Ethiopia offers a case study of the opportunities and challenges in development of ECCE in low-resource settings. These challenges need to be understood in the context of recent government priorities to universalise primary education. In many respects, Ethiopia is a success story of Education For All (EFA). In 1992, after the end of the civil war, nearly four out of five children were out of school, by 2009 the number of children out of school had been reduced to one in five.
Given the major reforms taking place to achieve EFA and Millennium Development Goals for universal primary education, the Ethiopian government has until recently paid much less attention to ECCE. ECCE services have been offered almost entirely by private for profit, non-governmental and faith-based providers. As a result, very few children have been able to access the services, and as a rule, children from poorer households or rural areas are least likely to access to early education services, with the consequence that inequalities linked to children's home circumstances are amplified by inequitable educational opportunities.
In 2010, in collaboration with UNICEF and other NGOs, the Ethiopian government designed a national framework for ECCE which includes ideas from many innovative low-cost programmes in the rest of Africa. The goal is for government to continue to regulate private sector and NGO providers, but also begin to provide low-cost alternative ECCE programmes in two forms. Government primary schools are being asked to provide a reception year; and teachers will be asked to train Grade 5 and 6 children to lead Child-to-Child programmes focussing on pre-school age children in their community.
This paper builds on the messages of earlier working papers in this series, especially the challenges of delivering the potential benefits of ECCE in low-resource setting, government engagement limited and where there is heavy reliance on the private sector. Progressing towards greater equity in access to and quality of ECCE is a major challenge.
The paper highlights the different challenges in rural and urban areas. Overall, ECCE has been increasing dramatically in urban areas of Ethiopia, and government is likely to continue to rely on the non-government and private sector to provide services. In this situation, widening access as well as improving registration and regulation of urban preschools becomes a priority, and there is also a need for curricula and quality assurance mechanisms. The biggest risk of relying on private for profit and low fee faith-based preschools is that the most disadvantaged families are most at risk of being excluded from any form of ECCE, unless targeted, government-subsidised strategies are introduced.
In rural areas a very different picture exists. ECCE provision is minimal and basic primary school systems are still being consolidated. Children often enrol late and tend to have difficult trajectories through school, with irregular attendance, and many dropping out or progressing slowly. In part this may due to the low quality of their school and the long journeys involved, as well as the competing demands on children to continue to take on traditional responsibilities at home or in farming. The Young Lives research highlights the need for strengthening and universalising quality ECCE in rural Ethiopia, in order to smooth children?s transitions to and through primary school. Yet it is in rural areas that government faces the greatest challenges in implementation of ECCE.
The 2010 Framework for ECCE in Ethiopia offers a real opportunity to provide universal, low-cost and quality ECCE in Ethiopia, as long as it is carefully phased in and enough resources are provided. However, if the framework is implemented without sufficient extra resources, it is likely to place a major additional burden on an already overstretched primary education system. Faced with this challenge, governments and international donors will need to urgently source additional resources for ECCE.