2001 NMB: Evaluation of Early Childhood Development Projects in Namibia
Author: Remmelzwaal, C. A.
The Education and Early Childhood Development Programme began as one of the six components of the 1997-2001 Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN)/UNICEF Programme of Cooperation. The main focus of the UNICEF ECD Programme was to improve the delivery of services through strengthening the capacity of Government and NGO officials in target communities, and to empower parents and other caregivers in order to promote better parenting practices. A formal Mid Term Review was conducted in 1999 and resulted in a revision of the overall objectives of the ECD programme. These changes called for programme objectives and strategies to be readjusted in order to meet the need for a more responsive human rights approach to programming for children, their parents and caregivers. These changes are addressed in the new country programme. This evaluation was carried out to meet a requirement of the donor; the Bernard van Leer Foundation.
Purpose / Objective
The objectives of the evaluation were to:
- assess the viability of strategies and mechanisms in place, and present an overall analysis of the development of the projects
- ascertain the cost effectiveness and sustainability of the projects
- take stock against the original objectives and set recommendations for adjustments to future ECD programmes
The evaluation has, overall, employed a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative tools for data collection and analysis. Details of the methodological design and implementation of individual evaluations can be found in each of the nine sections of the report. Each intervention has been formatted to be used as a stand-alone report as well as for collective usage.
Key Findings and Conclusions
UNICEF's ECD programme in Namibia is characterised by a willingness to recognise the strength that is to be found in diversity. The nine different interventions, evaluated herein, reflect the different strands of an ECD strategy striving to be complementary and multi-sectoral in approach. Instead of investing in the development of a single, national model, UNICEF has opted to affirm the strategies advocated by the National ECD Policy in its acceptance of diversity while striving for equity. Such a policy allows UNICEF's ECD programme to be shaped by local needs and resources.
The interventions evaluated were found to be united in a common vision of a human rights approach to programming, which looks beyond the immediate causes, to examine the underlying reasons of why parents, guardians and communities fail to fulfil their responsibilities in caring for young children and orphans. Each intervention provides its own unique contribution to strengthening the capacity of these primary duty bearers to enable them to provide quality childcare and development for their young children.
Intervention 1: Capacity Building of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare (MWACW)
The overall objective of this evaluation was to examine the process by which the Directorate of Community Development (DCD), within the MWACW, has been strengthened in terms of organisational and human capacity as a result of technical, financial and organisational assistance.
The main findings revealed that the recommendation made by the Mid-Term Review in 1999, to use capacity assessments, was never fully realised. This resulted in attempts to strengthen capacity being based on broad assumptions. Expectations of the DCD's capacity to implement certain programmes were found to be too high. As a result, output in some programme initiatives often fell short of original objectives. Levels of participation and communication have not always been optimised, resulting in various blockages between the MWACW and other stakeholders at the national level. Decentralisation was found to have no implicit magic formula for mitigating the shortcomings of previous efforts made at the national level. On the other hand, decentralisation provides UNICEF with a new window of opportunity, which has, in regions such as Omusati, already begun to bear fruit.
A main recommendation suggests that future plans to integrate capacity building into ECD programmes, whether process or goal-orientated, should be based on thorough capacity assessments. Assessments should be made using an appropriate capacity building framework. UNICEF should ensure that assessments of organisational and human capacity are written into planning documents and be an integrated part of the logical framework, giving clear, measurable indicators for use in the monitoring and evaluation of all ECD initiatives.
Intervention 2: Community Action Plans
The objective of this evaluation was to examine the context in which the Community Action Plans (CAPs) were developed and to determine to what degree they have been implemented.
The evaluation found that the intrinsic value of the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and the CAPs experience for the communities and DCD staff involved was, on the whole, positive. However, it was established that several factors contributed to a shortfall in the effectiveness of the PRAs as well as the development and implementation of the CAPs. An attempt to define the needs of the community within a narrow range of ECD issues resulted in an imposition of a pre-determined ECD agenda. This clearly undermined the sense of value and ownership of the CAPs by the communities. This finding goes some way to explain why the implementation of the CAPs has not been entirely successful. Other reasons why the CAPs have not reached their original objectives are related to the logistical problems experienced by the CLOs and CAs in terms of lack of capacity, funding and transport.
