As part of the 2022 Comparative International Education Society (CIES) conference, Together for Early Childhood Evidence, a USAID-supported consortium convened by ECD Measure, led a panel focused on four country-led research activities (in Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda and South Africa) that support strengthening and developing effective early childhood monitoring and measurement systems.

Together for Early Childhood Evidence brings together government officials, researchers and other stakeholders interested in pre-primary data and measurement in Africa. Since 2019, country task force teams in Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, and South Africa have been working together to identify needs related to ECE data and measurement.  In 2021, Together for Early Childhood Evidence launched country research activities in the four task force countries to promote evidence-based decision-making for ECE, which in turn will lead to greater impact for ECE investments and higher-quality services for children and families. Each country team identified their own specific research activities to address gaps in data-driven decision making in sub-Saharan Africa.  The panel was an opportunity for the country teams to share their projects, initial results, and reflections on how data can be used to improve ECE services in their countries.

Liberia: Mapping ECED Centers Presented by Dr. Cecelia Cassel, University of Liberia

In Liberia, the government had limited to no information about the status of early childhood programs in the country. Researchers are working with the government to map and create a catalog of public, private, community, and faith-based ECD centers, including components of structural and process quality. Data was collected in a total of 60 schools throughout the 3 education regions in Liberia (1 county per region).

Preliminary findings show that children have little to no choice in how to carry out activities; children rarely look or read at books on their own; and that in more than half of the classrooms, children have no peer interactions.  In most of the classrooms teachers led literacy/language activities and in about half of the classrooms teachers led math activities.  Teachers often have no ECE-specific trainings and for the majority of ECE teachers, the highest education level completed is high school.

The team in Liberia will organize a stakeholder meeting with the Ministry of Education to share the findings of the study and catalogue.  The data collected from this exercise will be used to help focus and manage resources to identified areas of improvement in ECE as well as identify areas for teacher training. The data collection tools may also be adopted for ongoing monitoring of quality in Liberian early childhood settings.

South Africa: Thrive by Five Presented by Sonja Giese, Innovation Edge

In South Africa, even though 72 percent of children aged 4-5 year attend some type of early learning program (ELP), limited systematic information was available about the diverse ELPs in the country and children’s development. In the South African Thrive by Five Index, researchers are measuring children’s early learning outcomes on a nationally representative sample of children and conducting an audit of early learning programs. The Index will provide regular and reliable data on a nationally representative, random sample of young children to monitor trends over time in the proportion of children under 5 years who are on track for age in key areas of development.

Index findings report that, in general, only 35% of children are developmentally on track.  In terms of learning and school readiness, 45% of children are on track for learning, with 65% of children falling either behind or far behind.  25% of children in South Africa showed signs of stunting.  Data shows that as household income increases, so does the child’s chances of being on track.  By age 4 years, a child from the lowest income group is already 1 full year behind a child of normal growth in the wealthiest income group.

The Thrive by Five Index is part of a broader initiative to use data tools and insights to help change the educational trajectories of poor children in South Africa. The Index was launched in April 2022 and will coincide with an important political shift in South Africa that will see responsibility for ECD transferring from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The Index therefore provides a baseline of service quality and child outcomes against which DBE can monitor progress over time. The intention is to collect Index data every three years.

Rwanda: Collecting and using data on quality of pre-primary Presented by: Monique Abimpaye, Caroline Dusabe, Noella Kabarungi, Save the Children

Expanding access and quality of pre-primary education is a priority in the Rwandan Education Sector Strategic Plan, however there is limited access to data on the quality of the classroom environment to guide decision-making.  Using the International Development Early Learning Assessment Classroom Environment Tool (IDELA CE), researchers conducted a classroom observation to measure quality in a nationally representative sample of pre-primary classrooms.

Overall results show that most pre-primary teachers have limited experience, lack ECE-specific training, and that only 23% of pre-primary teachers are on the government payroll (compared to 100% of primary school teachers). The average IDELA-CE score (which scores items in three key areas: Classroom resources; literacy/numeracy learning environment; and interactions) was 3.4 out of a 5-point scale.  Data was collected digitally, which allowed officials to review data in real time; it was noted that digital data collection (using smart phones) was preferable to previously-used paper instruments as it facilitated time required to collect, enter and analyze data.

An important aspect of this project was the involvement and capacity building of local officials to collect and utilize classroom-level data to improve the quality of ECE programming in Rwanda.  The data has helped local education officers to better direct resources, budgets, and organize teacher training based on identified areas of need.  Data has also been beneficial at the central level of government as they are currently in the process of hiring 3,000 additional teachers and putting them all on the government payroll.  This exercise has helped to shape a more positive data-use culture in Rwanda as stakeholders are better understanding the need for data to improve quality, rather than seeing data collection as a policing tool.

Ethiopia: ECDE Knowledge Hub Presented by: Belay Tefera (Addis Ababa University), and Menelik Desta (Ethiopian School Readiness Initiative)

In Ethiopia, local stakeholders identified inaccessible and fragmented data and information about the ECE system as a core challenge. To address this challenge, a multi-disciplinary research team led a consultation with local ECE stakeholders to compile existing resources and data to create a repository/knowledge hub.

Almost 500 different ECE-related resources (datasets, teacher training documents, parent engagement, tools/measurement, curriculum, etc.) was collected from 50 different organizations and partners throughout Addis Ababa.

The Knowledge Hub will encourage academic partners, government officials, and practitioners to access and disseminate existing evidence on early childhood access and quality in Ethiopia. It aims to improve effectiveness of developing resources and reduce duplication efforts as well as demonstrate strengths and gaps in existing resources to stimulate further work, dialogue and research for ECDE in Ethiopia.  At the Knowledge Hub demonstration, stakeholders committed to developing a national ECDE consortium to establish a national center of excellent in ECDE research for Ethiopia.

Within each presentation, panelists were able to share how generating and/or using local evidence is strengthening effective monitoring and measurement systems for early childhood education.  At the end of the panel, participants had an opportunity to reflect on common themes, including the importance of creating a culture of data.  Teams discussed and reflected on the importance of clearly communicating the purpose of collecting and using data in advance.  Stakeholders (particularly teachers and other stakeholders at the local level) need to understand that data is not being collected to police or penalize.  Similarly, there is a need to use common language in sharing data and results.  When researchers present, they often use academic language, creating a disconnect between those people who are on-the-ground and supposed to use the data for quality improvements.  As part of the efforts to create a culture of data, we as researchers need to flip the way we introduce, communicate and present data so that people understand it’s focused on improving learning and quality and not on penalizing.