2011 Nepal: Evaluation of UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development Programme with Focus on the Government of Netherlands Funding (2008-2010): Nepal Country Case Study Report
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As early as the 1960s, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs and INGOs) in Nepal have been working to expand access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) activities and services as a key strategy for improving primary-school retention and performance. Today, ECD in Nepal consists primarily of center-based Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED), parenting orientation classes, awareness-raising campaigns, health services, and nutrition support for infants and young children that promotes physical and cognitive development. Nepal’s primary focus in scaling up ECD activities has been on centers. There are currently more than 29,089 ECD centers operating in Nepal (Ministry of Education [MOE] 2009). Overall, 66.2 percent of the population of 3- and 4-year-olds is enrolled in an ECD center—64.8 percent of girls and 67.5 percent of boys (MOE 2009). Nepal is ranked among the poorest countries in the world, with a Human Development Index rating of 144 out of 182 countries (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] 2009). Nearly 20 percent of the population is under age 6, and half of these children fall within the age range of 3 to 6 years (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] 2008). The primary-school net enrollment rate is 94 percent. However, only 78 percent of children who start grade 1 will continue in school to reach grade 5 (MOE 2009).
This report presents the results of a retrospective evaluation of policy and programmatic initiatives to promote early childhood development (ECD) in Nepal, with an emphasis on those supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the Government of Nepal (GoN). Nepal was selected as one of the 4 case study countries for the broader evaluation of the UNICEF-Government of Netherlands (GoN) Cooperation Programme on ECD which aimed to promote comprehensive approaches to ECD in 10 selected countries with a focus on sustainable policy development and partnerships to scale up successful interventions.
To assess the design, processes, and results of ECD activities, the evaluation team conducted a retrospective study employing qualitative analysis methods. The study focuses on initiatives that UNICEF has supported in cooperation with the government and other partners, as expressed in the logical framework for ECD, including broad issues related to policy and coordination, as well as the services offered to families that were supported by the UNICEF-GoN funds (ECD centers). It explores these topics and questions, which are based on the terms of reference for the evaluation of the UNICEF-GoN Cooperation Programme on ECD:
• Alignment of ECD activities with national priorities. Why were specific strategies adopted? How well aligned are they with national priorities as expressed in development plans and strategic documents?
• Planning, management, and coordination. How successful has planning and coordination for ECD been within and among UNICEF, the government, and development partners?
• Quality and efficiency of ECD services. What is the current quality of ECD services provided, and how, if at all, has it been enhanced through ECD? What is known about the costs and efficiency of ECD services?
• Effectiveness in expanding coverage of ECD services. Have strategies to increase coverage contributed to changes in service availability or participation rates? If so, how?
• Effectiveness in building capacity for ECD. How successfully have activities increased the capacity of service providers, caregivers, and decision makers to support ECD? What capacity gaps exist?
• Effectiveness in generating knowledge for ECD. How successfully have activities promoted measurement of children’s development and family and community care and increased the knowledge base regarding the effectiveness of ECD interventions?
• Effectiveness in mainstreaming ECD into national policies and plans. How, if at all, has the level of national and subnational engagement and ownership of ECD changed?
• Sustainability and scalability of ECD services. What factors have supported or inhibited sustainability and scale-up of ECD services?
• Use of a human rights based approach, gender equity, and reaching the most disadvantaged. How successfully have ECD activities involved key stakeholders in design and implementation? How has national and local context been taken into account in design and implementation? To what extent has ECD promoted gender equity and access among marginalized and disadvantaged groups?
• Lessons learned. What general lessons can be drawn from the strengths and weakness of the design and implementation of ECD in Nepal, as well as its results?
The study was guided by a case study matrix (presented in Appendix A) that details research questions and links them to relevant outputs or outcomes and indicators. Some elements of the case study matrix directly align with those specified in the UNICEF-Government of Nepal country programme action plan; others are designed to addresses issues and results that are important to the broader evaluation of the UNICEF-GoN Cooperation Programme on ECD.
For the Nepal case study, the case study team conducted eight days of in-country data collection, including field visits to locations where ECD is implemented. A two-person team including a survey researcher and a local consultant conducted numerous interviews and focus groups in Nepal during June 2010. Primary data sources included:
• Key informant interviews. The case study team conducted in-depth interviews with UNICEF country office staff, ministry officials from the ministries of education and health, and staff from key UNICEF partner organizations. These interviews took place at the UNICEF country office or ministry offices in Kathmandu. The interviews focused on: (1) ministry and UNICEF roles in development of the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP), (2) coordination among ministries and other partners, including UNICEF, on ECD, and (3) the resulting successes and challenges in the development of ECD policies and activities.