A key recommendation suggests that future PRAs and CAPs, carried out to determine ECD needs in communities, should be multi-sectoral in approach. The team of facilitators should reflect a holistic approach to community development including ECD, health, education and even stakeholders who have an interest in income generating-activities. This mix of strategic and practical approaches would ensure that communities are able to freely express all their priorities and determine their own solutions.
Intervention 3: Family Support Strategies
The overall objective of this evaluation was to review the process and outcomes of the Family Visitors pilot programme in terms of the impact that the FVs have had on the attitudes, behaviour and practices of parents and caregivers of young children.
In spite of the various constraints and shortcomings in the initial programme design, structures and management, it was found that the Family Visitors (FV) programme has, to a large extent, achieved the original programme objectives. There is no doubt that these have been achieved through the tenacity and commitment of individual FVs, and their ability to mobilise community support. One can only conclude that at an early stage in the programme, the community perceived the FVs as useful and necessary agents of change. Although the families involved in the programmes could rarely afford to show their appreciation in material terms, they clearly recognised the benefits of the programme to themselves and their children. It was found that the programme has survived in most communities on very little outside input and support, demonstrating that the ownership of the programme lies essentially with the communities.
One recommendation for this intervention suggests that the scaling-up of the FV programme should be treated as Phase II of the pilot project. Lessons learned from Phase I must be given full cognisance and internalised before the planning of Phase II begins. As Phase II of the pilot, scaling-up should be done in a carefully-controlled manner. A reassessment of the number and capacity of DCD personnel currently available in the regions for follow-up support and supervision, will first be necessary. It is suggested that the FV programme builds on its own success at the community level and begin to scale-up through two or three selected satellite communities near those communities already involved in the programme. Networking between the communities will provide an indigenous support system for the FVs and ensure that the CAs and CLOs are not overloaded.
Intervention 4: Orphan Care Project
The overall objective of the evaluation was to assess the progress made during the pilot phase of the Orphan Care Project (OCP) in relation to the original objectives and in consideration of the specific contexts in which the initiatives took place.
A case study of the implementation of the OCP in Omusati region, found that the pilot has raised more questions than it has been able to answer. This confirms that Namibia's experience of orphans as a 'social problem' is limited. The introduction of the OCP at the end of 1999 provided the regional DCD with an innovative and structured approach to dealing with an ever-increasing problem. Using ECD facilities as a platform, the DCD began implementing a series of agreements with ECD workers whereby they agreed to take orphans for free in return for assistance in improving their ECD facility. The OCP has also opened the way for other 'alternative' solutions to emerge via the ECD platform. While progress has been made in terms of recorded commitments to the care of orphans and the implementation of material assistance to ECD facilities, there are several constraints that have limited the potential progress of the OCP in Omusati Region. There is no doubt that similar constraints are likely to arise in other regions.
It is recommended that the OCP programme be 're-launched' nationally by the GRN and UNICEF, following a roundtable discussion with all stakeholders, including regional CCLOs and NGOs. The presentation should be more participatory and less prescriptive. A case study of the Omusati pilot could provide the basis for a formal presentation, but should be followed by a facilitated discussion of the situation concerning orphan care in each of the other regions, in order to reflect on commonalities and differences. This type of facilitation will help to deal with some of the misunderstandings and promote a broader ownership of the project.
Intervention 5: Capacity Building of the National Early Childhood Development NGO Association
The main objective of the evaluation was to determine to what degree the original capacity building objectives, in terms of both skills transfer and sustainability, have been achieved by the Capacity Building Team in their first year.
The main findings suggested that one year into the CBT's programme, it is possible to pinpoint real capacity building milestones. There is clear evidence that the CBT has been most meticulous in remaining close to the original objectives of the capacity building initiative. This structured and well-disciplined approach has resulted in effective and sustainable capacity building in many key areas. There are, however, some areas that will require more in-depth attention.
