EWF. At DFID’s request, key Young Lives staff, including the Country Directors for Ethiopia and India, provided input into an ECD meeting at the same event. In 2017 the Ethiopian Minister of Education again used evidence from Young Lives in his speech at the EWF. For related impact stories from Young Lives, please follow the study on Twitter @yloxford #YLLearnings.