• Focus group discussions with parents, ECD facilitators, local ECD stakeholders, and district and local government officials. Discussions were held in visits to four ECD centers, a meeting at district headquarters in Tanahun district, a meeting at the home of a female community health volunteer (FCHV) in Makwanpur district, at UNICEF offices in Parsa district, and at the headquarters of an NGO partner managing ECD centers in Mudli, Parsa district. Topics of discussion in these focus groups included parents’ understanding of ECD, their experiences with parenting classes and changes in behavior as a result of what they learned in the classes, ECD facilitators’ training and understanding of ECD, use of the national ECD curriculum, monitoring of ECD center classes and performance, support received from the government and community, local stakeholders’ understanding of ECD, training received, and awareness of minimum standards and other national ECD guidelines.
• Observations of ECD Centers. During ECD center observations the case study team observed classroom activities, noted the types of educational and play materials available, assessed the overall classroom environment, observed interactions between the children and facilitators, and reviewed visitors’ logs and attendance records for each center. Observations were conducted in four ECD centers–three in Tanahun district and one in Parsa district. The ECD centers visited were selected by the UNICEF country-office staff to provide a view of the different contexts in which ECD services are delivered in Nepal (including variation in the economic and social circumstances found in different regions of the country). Because of the difficulty of travel to the most disadvantaged and remote regions of Nepal (the Midwest and Far West regions and the mountain belt), it was not possible to visit ECD centers in these areas during the country visit.
Appendix B more thoroughly details how primary data was collected for the Nepal case study, including a list of individuals interviewed and locations visited. In addition to these primary data sources, the case study team reviewed secondary sources, including reports and strategic plans, data from surveys and management information systems, and the results of external studies.
The team employed two main qualitative evaluation methods in analyzing case study data: (1) thematic framing and (2) triangulation. Thematic framing involves the systematic review, sorting, and interpretation of data according to a specified structure. The analysis was structured around the logical framework for ECD in Nepal and the questions, outcomes, and indicators specified in the case study matrix. The case study team used triangulation to confirm patterns or identify important discrepancies across data sources and respondents participating in interviews and focus groups.
Findings and Conclusions:
The report presents the case study findings in nine areas. These findings are summarized below.
Alignment with National Goals and Priorities
Activities undertaken in Nepal as part of the Programme of Cooperation on ECD are well aligned with national goals and priorities. ECD became a formal part of national education policy in 2000, when Nepal adopted the goals and strategies of the Education for All (EFA) Dakar Framework for Action, which included the goal of “expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education” (UNESCO 2000). The School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP), adopted in 2009, includes concrete steps toward mainstreaming ECD into the national education system; the SSRP specifies a target gross enrollment rate (GER) for ECD centers of 80 percent by 2015. UNICEF has also made significant investments in parent education consistent with the CPAP objective. CPAP seeks to increase the number of parents with specific knowledge of ECD messages. ECD activities carried out by Nepal with support from UNICEF focus heavily on capacity building for start-up and support to ECD centers, and are well aligned with the government’s goals for expansion of the ECD activities into new districts and Village Development Committees (VDCs).
Effectiveness: Increasing Access and Coverage
Access to ECD services has increased substantially in Nepal. ECD in Nepal has expanded rapidly in the past few years, from 5,023 centers in 2004 to 29,089 in 2009 (MOE/ UNICEF 2009). In 2007, only 33 percent of children entering grade 1 had any experience with ECD.
Access to ECD services in Nepal has increased for the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups. These groups include Dalits, the Hindu caste formerly known as “untouchables,” and Janajati, which includes Hindu and non-Hindu ethnic groups. Data reported by the MOE for 2009-10 do not disaggregate GER for ECD by caste or social group. However, according to MOE data from 2006-07 and 2008-09, the proportion of Dalit and Janajati entrants to grade 1 who have some ECD experience increased substantially in this short time period (8.6 and 12.7 percent, respectively). Other groups experienced less growth (20.2 percent).