One of the main recommendations suggests that in order to sustain the gains that the Coordinator has clearly made, the CBT should seriously consider the Coordinator's current 'overwhelming' needs. This should be done by resuming with the close mentoring approach, for at least a further six months, which proved to be so successful in the first year. At the same time, the CBT should plan an internal assessment of the Coordinator's activities and capacities to take place within 3-5 months of their second year, the objective being to realign or readjust the capacity building agenda for both the Coordinator and the Office Administrator. This would allow the CBT sufficient time to identify any areas of capacity shortfall that would need strengthening in the final phase.
Intervention 6: Omaheke San Trust
The objective of this evaluation was to assess progress made in each of the ECD initiatives in three San communities, within the context of the existing structures and other various ongoing initiatives in Omaheke region.
The evaluation found that across the three communities, there were varying degrees of the ECD initiatives becoming an integrated part of the total community development strategy. Ownership, in most cases, was in the hands of the San and had not been imposed from outside. More efforts are needed to involve San parents in ECD initiatives so as not to dis-empower them. The chronic lack of food security and its impact on the young child was found in all San communities. Outside standards in relation to ECD were, to some degree, still imposed and this countered attempts to look at alternatives to centre-based care.
A major recommendation suggests that affirmative action is urgently needed to break the deadlock around the issue of food security for kindergartens and other ECD initiatives in the Omaheke region. This issue needs to be brought to the attention of the Regional authorities who are in a position to plan drought relief and school feeding programmes. An interim plan of action, which targets ECD initiatives in San communities, should become a priority of the Educationally Marginalised Communities project (UNICEF/OST), which is currently in its start-up phase.
Intervention 7: The Total Child Family Visitors Programme
The primary objective of this evaluation was to assess the degree to which the Total Child FVs have acquired the knowledge, skills and attitudes to promote community and family-based processes that focus on the socialisation of children and their caregivers towards human rights and the protection of children. It also compared some aspects of the Government's FV programme with the ACORD FV programme.
One of the main findings was that communities and FVs who have been exposed to a process of critical enquiry and analysis as well as training in redirecting children's behaviour and children's rights, are more likely to engage in positive child-rearing practices than parents in those communities who have not. The type and content of the training undertaken by the Total Child FVs so far, has provided a very important dynamic and, although it is early days, it may prove to be one of the key differences between the two programmes. An important constraint found in the programme was the lack of input, beyond training, from the MWACW.
It is recommended that the partnership between ACORD and the MWACW in relation to the Total Child FVs pilot programme be clarified so that each partner knows what their roles and responsibilities are and what is expected of them. A joint work plan, drawn up between the Ministry and ACORD, giving a time frame, activities and outcomes, clearly stating who the responsible agents are, would probably help to increase the degree of shared ownership and responsibility for the pilot programme.
Intervention 8: Material Development
The overall objective of this evaluation was to assess the appropriateness and impact of the materials, and to examine the degree of usage and impact at different sites, from training institutions to the community and household levels.
The main findings revealed that there is a wealth of information on ECD and related issues that, if fully utilised, could impact the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of duty bearers for the provision of childcare. Presently, there is no comprehensive listing or organisational structure at the national or regional level that gives an overview of the materials currently available. Access to, and availability of, the materials at the community level remains problematic. Most of the materials are classed as resource material and are not user-friendly at the community or household level. Guidelines tend to be overly prescriptive and fail to take cognisance of the cultural diversity of childcare provision.
One of the main recommendations suggests that a low-cost catalogue of all the ECD materials available should be designed, giving samples of posters, summaries of relevant documents, videos and an indication of where they can be obtained. Materials could be organised according to type or by subject. This would provide all stakeholders with an overview of the materials available and encourage distribution and usage.
Intervention 9: Technical and Administrative Support
The main objective of this evaluation was to assess the current role of the UNICEF Assistant ECD Officer as reflected in both formal expectations and in the changing perceptions of the position as held by UNICEF's partners and various ECD stakeholders.
