Over the past decade, governments and non-government organisations have accorded increased importance to and invested in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) because of the compelling needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and research conducted by neuroscientists, economists and child development specialists. Taken together this research suggests that high quality ECCE benefits children, their families, their communities and their nations. Of particular relevance to the work described in this report is that preschool attendance has been shown to improve the school readiness and school performance of children in poverty. This report describes a study which examined the effectiveness of different ECCE programmes in promoting children’s preparedness for school.
In 2005 - 2006, the enrolment rate in Early Childhood Care and Education for 3- to 5-year-olds in Cambodia was about 12 per cent. For 5- to 6-year-olds, it was 27.27 per cent (State Preschools 21.23 per cent; Private Preschools 1.43 per cent; Community Preschools 3.96 per cent, and Home-Based programmes 0.84 per cent). State preschools, which are typically located in primary schools, operate a 3-hour programme, 5 days a week during the 38-week school year. Classes are taught by a teacher who has completed a 2-year full-time professional preparation course undertaken after Grade 12. In Community Preschool programmes, educational experiences for 3- to 5-year-olds are provided by a member of the village who has typically received ten days of initial training and who participates in refresher training for three to six days a year. The programme operates for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 24 to 36 weeks a year. Home-based programmes provide educational resources and opportunities for mothers to come together weekly as a group, led by a trained “core” mother, who provides instruction on how to promote children’s development and well-being. Meetings of mothers groups and their children are typically held for one hour a week for 24 weeks a year.
The government does not have the resources to expand State Preschool provision. Therefore this study, which was commissioned by UNICEF, considered issues related to the scaling up of Community Preschools and Home-based Programmes for 5-year-olds. This evaluation was undertaken in order to make recommendations for the future improvement of Community Preschools and Home-based programmes and suggest strategies which will contribute to their improved effectiveness, sustainability and expansion.
This report is based on the first study conducted in Cambodia to examine the effectiveness of different early childhood programming strategies. Using stratified random sampling, children who had attended State Preschools, Community Preschools, Home-based programmes or no programmes (Control Group) were selected and compared on developmental functioning. Our original sample consisted of 1312 children (including 668 girls) from all six UNICEF- supported provinces. Children’s developmental functioning was assessed twice, one year before they started and just before starting Grade 1. We also systematically observed early care and education practices in Community Preschools which were attended by 24 of the 1321 children in our sample while informal observations were conducted in several others. In each of the six provinces we interviewed Directors or their representatives from the (i) Department of Early Childhood Education of the Provincial Offices of Education; (ii) Provincial Departments of Women’s Affairs; and (iii) Provincial Local Administrative Units. We also consulted the Chief of a randomly selected village, the associated Commune Chief and the Commune Council Focal Point for Women and Children. Teachers of State and Community Preschools and “core” mothers from Home-based programmes were also interviewed. Further, discussions about early childhood education in Cambodia were held with specialists from the Department of Early Childhood Education of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNICEF’s national and provincial offices.
Major Findings and Conlusions
1. Differences in Developmental Functioning. Children who participated in early childhood programmes (State Preschool, Community Preschool and Home-based Programmes) had significantly better developmental functioning than children in the control group.
2. State Preschools as a Distinct Case. Children in State Preschools had significantly better functioning at pre-test and post-test than children in the other three groups.
3. No differences between Community Preschools and Home-based programmes. There were no significant differences between children in Community Preschools and Home-based programmes at pre-test and at post-test.
4. Growth from pre-test to post test. Children in all groups had significantly higher developmental functioning at post-test than at pre-test. However, children who attended early childhood programmes made larger gains than those in the control group.
5. Educational mediation of provincial differences. There were significant differences across provinces. At the time of the pre-test, children from Svay Rieng performed significantly better than those from Prey Veng, Kampong Speu and Oddar Meanchey and children from Kampong Thom also performed significantly better than those from Oddar Meanchey. There was less variability in developmental functioning across provinces at the time of the post-test. At that time, children from Oddar Meanchey had significantly lower scores than those from Prey Veng and Svay Rieng.