Nepal has not achieved ECD targets set in cooperation with UNICEF. These goals are to by the end of 2010 establish an ECD center and provide orientation to 80 percent of parents of young children in the most marginalized communities in 15 DACAW districts. According to the 2009 Annual Report, by the end of 2009, “ECD centers were present in 63 percent of wards in the most disadvantaged VDCs in UNICEF-supported districts,” and 49 percent of parents in the most disadvantaged communities had received parenting orientation, compared with 39 percent in the previous year. There are several possible explanations for why targets have not yet been met. The case study team found no evidence that Nepal is targeting funding for ECD centers to the most disadvantaged VDCs, or evidence that funding is allocated in a way that prioritizes the meeting of UNICEF targets. Also, the availability of parenting orientation (PO) classes in the 15 DACAW districts is not sufficient to reach 80 percent of parents.
Effectiveness: Building Capacity for ECD
The Government of Nepal, with support from UNICEF, has taken a strategic approach to capacity building focused on addressing the needs of local service providers and officials. The Government of Nepal and its partners are engaging in a strategically appropriate “mix” of capacity-building activities that contribute to a supportive environment for ECD in homes, communities, and the education system. Through its extensive work with communities and districts as part of the DACAW approach, UNICEF has gained an understanding of the needs and abilities of local officials and other stakeholders. The cooperation programme has strategically targeted capacity-building resources to teachers, head teachers, and district and VDC officials. The cooperation programme has also taken into account the importance of parent involvement in the creation and expansion of ECD services and has employed a participatory approach in raising parents’ awareness of ECD, creating demand for it, and building their capacity to provide the health and nutrition supports that make ECD most effective.
Nepal has implemented district-level ECD training, but not all stakeholders receive the training they need. Although the Government of Nepal and its partners recognize the importance of ECD orientation for head teachers, ECD management committees, and district and VDC officials, training to date has not been implemented consistently in all districts. Orientations are organized locally according to the initiative and interest of individuals in the community and thus do not occur in all districts for all relevant stakeholders. Systematic data about who is trained and the amount of training received and thus precise estimates of training coverage are not available. However, multiple facilitators and stakeholders interviewed noted that some facilitators receive only 8 or 12 days of the required 16-day basic training, and most had not received refresher training. Moreover, some facilitators had received no training, because turnover rates are so high that training cannot keep up with the intake of new facilitators. Uneven provision of training is likely related to the lack of monitoring of the training process and poor follow-through on the part of the local government and INGO and NGO partners responsible for managing and implementing ECD.
The impact of PO classes on parents’ behaviors is unclear. Although the classes appear to be successful in creating demand for ECD, they may not be reaching their full potential for improving parents’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices about caring for and stimulating their young children’s holistic development. The Center for Education Innovation and Development (CERID), with UNICEF support, conducted a baseline study of parents’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to ECD in five DACAW districts in 2008 to inform the parenting education curriculum. A follow-up survey planned for 2011 will measure changes. Meetings with parents in Tanahun and grandmothers in Parsa yielded very little evidence of behavior change related to child care practices. Informants in both districts recalled information related to immunizations and child feeding, but did not mention changes in children’s cognitive, social, or emotional development. Parents, however, did report that PO classes convinced them to send their children to ECD centers.
Effectiveness: Generating Knowledge for ECD
Data are not consistently collected and used for planning and managing ECD activities and services in Nepal. Nepal does not have accurate information about the total number of ECD centers that currently exist in the country; the breakdown of community-based, school-based, and privately run centers and pre-primary classes; or the exact geographic distribution of these centers. Systematic data are also not collected about other ECD activities being piloted on a smaller scale, including PO classes, facilitator training, awareness raising, stakeholder orientation, and ECD messages in the micronutrient-supplementation activities.
Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS) will be a vital tool to define and monitor quality of ECD services. The ELDS will not only allow Nepal to obtain a baseline for children’s status at the outset of ECD services but will also provide measures that can be used for monitoring of ECD centers and will form the basis for improved curricula and training materials for facilitators as well as parents. The challenge will be to ensure that the standards are turned into the necessary tools and that key groups are properly trained in their use.