The evaluation found that UNICEF had been fortunate in their appointment of the current ECD Assistant Project Officer as she has a broad technical knowledge of ECD as well as positive work experience in early childhood development and care programmes. However, three main constraints to the effectiveness of the role of the current ECD Project Officer were identified during the evaluation.
The recommendations suggest that trade-offs between the role of the ECD Assistant Project officer and internal demands, made during the UNICEF programme cycle, should be minimised. Quarterly and yearly work plans should realistically reflect all demands made by events in the programme cycle as well as disturbances caused by UNICEF's internal bureaucracy and public relations events, such as visits from the Executive Board. This should then be relayed to all of UNICEF's partners so that they, in turn, can be realistic in their expectations of the ECD Project Officer's capacity and availability.
The rich diversity of the nine individual interventions evaluated does not lend itself easily to listing generic recommendations. However, it is clear from the overlapping and interweaving of the initiatives that there are common thematic strands that run through the interventions. The following thematic recommendations attempt to provide the UNICEF ECD Programme with more explicit guidelines:
Participatory and Consultative Planning
The current evaluation noted a clear contradiction within some of the ECD Programme initiatives that promote participation in externally-determined projects. While this dilemma is not unusual, in this case, it has caused some degree of confusion between partners in terms of responsibilities and accountability. There is no doubt that a move towards more participatory planning methodologies would result in an increased sense of ownership among partners within the ECD Programme. It is, therefore, recommended that the ECD Programme should review its planning processes to ensure that appropriate levels of consultation and collaboration take place among all stakeholders.
Capacity Building Assessments and Agendas
While acknowledgement is given to UNICEF's facilitation of the comprehensive capacity building programme of the NECD NGO Association, the current evaluation found that the ECD Programme has sometimes assumed a somewhat passive role in this all-important area. It is strongly recommended that the ECD Programme urgently review and redefine its strategic and practical role in relation to its capacity building efforts.
It is recommended that efforts be made to ensure that capacity building does not remain merely an 'assumption' within the ECD Programme's Logical Framework. Capacity building assessments and agendas should be explicitly written into planning documents. Systematic capacity assessments should be carried out in a participatory manner at the appropriate level, be it national, regional or within the community, at the appraisal stage of a project cycle.
Programme Focus and Prioritisation
It is recommended that the ECD Programme address the need to improve the quality of its inputs in terms of technical assistance to each of its diverse initiatives. In particular, attention should be given to the areas of monitoring and follow-up support. The shortfall in these programme areas has been clearly identified as being due to the over-extension of the human resources and capacity presently available within the ECD Programme.
In order to avoid spreading its resources too thinly, it is recommended that the ECD Programme seriously consider cutting back on the number of UNICEF-supported projects in order to ensure quality-focused attention to the remaining projects. This suggestion for re-prioritisation does not imply an exclusive policy approach. On the contrary, as the ECD Assistant Project Officer becomes more focused in her role as advisor and catalyst, a new synergy will be created among all ECD stakeholders. The immediate benefits accrued from this recommendation would allow for improved follow-up activities in terms of monitoring and field visits. It would also mean that more time and energy could be invested in building up stronger linkages, in terms of communicating and networking with ECD stakeholders at all levels.
It is recommended that UNICEF review its strategic approach to the monitoring of supported initiatives within the ECD Programme. The findings of the current evaluation clearly indicate that, while cognisance was given to the need for follow-up and monitoring at the planning stage by all stakeholders, in reality, this was rarely implemented.
It is recommended that the ECD Programme look to its strengths and build on them. The current evaluation takes pains to point out that the rich diversity of UNICEF's ECD Programme reflects the range of complementary approaches, as endorsed by the Namibian National ECD Policy. Embarking on a re-prioritisation of UNICEF-supported ECD initiatives does not have to negate this strength. It is further recommended that the ECD Programme explore the possibility of the interlinking of supported interventions, in order to avoid a fragmentary approach and to enhance the effectiveness of individual initiatives. The current evaluation found evidence of this beginning to happen, as in the case of the Family Visitors of the DCD and ACORD programmes.
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