6. Influences beyond the effects of preschool experience. Pre-test scores (which were significantly correlated with preschool attendance at age 4), pre-test programme status and maternal education significantly contributed to prediction of children’s post-test scores.
7. Children in remote areas most disadvantaged. Three inter-related factors – maternal education, where the child lives and whether the child is enrolled in an early childhood programme made a difference to children’s developmental functioning. Children with uneducated mothers, who lived in remote areas and who did not attend any early childhood programme had the lowest levels of developmental functioning.
While enrolment in early childhood programmes clearly has beneficial effects for children’s development, there may be other positive sequelae of attending early childhood programmes which are not reflected in these child outcome measures. These include on-time enrolment in Grade 1, lower grade repetition rates and retention in primary grades. Further, family involvement and community participation in children’s early learning may occur with children’s attendance in early childhood programmes. These factors may be considered as outcome measures in longitudinal studies of these children.
8. Enrolment versus Attendance. Community Preschools were serving children from 3 to 5 years of age as envisioned. However, there were on average fewer children attending regularly (n = 16) than enrolled (n = 26).
9. Free snack as an incentive for participation. Among reasons for non-attendance were difficulties in motivating children to attend and parents lacking the 100 Riel older children wanted to buy a snack at recess if they attended preschool.
10. Less formal nature of Community Preschools. Community Preschools were closed during community events, for example, Commune Council elections and their daily operation depended entirely on the teacher. For example, the Community Preschools were closed for months if the teacher went on maternity leave.
11. Onus on Community Preschool Teacher. The Community Preschool teacher single-handedly managed all the children and there was no assistance from members of the community.
12. Importance of Teacher Background. The quality of the services provided was dependent, to a large extent, on the teacher’s background and characteristics, which varied considerably. Teachers differed in terms of their academic background, professional training and motivation. Some teachers had difficulty in reading stories to the children.
13. Inappropriate Physical Settings. In terms of the physical setting for early learning, the majority of Community Preschools observed were located in shelters, which were in unclean surroundings, did not have protective barriers between children and hazards in the environment and had inadequate space for storage of materials.
14. Infrastructure does not affect quality of learning. Physical setting/Infrastructure was significantly related to the presence of Physical Learning Aids and Creative Activities. However, it was not related to Personal Care and Routines; Language and Reasoning Experiences; Gross- and Fine- Motor Activities or Social Development Activities.
15. Appropriate instructional strategies. Teachers provided children with many opportunities for speaking, were skilled at teaching numbers and counting, engaged the children in singing with actions and maintained a pleasant social atmosphere in the preschools. However, we did not observe them use no-cost materials from the natural environment to teach other concepts.
16. No assessment of learning. There was no assessment of children’s learning which would have enabled teachers to track children’s progress and made them more sensitive to individual differences in rates of development among children.
17. Teacher satisfaction. Teachers mentioned the satisfaction they derived from their work and some had clearly become advocates for the needs of young children in the community. All of them requested more in-service training.
18. Problems in Community Preschools. Teachers identified the major challenges associated with Community Preschools as being inadequate shelter, issues related to transportation and storage of materials, difficulties in teaching mixed-age groups and irregular attendance of children.
19. Community mobilization. From interviews, we discerned that a major strength of the Community Preschool was its potential for community capacity building and the advantages it accorded to children, mothers and teachers.
Views of Stakeholders
20. Support for ECCE. There was universal support for Early Childhood Care and Education programmes by all stakeholders in all provinces. Further the role of UNICEF was greatly appreciated by all of them.
21. State Preschools preferred. All stakeholders preferred the State Preschools to both the Community Preschools and Home-based programmes because of their longer hours of operation, the formal training that teachers received and clear line of management from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. They believed that the State Preschool system was well-established, well-managed and highly functional.
22. Choice between Community Preschools and Home-based programme varies. Support for the Community Preschools or Home-based programmes varied across stakeholders in different provinces depending on the history of the programmes in the commune and province, perceived benefits and issues related to cost and sustainability.
23. Community benefits from ECCE programmes. Stakeholders mentioned the advantages of Community Preschools and Home-based programmes for children while the benefits of the Home-based programmes to mothers and for the community were highlighted by respondents.
