Access to quality early childhood education (ECE) before starting formal schooling can make an enormous positive difference to children’s learning and development.  As part of its new education policy, USAID is now actively supporting countries in building effective early childhood systems.  In support of this effort, we are pleased to announce the initiation of a Consortium on Pre-Primary Education Data & Measurement in sub-Saharan Africa.

Data on all elements of child development – including health, nutrition, social protection, family background, and quality of learning environments, in addition to early childhood development and learning – are essential for building and sustaining effective ECE systems.  The only way to know whether systems are performing for all children is to measure progress, and the only way to fix problems is to actively reflect on the results – by routinely and objectively measuring quality of learning environments, documenting the roles that health, nutrition, and family environments play in children’s learning and development to make sure programs are addressing children’s needs, and tracking children’s development and learning in ways that promote children’s rights and equity across populations.  Having comprehensive information is even more important for children who have been affected by conflict or crisis situations:  we must know about these children’s experiences to design and implement effective interventions and advocate for them.

There are many tools available to measure child development and quality of learning environments, and many surveys and research studies that produce important information.  Some of these tools are used now in low- and middle-income countries, and efforts to test and implement tools, conduct studies and household surveys are underway in many countries, leading to critical information on quality and access to early childhood education.  But for many countries, the resulting data is a patchwork of efforts funded by different organizations that may or may not be repeated again. This happens in countries in all regions and income levels, and while there are some good practices in using data in ECE, the extent to which these can be applied across countries and regions is unknown. The information that comes from each of these efforts is extremely valuable, but to produce this information over time, governments, non-profit organizations, and universities benefit from coordinated plans to help clarify what data is needed, for what purposes, and the routes for collecting it.

Having the right tools are a small (albeit important) part of the puzzle, especially when it comes to long-term sustainability and ongoing improvement of early childhood systems.  It’s even more important to ensure that data are used well:  for policymakers to reflect on where the system is working and not; to provide support to teachers and other ECE professionals; and to inform families on the quality of early childhood education.  Clarifying the purpose of why the data are collected, how they will be analyzed and applied to decision-making is critical.

The Consortium is designed to support the work ministries and other stakeholders in sub-Saharan Africa in developing and implementing effective data systems in ECE, recognizing the need for country-led innovation on this issue. In partnership with the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and Africa Early Childhood Development Network (AfECN), the Consortium will begin with a cohort of 4-6 countries who have expressed interest in addressing data and measurement in ECE.  We will convene both in-person and virtually over the next year to document the challenges and opportunities in building data-driven systems, such as lack of resources to make improvements and limited staff devoted to data in ECE.  By working across countries, the Consortium will create peer-learning opportunities and provide technical support for the work of defining the contours of early childhood data systems, and considering where and how data have the highest leverage and impact on policy change.

It’s clear that data can be a valuable asset in the pursuit of high-quality early childhood education.  To make good on our commitment to young children, investing in data systems can yield the information and insight that’s needed to ensure all young children receive quality ECE.

For more information, please visit the consortium page.