There is little evidence on the effectiveness of ECD services in Nepal. Aside from a lack of basic information to describe and monitor the state of ECD services in Nepal, there is also a lack of data regarding the effectiveness of ECD services. CERID has conducted several qualitative studies about ECD’s positive influence on student retention in primary grades. A 2003 study conducted by Save the Children examined the impact of ECD services on children, families, and communities, combining administrative data from ECD centers and schools with qualitative data collected from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders (Save the Children 2003). This study found that children with ECD experience had higher rates of enrollment in grade 1, performed better in primary school, and attended more regularly. However, the study focused on a single district in Nepal, and the authors noted significant data-quality issues in school and other administrative records. Additionally, the study was designed in such a way that it is not possible to attribute differences in outcomes to exposure to ECD.
There appear to be no rigorously designed, nationally representative studies examining whether ECD services, as they are currently being provided, have succeeded in improving rates of dropout and repetition in grade 1 and later grades, or have achieved other important outcomes related to school performance, or cognitive and socioemotional development in the medium and long term. Similarly, no evaluations have been conducted of parenting education activities to determine whether participating parents behave differently with their children than parents who do not participate, or whether outcomes differ between their children.
Effectiveness: Mainstreaming ECD into National Policies and Plans
ECD is not yet integrated across sectors in Nepal. Considerable efforts to work toward integration of ECD have taken place and have involved Ministry of Local Development (MLD), MOE, National Planning Commission (NPC), and CA members. However, more work is needed in this area. ECD policy is implemented largely within the education sector in Nepal. The most current government policies on ECD, particularly the SSRP, are in the education sector. Other ministries may believe that ECD is primarily an education-sector issue and do not understand the importance of intersectoral coordination for reaching younger children and those without access to ECD centers and for affecting parenting behaviors that can support children’s growth and development.
The Government of Nepal has developed strong partnerships with UNICEF and others to support ECD policymaking and planning at all levels. MOE and DOE officials at the national level noted consistently that UNICEF had played an important role in keeping ECD on the national agenda and in pushing for more recognition and funding. Some respondents noted that UNICEF’s credibility and its professional capacity are extremely important factors in its work and gives it a high degree of influence with the government and other partner organizations. Respondents also consistently cited UNICEF’s ability to bring organizations together to discuss and collaborate on ECD policy development and implementation efforts.
ECD is not fully mainstreamed into all components of UNICEF’s country programme. Nearly all of UNICEF’s ECD activities fall under the education programme, which mirrors the concentration of Nepal’s ECD policy development and implementation in the education sector. Country Office (CO) staff indicated that efforts have been made to collaborate on ECD across sectors, such as monthly meetings for key staff from all sections and exchanges of annual work plans across sections for review and comment. However, in only a few instances has ECD been integrated into activities in other sections. Specific examples of this integration include the ECD Specialist’s work with the nutrition section to include messages about ECD in micronutrient-supplementation activities. Similarly, a page about children’s needs and risks throughout the development cycle was included in a resource kit on community mobilization for child protection (UNICEF 2010a). In addition, there are references to “bad practices” in the parent-orientation materials. Aside from these examples, however, ECD has not truly been integrated into the activities of sections other than education.
Nepal has taken a critical step toward mainstreaming ECD into formal education through the passage of the recent SSRP, but the plan has limitations. Incorporation of ECD in the SSRP reflects significant progress toward mainstreaming ECD, however the plan has some limitations. First, although the EFA had established ECD as a priority for 3- and 4-year-old children, the SSRP limits its commitment to 4-year-olds. Second, the plan provides only enough funding to cover the one-time costs of establishing a new ECD facility (and only enough centers to cover the country’s 4-year-old children), the facilitator’s salary and training, and some basic materials.
Efficiency and Quality of ECD Services
The quality of ECD services provided varies from center to center. The site visit team visited a few centers and cannot generalize to all settings; however, the findings provide some insight into ECD issues in Nepal. All four of the ECD centers the team visited had a wide variety of interesting materials available to use as aids for play-based learning, including blocks, dolls, homemade storybooks, basic household items labeled with their Nepali names, charts of the seasons, and other educational materials on the walls. However, the case study team did not observe organized use of the materials in any of the classrooms visited. Interactions with the facilitators were brief and not very stimulating or responsive to children’s interests and developmental needs. On the other hand, one center had a facilitator who organized her classroom and activities very well, led an interactive story time with the class, and described for us creative games she had devised to teach children colors and numbers. Interviews with UNICEF staff and national and local stakeholders confirmed these observations about the variability of center quality. Nepal does not collect consistent data from monitoring visits to ECD centers. Therefore, no systematic information is available about the quality of ECD center-based services in Nepal.