24. Concern about Sustainability. Problems related to the infrastructure and learning resources of Community Preschools, teacher attendance and incentives were mentioned. Concern was expressed about the financial sustainability of the Community Preschools once UNICEF phases out the subsidy for the teacher incentive. Several Commune Chiefs pointed out that the Community Preschool was not an infrastructure project and that the commune did not have the budget to support a social service project such as the Community Preschools because of the recurring nature of teacher incentives.
25. Benefits of Home-based Programmes. The Home-based Programme was praised by stakeholders for its role in educating mothers about child development and empowering them to be better parents.
26. Problems with coordination for monitoring. Stakeholders explained the roles of the different ministries in the monitoring and supervision of Community Preschools and Home-based programmes. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is responsible for providing technical support/monitoring and preparing the curriculum for all programmes. The Provisional Office of the Department of Women’s Affairs is responsible for community mobilization and ensuring that the Community Preschools and Home-based programmes are actually functioning. The Provisional Local Administration Unit is responsible for the commune council budget for the Community Preschools. There was a lack of clear understanding by some stakeholders about their roles. For example, some commune council members said they provided technical support to programmes in addition to seeing whether the programmes were operating. The Community Preschool teachers and “core” mothers of the Home-based programmes were also not able to distinguish the roles of officials from different departments and the reasons they were visited by them.
27. Choosing an appropriate “core” mother. There was a high degree of commitment but large variations in the quality and operation of the Home-based programmes. The “core” mothers were not necessarily the most educated mothers in the village and some had to rely on the mothers in the programme to read the calendar of activities. This is an illustrated, easy-to-read guide of the curriculum to be followed in Home-based programmes.
28. Challenges for scaling up ECCE programmes. There are several challenges associated with the scaling up of both Community Preschools and Home-based programmes. These include maintaining quality with a large expansion in quantity, the lack of leadership and low levels of maternal and teacher education.
There is a strong commitment to ECCE in Cambodia. Community-based programmes that cater for young children’s development and growth have been successful in achieving positive outcomes not only for children and their families but also for the wider community. Given the momentum that exists, effective investment at this time should result in ECCE programmes becoming acknowledged as integral to community development.
Demand, Access, Enrolment and Attendance
1. Continue to generate demand for ECCE.
Children who attended ECCE programmes showed better developmental functioning than those who did not.
National, Provincial and Commune Levels:
a) Continue national level media education campaigns which focus on the positive influence of ECCE on both children’s readiness for school and on the community.
b) Encourage community leaders and influential community members to recognize the importance of early childhood education and take responsibility to ensure that all children have the right to high quality early care and education.
c) Work with both parents and other family caregivers to help them understand the importance of early childhood education.
d) Educate mothers as literate mothers are more likely to seek early childhood services for their children and provide them more intellectual stimulation than are illiterate, uneducated mothers.
2. Increase access and enrolment by providing services close to where the child lives.
a) Develop and enact policies to increase access to high quality ECCE for all children particularly those who are socially disadvantaged. Children in the control group lived in remote areas where there were no preschool programmes and these children had significantly lower developmental functioning than other children. Special attention should be accorded to children who belong to more than one disadvantaged group, i.e., children who live in remote areas and who are poor and from ethnic minorities.
b) Provide services in a central location. Enrolment rates in rural villages may be adversely affected by the long distance of the Community Preschools from children’s homes and because families can not afford the time or the cost of transport to and from the Community Preschools.
c) Enhance children’s attendance at the Community Preschools by engaging a volunteer from the village to collect children from their homes. This is because some children may not attend even if the preschool is near their home.
3. Enrol children in early childhood programmes before they are 4.
a) Provide children early childhood services as soon as possible. Pre-test developmental functioning was the best predictor of developmental functioning at post-test and this suggests that the effects of experience prior to age 5 continue to have an influence on children at 6. This has very important implications for service provision for young children.
4. Enrol children in either Community Preschools or Home-based Programmes.
a) Encourage attendance in either Community Preschools or Home-based programmes. There were no significant differences in developmental functioning between children who went to Community Preschools and those who participated in Home-based programmes. Our empirical findings suggest that if children can not go to the state preschool class they get similar benefits from Community Preschools and Home-based programmes.
