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We all need feedback to know how we’re doing.  As more and more countries recognize the importance of early childhood education, data are essential for charting an effective path forward.  On behalf of the Consortium for Preprimary Data and Measurement in Africa, we recently joined the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the African Early Childhood Network (AfECN), the Africa Union, and the Mauritian Ministry of Education in Mauritius, to attend the ADEA Inter-Country Quality Node’s Early Childhood Development Leadership Capacity Building Workshop.

Lead by Albert Nsengiyumva, Executive Secretary of ADEA and Maya Soonarane, ADEA’s ICQN-ECD Coordinator and attended by representatives from Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Rwanda, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, Senegal, Liberia, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Rwanda, the meeting was a vibrant discussion of the many successes and challenges of implementing effective early childhood programs.  As countries build early childhood systems, several issues emerge, including the need to effectively train and better support the workforce; the need for ongoing capacity-building to share insights and create the next generation of ECD leaders for Africa by working across universities, non-profits and ministries; and critically, the importance of ensuring quality within ECD settings.  While data are essential for sound planning and evaluation of progress, an emphasis on data and measurement can sometimes feel remote when placed against the immediate needs of children, families and the ECD workforce.

Considering these many issues, we were pleased to showcase progress in data and measurement.  Four CPDMA taskforce countries, Liberia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Africa, were present to summarize their work to date, and to outline common questions and directions for the future.  All four countries have been successful in convening country taskforces to delve into questions on data and measurement, beginning with a mapping of existing sources of data on early childhood development, identification of top policy and programmatic questions to inform with data, and finally priorities for data and measurement.

Dawn Davis of CPDMA set the stage for identifying common themes across their work to date include the following:

  • All four countries engaged in CPDMA because of growing political commitment to early childhood: In some countries, such as Ethiopia, that translates into an opportunity to inform an upcoming policy dialogue on early childhood, and in other countries, like South Africa, where a locally-developed measure of early childhood development is now ready for national roll-out.
  • Most countries have many sources of data on early childhood development. Research studies, program evaluations, household survey data, and data from EMIS can all be useful sources of information on quality to ECE, access to ECE, and trends in child development.
  • Although data are available, all four countries identified areas where more progress could be made. Common areas to focus on in the future include better understanding the level of quality in early childhood education; overall levels of learning and development among young children, especially as they exit preprimary education and head to school; and whether the ECE system is helping to address equity gaps in learning.  Countries also expressed an interest in knowing more about teacher training and preparation before entering the classroom, and how best to support teachers once they are teaching, especially given how remote and isolated some teachers are.

Abbie Raikes of CPDMA also shared examples of how data on early childhood education could help identify policy priorities, by providing brief descriptions from the Measuring Early Learning Quality & Outcomes project.  Data can help solidify perceptions of what’s working and not:  many countries, for example, have new and ambitious goals for early grade reading, but as many as 80% of preprimary classrooms have no age-appropriate books for children.

Going forward, the four countries of CPDMA will continue to identify areas where data and measurement can accelerate progress for young children.  CPDMA will host a meeting in November to discuss progress to date, integrating voices from our CPDMA countries as well as experts from our global consortium.  This meeting will further explore issues on data and measurement in early childhood settings, and will showcase the work done to date by the four CPDMA countries.  ADEA’s Inter-Country Quality Node on Early Childhood, led by Maya Soonarane of Mauritius, will continue to chart a path forward to bring African countries together to share insights on data and measurement, among other issues. For a summary of the meeting and more information on ADEA’s work, please visit ADEA’s ICQN-ECD website.

What gets measured, gets done.  Our four country taskforces bring to light both the complexity of leveraging data and measurement for young children, and they also demonstrate the tremendous creativity and dedication that drives progress forward for early childhood development.