Monitoring of ECD facilitator performance is insufficient. There are no standard procedures in place to monitor the quality of ECD services provided in Nepal. Although nearly every stakeholder—including district education offices, ECD management committees, village development committees and municipalities, education resource centers, school management committees, and I/NGOs— in a district monitors ECD centers, there are no standard monitoring tools and no formal mechanism for reporting monitoring findings to district-level education officers or any other body. Monitoring conducted by multiple stakeholders, without coordination and standardized monitoring and reporting tools, is not an efficient use of ECD resources.
Processes for Planning, Management, and Coordination
Intersectoral collaboration on ECD at the national level is minimal. The official inter-ministerial ECD coordination bodies, which sit within the NPC and MOE, have become inactive. The only functioning coordination body at this time is the interagency working group, which sits within the DOE. Representatives from MLD are invited to these meetings, but it is not clear whether other ministries are actively involved in this committee. The context for efforts to collaborate across sectors is a fragile state at a political impasse.
Interagency collaboration on ECD at district and local levels varies by district. The Strategy Paper on Early Childhood Development (MOE/UNESCO 2004) details guidelines for the management of ECD centers and other activities at district and local levels, including the formation and functioning of ECD management committees, the roles of VDC/municipality officials, the District Education Office and Resource Persons, and community members, INGOs and NGOs, and (community-based organizations) CBOs. These guidelines lay out general goals for collaboration between these groups to carry out the establishment, management, funding, and monitoring of school-based and community-based ECD centers.
Data collected through site visit interviews indicates that the effectiveness of collaboration between stakeholders varies substantially by district, and possibly by VDC/municipality as well. The school and local governance officials the case study team met in Tanahun district described a well-functioning and highly engaged network of local ECD stakeholders who had established clear roles and responsibilities, and who met regularly to coordinate ECD services among themselves. In Parsa, however, VDC and district officials were less engaged and informed about ECD in the district, and most of the work of managing, supporting, and monitoring ECD centers there was done by INGOs and NGOs. Because Nepal does not systematically collect ECD monitoring data, there are no national data sources that can be used to assess the effective of collaboration on ECD more broadly.
Results-based planning for ECD is limited in Nepal both within the government and the UNICEF country office. Ideally, any set of activities should be guided by a detailed results framework that elaborates on specific, measurable objectives and targets for outputs and outcomes expected for all activities. Outputs and outcomes should be measured using clearly defined, measurable indicators to track progress toward the objectives. The lack of activity-specific objective-setting and monitoring within the Government of Nepal-UNICEF programme of cooperation hampers the country’s ability to determine whether its investments have been properly targeted, its resources are being used as intended, and its activities are achieving the desired results. UNICEF monitors all objectives, but in the context of the Paris Declaration focuses primarily on monitoring impact rather than inputs and process. UNICEF uses the Education Management Information System (EMIS) data from MOE to align with other development programmes and facilitate joint monitoring of trends and results. Also within the context of the Paris Declaration, use of resources is jointly monitored through reports to GoN.
Current country programme monitoring and evaluation (M&E) focus only on outputs, not outcomes. The current MOE indicators on ECD provide information about outputs—the number of ECD centers and enrollment rates—that can be used to assess expansion. Data are not currently collected or reported regarding the effectiveness of ECD in improving educational, socioemotional, or health outcomes for young children in Nepal.
Incorporation of Human Rights Based Approach and Strategies to Improve Equity and Participation of the Disadvantaged and Marginalized
Nepal has emphasized the importance of extending ECD services to the most disadvantaged and marginalized populations. National policies and plans consistently emphasize the importance of increasing access to services for disadvantaged groups and reducing disparities in access to services and in related outcomes. The government has carried out a poverty-mapping exercise, in which it collected data on basic poverty and millennium development goals (MDG) indicators through qualitative data collection and community mapping, and then categorized VDCs according to the data provided. UNICEF has used poverty-mapping data to plan and target its support to the VDCs categorized as most in need.
