by Quentin Wodon
Scientific and economic arguments make a clear case for investing in early childhood development (ECD). This was the topic of yesterday’s post. But what should ECD providers and countries focus on when investing in ECD? What do they need to pay attention to? How can they assess whether their ECD programs and systems are sound? Some issues will be program-specific. For example, what is the scope of the available ECD programs? What is their coverage? How equitable is access to programs? Other issues will be system-wide. How good is the enabling environment for ECD programs and policies? Are various agencies and Ministries coordinating their interventions? Are quality assurance mechanisms in place for providers?
These are complex questions. To answer them a framework is needed. The second module of the World Bank’s free online ECD course does just that: it provides a framework for assessing the quality of ECD programs and policies in a country. The module is designed with policy makers in mind, but it should also be useful for practitioners, including those implementing ECD programs on the ground, simply because understanding how the overall ECD system works (or does not work) matters when thinking about a particular intervention. This second blog post in the 3-part series on ECD explains the thinking behind this second module.
The course’s second module is based on the ECD component of the SABER (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) framework. SABER ECD identifies three policy goals that matter most for effective ECD country systems: (1) Establishing an Enabling Environment; (2) Implementing Widely; and (3) Monitoring and Assuring Quality. Taken together the three goals help in addressing constraints to effective ECD policies such as fragmented policy between ministries, limited and uneven access to services, and poor quality assurance mechanisms. For each policy goal, three policy levers are identified to strengthen ECD systems. The Figure below presents the structure of the SABER-ECD framework with the three goals and nine levers.
Establishing an Enabling Environment. This is the foundation for effective ECD policies. A country’s enabling environment can encourage diverse participation and service uptake, promote efficient service delivery, and ensure adequate financing and institutional capacity. In the context of ECD, establishing an enabling environment entails developing an adequate legal and regulatory framework to support ECD provision. Coordination within sectors and across institutions is necessary to ensure effective service delivery. Finally, the availability of adequate fiscal resources and systems to allocate financing will determine the extent to which the enabling environment supports the ECD system.
Implementing Widely. This goal refers to the scope of existing programs offered and their coverage level, as well as the extent to which access to these programs is equitable and children’s holistic development is addressed. A robust ECD system should include policies that support programs in all essential sectors and target all beneficiary groups (e.g., pregnant women, infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and caregivers). Finally, particular attention must be paid to children from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds as well as those with special needs, so that all children have equitable access to the programs being offered.
Monitoring and Assuring Quality. This goal refers to the availability of data and systems to monitor ECD outcomes, the development of quality standards for ECD service delivery, and the establishment of systems to monitor compliance with these standards. Under political and budget pressures, policymakers may expand access to ECD services at the expense of quality. This could jeopardize the very benefits that policymakers hope children will gain through preschool and other ECD interventions. Sound evidence is required to inform policy decisions. Impact evaluations suggest that the benefits from ECD interventions are large, but if programs are of poor quality, the benefits may be negligible and the programs may even be detrimental. Furthermore, in many countries, a large proportion of ECD services are provided by the private sector; for these systems, well-defined and enforced monitoring and quality assurance systems are critical to ensure that standards for service delivery are met.
To summarize, what the second module of the online course does is to 1) Describe the three policy goals and how they affect ECD outcomes; 2) Explain the nine policy levers in more details and how they contribute to the three policy goals; and 3) Examine how ECD systems affect children’s growth and development through two stylized country case studies – a well performing country, and a poorly performing one.
Implementation of SABER ECD
Before concluding, it is useful to mention that apart from the two stylized country case studies used to illustrate the above framework, the course also provides examples from actual countries on programs and policies that have worked especially well (good practice cases). These examples stem from lessons learned from the application of the SABER ECD diagnostic tool to about 50 countries worldwide. The map below provides a visualization of the countries where the tool has been (or is being) applied to date. In the third and final post of this series, the focus will shift to the third question considered in the online course, namely how to implement ECD programs and policies.
Note: This series of three posts is based on the e-learning course mentioned above, which was developed by a World Bank team comprising of Amina Denboba, Monica McLin, Michelle Neuman, Rebecca Kraft Sayre, Yidan Wang, and the author.