5. Increase enrolment and regular attendance by providing centre-based services which are free, integrated, have incentives for children’s participation and which children enjoy.
a) Continue to provide free services and consider providing children with meals, learner materials or other incentives as poverty is a barrier to participation.
b) Provide integrated services as parents are likely to send their children to programmes which include a “health” component.
c) Increase regular attendance by providing high quality services which children enjoy.
d) Continue to carefully monitor and evaluate access and enrolment in ECCE. Attention should be given to the discrepancy between enrolment and regular attendance of children and ways to deal with it.
Funding Early Childhood Care and Education
6. Enhance government and private funding of ECCE
a) Increase government spending on ECCE. Developments and improvements in early education in Cambodia will not be sustained if there is a lack of funding. The government has stated that there will be no new money made available and that funding will come by taking money away from the state system. Currently, the state preschools provide the highest quality of preschool education and the government may be reluctant to stop funding state programmes because of this and other reasons. At the least, a commitment for funds for training Community Preschools Teachers, “core” mothers and supporting the development of teacher trainers is necessary to enhance access and quality of early childhood services.
b) Encourage Commune Councils to allocate some of their budget to social services projects like the Community Preschools.
c) Finance improved infrastructure. Feedback from teachers and parents suggest that there is an urgent need for improved and/or purpose-built shelters for many Community Preschools programmes. We are aware that the UNICEF staff are currently engaged in negotiation with a number of Commune Councils to build new shelters in partnership. The benefits of purpose-built shelters are that they (i) enhance and establish the status of Community Preschools programmes in the community; (ii) ensure stability of provision since Community Preschools lessons are less likely to be disrupted by community and religious events; and (iii) provide a more attractive environment conducive to enjoyable learning for children.
d) Carefully consider whether limited funds should be used for providing shelters, teacher training or learning resources. Based on the data provided here, we would recommend that investment in purpose-built shelters be made only on the basis of careful consideration of the specific needs of individual Community Preschools programmes and consultation with Community Preschools teachers. In some cases, investment may be more effectively made in teacher training and/or provision of learning resources for children.
e) Encourage families who can do so to pay a token fee for a snack. If families cannot pay, parents can be volunteers in the programme, for example, once a week.
7. Encourage community involvement and family participation in ECCE through the development and enactment of appropriate policies.
a) Help parents realise that they can indeed contribute to children’s early development and empower mothers so that they are able and effective in participating in and contributing to programmes. We found that parents of children who attended State or Community Preschools typically do not participate in children’s education or support the teachers. Parents of children in Community Preschools felt that they did not have the expertise to teach their children. Stakeholders mentioned that Home-based programmes had a positive impact on the community by decreasing domestic violence. The mothers’ groups provided a form of support for mothers and helped them enhance children’s learning and development.
Quality of Programmes
8. Focus on Teacher Quality
a) Extend and Enhance Teacher Training. Children from State Preschools, which clearly had the most qualified teachers and provided the highest quality of early childhood education of all the programmes had better school preparedness than children in the Community Preschools and Home-based programmes. Teachers expressed the desire for more training and teacher quality is one of the best indicators of programme quality.
b) Ensure that national curriculum, curriculum frameworks and guidelines are available to all teachers and “core” mothers and that they use the curriculum materials and instructional resources which they are given. Use culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive instructional resources.
c) Show teachers how to use developmentally and culturally appropriate methods to facilitate development and learning. Approaches that are right for the children’s age and relate to the child’s home and community are at the heart of early childhood development and learning.
d) Select the most suitable members of the community to be Community Preschool Teachers and “core” mothers. Teachers should have completed Primary School as we found that some had difficulty reading stories to children. Our impression is that some Community Preschools teachers were selected just because they had been child-minders or because they were related to influential members of the community and not because they were the most educated women in the village.
e) Increase respect and appreciation for early childhood educators. Community recognition and appreciation is important to sustain the good work of early childhood educators and to raise the status of this segment of the education profession. Effort is also needed to build community acceptance of male early childhood educators.