Specific strategies and targets for reaching disadvantaged groups with ECD have not been fully developed. Despite the policy emphasis on extending services to disadvantaged groups and the availability of some education statistics disaggregated by social group (Dalit, Janajati, or other) no specific strategies have been adopted for tracking and targeting these groups, or the communities in which they live, with funds for ECD services. Funding allocated to ECD through the SSRP is provided to districts according to a quota system, by which the district may distribute funds to VDCs and municipalities at its discretion for the establishment of ECD centers in those areas. Although some districts may make efforts to target these funds toward VDCs/municipalities categorized as disadvantaged, others do not. In fact, some local stakeholders the case study team interviewed noted that funds for ECD are often allocated to the communities that are best organized to lobby for funding. Disadvantaged communities often lack the organization and sense of self-efficacy required to successfully mobilize successful lobbying efforts.
Additionally, equity in ECD enrollment is not monitored through basic statistics. As noted in previous sections of this report, official statistics do not report on net or gross ECD enrollment rates by social group. They report only on the proportion of enrolled children belonging to particular groups. This indicator provides little useful information about equity as it does not take into account the total population of 3- and 4-year-olds belonging to each group. The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data reported (MOE/UNICEF 2009) show large disparities in ECD enrollment by wealth category. Because DHS is a household survey, the data can be used to categorize households into wealth quintiles. According to these data, 63 percent of children in the wealthiest quintile of families attend an ECD center, compared with 12 percent of children from families in the poorest quintile (Table IV.4). These DHS data do not provide information about disparities by social group (Dalit, Janajati, or other), but such data are captured to some extent in the disparities by wealth quintile. DHS data also show that enrollment in ECD centers is lower in mountain areas and in the Far West region.
Nepal does not identify children with disabilities as a distinct disadvantaged group in need of increased access in its ECD policy or activities. The case study team did not find evidence of outreach efforts to families with children with disabilities, PO training on disabilities, or training and orientation for stakeholders and facilitators. MOE Flash Reports contain indicators for the enrollment of children with disabilities in primary and lower secondary school (including students who are blind, deaf, or blind and deaf; students with speech difficulties; and students with physical and mental disabilities), but no such data are reported for ECD centers. According to UNICEF, insufficient attention to children with disabilities is an issue in multiple sectors, including healthy and primary education, and therefore not unique to ECD.
Gender equity in ECD enrollment has been achieved in most regions. In the mountain, hill, and Kathmandu Valley areas, GER for boys and girls in ECD have been roughly equal over the last four years (Table IV.5). There remains a slight gap between GER for boys and girls in the Terai: GER for girls is lower than for boys. This gap has widened since 2006.
UNICEF’s work at district and local levels is highly participatory and encourages grassroots involvement in all aspects of ECD services and management. All ECD activities at these levels are generally carried out through the DACAW mechanism, which is itself a mechanism for collaboration amongst community members, especially women, schools, community-based organizations, and VDC and district government officials.
Sustainability and Scale-Up of ECD Services and Initiatives
Insufficient allocation of resources for ECD at the national level threatens its sustainability. Based on case study team observations and review of studies and reports on ECD in Nepal, the team concludes that ECD lacks a secure “home” in Nepal. MOE, which in practice oversees policy implementation, does not take full ownership of ECD and maintains that ECD is split not only across the MOE and MLD. Other local government bodies, community CBOs, and NGOs that help to sustain services are also involved. At the same time, MLD participation in ECD-coordinating bodies at the national level is minimal. Stronger mechanisms for collaboration between these groups at central as well as district and local levels are needed to ensure sustainability at scale over the long term. MOE has committed to ECD center services to 4-year-olds for the next seven years but a shift toward school-based centers and away from community-based centers is possible.
Local governance structures and collaboration among stakeholders require strengthening in some districts. The Government of Nepal is committed to decentralization–control of services by local government entities and their partners–as the means of providing education and health services throughout the country. However, local governance is still weak in many areas and lacks the capacity and political will necessary to provide high quality services in an equitable manner.
This section presents conclusions about progress that has been made and ongoing challenges faced by Nepal and its partners as they continue to develop ECD policy and support implementation and scale-up.
Alignment with National Goals and Priorities
• ECD policies and activities are well aligned with national priorities. Lack of intersectoral policy implementation and functional collaboration mechanisms at the national level, however, limit Nepal’s ability to implement policies in a coordinated, holistic manner.
Increasing Access and Coverage
• Access to ECD centers has increased substantially, including among the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Enrollment rates, however, vary by region and for children from families in different income groups.
• Information about coverage results for PO classes that have been implemented in DACAW districts indicate that additional PO classes may be needed in each village to reach the target of 80 percent of parents.
