Minna Kuivalainen via web
The three-year (2015-2017) Early Childhood Education and Development project in the districts of Thatta and Muzaffargarh in Punjab and Sindh Provinces in Pakistan, was a continuum of an Early Childhood Education project initiated in 2012. Altogether 9,500 children (4,900 girls, 4,600 boys) were enrolled in 154 ECE centers in two districts supported by the project during the period of 2015-2017.
The project established close cooperation with the educational authorities in both provinces, and encountered a momentum when serious efforts to upscale Early Childhood Education (ECE) in both provinces started to take place; the formulation and approval of provincial level ECE policies enabled serious investment and scaling up of ECE activities in both of the two provinces, processes in which Plan Pakistan was involved through the project.
In Punjab province, the Provincial Government took Plan’s model for ECE as a model to be replicated within the whole province in line with a new ECE Policy approved in 2016 and celebrated in late 2017. The aim is to open 10,000 new ECE centers by the end of 2018, of which 5,000 were operating by the end of 2017. In this regard, Plan supported the formulation and printing of ECE teacher’s guide, and training of 163 Master Trainers who then trained teachers in 36 districts that worked for 6,000 centres. In addition, Plan supported 120 ECE centers in the district of Muzaffargarh through a public-private partnership in which Plan provided teacher-training, renovation of ECE centers, and provision of ECE materials, while rooms for ECE centers and caregiver’s honorarium were the responsibility of the District Education Department of Muzaffargarh.
In Sindh province, a new ECE policy was formulated during the project period by the Education Department of the Government of Sindh, and the policy was officially launched in May, 2017, with an aim to construct ECE rooms to 1,000 existing primary schools. Plan has been active in the policy formulation process and continued to inform relevant stakeholders about the content of the new policy. The new policy considers the Early Childhood Development for children from 0 to 8 years, which encompasses the ECE work of Plan, and provides a political framework for the pilot component Plan conducted to provide maternal and post-natal services to mothers of children under 3 in four disadvantaged communities in Thatta district. The previous project phase had demonstrated the need to extend early childhood development activities to younger children and their parents, and the project evaluation report of the current project demonstrated an increased understanding of mothers about child development, and prevention and treatment of common diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.
In Thatta district, the ECE centers are managed by the communities, while local authorities continue to monitor the function and quality of the centers. The project supported altogether 34 ECE centers, which will continue being operated by the communities by purpose build community base organisations and management committees after the project ends.
Promoting good parenting skills has been an essential component of the project. The model include teacher training, and sessions with parents to discuss such themes as child development, importance of education, nutrition, health, gender and child rights. In 2017, a total of 434 sessions were held to which 7,200 persons participated.
The project evaluation reveals that some advances have been made in attempts to change prevailing gender roles and norms. Boys and girls now attend ECE centers on an equal basis. Attention has been paid to contract male caregivers in addition to female caregivers to the ECE centers to demonstrate that both men and women have the ability to conduct child rearing activities. Many school management or steering groups have female heads, and in general, women have been active in the management of the ECE centers. However, the work on gender roles should continue in the future to achieve permanent changes.
The strong commitment of the district and provincial educational authorities to upscaling early childhood education is a key element to the continuation of the established ECE centers. In Muzaffargarh, the district authorities were able to take over the management of ECE centers Plan had ben supporting, since the authorities had already been involved in the operations of the centers in close cooperation with Plan during the project period. In Thatta, the ECE centers will continue to be managed by the communities themselves. An estimation of half of the centers have a good capacity to continue to do so, and Plan Pakistan will continue to increase the capacity of the rest of the centers until their functions are on a solid basis.
Increased capacity of the Educational Authorities to train ECE teachers and caregivers in 36 districts of Punjab Province after the master trainings conducted by Plan contributes to the overall sustainability of the project through increased local capacity to conduct refresher trainings to teachers and caregivers in the ECE centres.
Establishing relations with local and district educational authorities and coordinating activities with them has been time-consuming, and lead to significant changes in the project structure, as well as to delays in some of the project activities. However, the work has paid off, and the public-private partnership model utilized for the establishment and operations of the ECE centres has been successful and suitable for the local context.
Since some of the ECE-related regulations were formed or renewed during the project period, some of the Plan-supported ECE centers did not fulfil all of the regulations. For example, requirements for the educational level of the caregivers were put into place, while for Plan it had resulted difficult or impossible to find qualified applicants in some of the most remote areas.
The evaluation of the pilot programme in Thatta district to provide home-based services to families of children under 3 provided good recommendations on how to take this type of services further: while the initial focus was on maternal and post-natal care and providing information on child-rearing and health, in the future, it would be useful to incorporate monitoring and capacity building on child development milestones, family planning, breastfeeding and nursing, as well as gender issues in general, to achieve the full potential for early childhood development of children under 3.