f) Encourage more co-ordination among State Preschool teachers, Community Preschool teachers and “core” mothers. There should be more coordination between State Preschools, Home-based programmes and Community Preschools as they can support each other. Community Preschool teachers operate in a relatively isolated environment even though they have an opportunity to discuss teaching-related issues with State Preschool teachers once a month. Given the limited training that these teachers receive, it is a significant challenge for them to cater for a wide range of children with minimal resources.
g) Provide more support to Teacher Trainers. Provide more training and support for staff in the Department of Early Childhood at the National and Provincial Offices of Education of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
9. Emulate Good Practices in Programmes
a) Encourage practices which can help provide disadvantaged children an opportunity to have higher quality ECCE. These include: nurturing a positive sense of self in the child; providing a child-appropriate early childhood setting; regarding the child as an active learner who can do things and make things happen; implementing a curriculum so that each girl and each boy, regardless of their differences, feels they are regarded with dignity and worth; creating an effective learning environment by developing and enacting effective curricula; and providing high quality and age-appropriate instruction.
b) Align the curriculum in ECCE programs with the recently developed school readiness standards for 5- to 6-year-olds, the Cambodian Early Learning and Development Standards. These standards will help ensure that a comparable curriculum will be followed in all ECCE programmes in the country and have the potential to positively influence pedagogy.
c) Develop and enact a policy on assessment of child development in programmes. Currently teachers do not assess children’s early development and learning. Children’s holistic development should be assessed at the beginning, middle and end of the academic year. This type of assessment will alert teachers to individual differences among children and the support they need to provide for different children. Further, in the Cambodian context, we feel that assessment can have a positive influence on teacher’s instruction. When developing such a policy attention should be given to providing teachers with methods to refer and deal with children with suspected developmental delays.
d) Consider increasing the length of the CPS programme from two to three hours. The CPS programme is currently 10 hours per week and the programme may need to increase in length to meet all its curriculum objectives. The time available for teachers to give children individual attention and to provide all the activities needed in an holistic programme is currently compromised by the time they have to spend on grooming children and by the large group size.
Encourage co-ordination among different stakeholders
10. Improve co-ordination in the support and monitoring of programmes.
a) Implement policy that encourages coordination among different Departments. Community Preschools must be provided with regular support and encouragement from Provincial Offices of Education and Provincial Departments of Women’s Affairs officials, who should work together to ensure daily operation and teacher quality (which are closely related and should not be seen as distinct).
b) Implement models and strategies for the Provincial Department of Women’s Affairs, Provincial Local Administration Unit and Department of Early Childhood Education of the Provincial Office of Education to work together to develop a plan for support, monitoring and evaluation. Each party’s clearly defined, non-overlapping role should be conveyed to teachers. The Provincial Office of Education provides technical support and should provide more concrete and relevant advice on how to improve the programme and not just focus on pedagogy.
c) Provide more support to District Offices of Education and programmes in remote areas.
d) Allocate more attention to dealing with problems identified during supervision and monitoring visits. Clear policies should exist to deal with sub-standard programmes and teachers.
e) Ensure that commune council members and the Village Chief are aware of their roles in the ECCE programmes.
f) Select the most suitable to be the Commune Council Focal Point for Women and Children so that he/she can best fulfil the role and act as a liaison between the Commune Council and Community Preschool teacher.
Scaling up Community Preschools and Home-based programmes
11. Consider scaling up a hybrid version of the Community Preschool and Home-based programmes.
Given (i) the inputs required for the Community Preschools; (ii) the challenges identified in the sustainability of Community Preschools programmes; (iii) the fact that children from Community Preschools and Home-based programmes did not significantly differ in their school preparedness; (iv) low levels of maternal education; and (v) low levels of family involvement in the Community Preschools, stakeholders may consider scaling up a hybrid version of the Community Preschools and Home-based programmes. This will allow the community to gain the advantages of both types of programmes while avoiding some of the problems associated with operating and supporting these programmes. That stated, improving the quality of these programmes must be a priority and extreme caution must be exercised to ensure that scaling up programmes does not lead to a decrease in programme quality.
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Early Childhood Development