Capacity Building for ECD
• Resources for building ECD capacity are strategically targeted to subnational levels; more consistent implementation and increased access to coordinator training is needed to increase coverage.
• Intensity of PO classes may not be sufficient to produce lasting changes in KAP. A planned follow-up KAP survey of parents will provide important information about the potential for PO classes to create lasting change when implemented at current levels of intensity.
Knowledge Generation for ECD
• ECD planning and activities in Nepal can be enhanced by more complete data at national and subnational levels. Nepal faces a similar challenge in the education sector.
• The ELDS and the ECD mapping exercise provide important opportunities to build a solid base of information for ongoing ECD policy development and implementation in Nepal.
Mainstreaming of ECD into National Policies and Plans
• The Nepal-UNICEF cooperation programme has made some progress in mainstreaming ECD into the education and local development sectors; the education sector has incorporated 4-year-olds, and some efforts have been made to infuse ECD messages into nutritional and health services.
Efficiency and Quality of ECD
• Use of common monitoring methodology and tools and coordination among monitors can improve efficiency and consistency in coverage of critical ECD elements.
• More training or other mechanisms to support quality improvement in ECD centers are needed.
Processes for Planning, Management, and Coordination
• National policies call for ownership of ECD implementation at district and local levels. Mainstreaming of ECD is limited in some districts by a lack of sufficient local capacity to implement ECD policies.
Incorporation of Human Rights-Based Approach and Strategies to Improve Equity
• An effort to map locations of ECD centers is underway, but strategies are not yet in place to target construction of new ECD centers to communities with high proportions of children from marginalized and disadvantaged groups.
Sustainability and Scale-Up
• Lack of strong intersectoral policy implementation and active coordination bodies at the national level could hamper sustainability.
• Rapid scale-up of ECD centers has occurred, but more attention to quality and equity is needed.
Role of UNICEF-GoN Funding
• The UNICEF-GoN Cooperation Programme funded two important ECD initiatives in Nepal—development of the ELDS and integration of ECD messages into a micronutrient supplementation initiatives—and jump started or enhanced previously planned ECD activities, particularly at district and local levels.
This section presents the following recommendations to enhance ECD policy development and implementation in Nepal. Recommendations are presented separately for the Government of Nepal, focused on intersectoral collaboration and implementation, and for UNICEF, focused on advocacy and provision of technical support.
Alignment with National Goals and Priorities
Government of Nepal: To align policy implementation with stated goals, activate existing ECD intersectoral coordinating bodies that are not currently meeting. As noted in Section II, these bodies include the ECD Council housed within MOE and the NPC coordinating committee. Coordination between MOE and MLD is especially needed to harmonize policy priorities (for example, the emphasis on increasing access for children from marginalized and disadvantaged groups) with implementation at district and local levels.
UNICEF: Continue advocating for ECD policies that promote holistic approaches to meeting children’s needs. Such policies require participation and investment by the health, education, and social protection sectors to meet the needs of young children in a holistic manner.
UNICEF: To support increased alignment of national and subnational policies and goals, begin providing a strong model of intersectoral collaboration for Nepal by improving systems for intersectoral coordination and collaboration within the UNICEF CO. For example, the CO could establish an intersectoral committee that would meet regularly to discuss the integration of ECD across sectors and strategies for promoting holistic approaches to ECD with each section’s government counterparts at national and subnational levels.
Increasing Access and Coverage
Government of Nepal: Begin to consider strategies for equalizing access to ECD centers across regions, income groups, and for children from marginalized and disadvantaged groups. For example, national ministries could provide more guidance to districts about allocating funds for new ECD centers to VDCs and communities that are the most disadvantaged in terms of income levels and the presence of marginalized or disadvantaged populations. MOE should also access all available data from EMIS and DHS to identify underserved areas of interest and consider redirecting resources for ECD center to those communities.
UNICEF: Continue providing technical support and data from the mapping projects and other sources of information to support MOE in identifying underserved areas. UNICEF could also provide support for developing strategies for targeting resources to increase equity and collecting data to track changes in equity of access over time.
UNICEF: Continue advocating for increased resources for PO to both increase coverage within communities and expand PO to additional communities. For example, some communities may need to offer the PO class more than once to achieve UNICEF’s goal of reaching 80 percent of parents. UNICEF should also consider advocating that districts to target PO classes to the most disadvantaged VDCs and communities.
Capacity Building for ECD
Government of Nepal: Begin developing capacity building materials for use at the district and local levels and systems for dissemination to districts and local communities to increase coverage and improve quality. For example, MOE should consider revising the ECD facilitator training curriculum to ensure that it is up to date with current knowledge about ECD, well aligned with the ELDS, and covers expectations about minimum standards. A curriculum for stakeholder orientation should also be developed that includes a core set of topics, such as ELDS, minimum standards, monitoring expectations and reporting requirements, and key implementation indicators. Once these materials are developed, Nepal should consider using them to train not only districts and VDCs that are new to ECD, but all districts and VDCs with ECD centers.
Government of Nepal: Strengthen existing communication and reporting systems between national and subnational levels to increase consistency in coverage of training and orientation. For example, MLD could assist districts and communities in tracking facilitator training to ensure that all facilitators receive training within required timeframes and target resources to locations that need more support. In addition, subnational entities could track ECD orientation to ensure that all personnel involved in monitoring ECD centers have received orientation on a core set of topics.
UNICEF: Increase the support for capacity building at the national level to begin developing materials and strengthen existing communication systems. For example, UNICEF should consider shifting some resources from direct facilitator training to investments at subnational levels. This step would improve the facilitator training package and dissemination of standardized capacity-building materials for district and local stakeholders on the ELDS and minimum standards. UNICEF could also provide support to develop systems for collecting and reporting training and orientation indicators.
UNICEF: Consider developing and piloting a more intensive approach to PO than the approach currently in use. Changing parents’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills, may require more than a single series of classes. UNICEF could pilot and evaluate approaches to PO at a higher level of intensity, as well as an option to follow up on classes with one or two home visits to practice using new skills and knowledge.
Knowledge Generation for ECD
Government of Nepal: Begin using ELDS as the basis for developing indicators and targets for ECD and standardized tools for collecting and reporting data on these indicators. These data should be reported to decision makers at various levels for use in planning and determining where to direct resources for capacity building as well as ongoing scale-up. For example, the DOE might consider setting specific objectives related to the percentage of facilitators who complete both basic and refresher training, the percentage of ECD centers supported that meet national minimum standards, and the percentage of parents who participate in PO classes who also send their children to ECD centers, or whose children are fully immunized. Even these short-term outcome measures will provide information about aspects of quality in ECD service provision beyond what the current indicators allow.
Government of Nepal: Complete the mapping of ECD centers that has occurred in the DACAW districts in all districts and develop the database to store this information for use by regional and district officials and stakeholders. Completion of the mapping project and its database would help the government prioritize funding for areas most in need of new ECD centers. Similarly, ECD indicators could be mapped to specific centers or VDCs, thus allowing the government and NGOs to provide support to areas with poor outcomes. Ideally, this database would eventually be mainstreamed into the EMIS, so that multiple ECD indicators could be tracked at the national level, providing more detail and context to the ECD situation than the two indicators currently in use.
UNICEF: Establish and track objectives and indicators for each funded ECD activity, including measures of expected outcomes. Development of objectives and data collection indicators will facilitate collaboration both within the CO and with the Government of Nepal about progress of implementation, strategies to address identified needs, and resource allocation.
UNICEF: Continue devoting resources to plan for rigorous evaluation of the impact of ECD services on children’s outcomes. ECD in Nepal is now reaching nearly one million children throughout the country primarily in center-based settings. Well-designed research and evaluation projects should be conducted to determine whether the ECD activities are producing the desired results in terms of improving educational efficiency and school performance among children, and whether there are differences in these outcomes between groups of children or geographical areas. If it is effective, this evidence would be invaluable to efforts to increase funding for ECD. A rigorous evaluation that included an implementation study would also identify gaps in the service-delivery system and provide data to guide improvement.
Mainstreaming of ECD into National Policies and Plans
Government of Nepal: Consider a shift away from relying on NGO/CBO partners to scale up ECD at the district and local levels toward greater support for national, district, and local governance bodies to increase ownership of ECD at all levels. As described above, national ministries should develop curricula, tools, and systems to better support district and local bodies in carrying out consistent training, orientation, monitoring, data collection, and reporting.
Government of Nepal: Draw on the experience in Tanahun, where stakeholders have successfully mainstreamed community-supported ECD centers into the DEO’s budget through strong collaboration between DEO and VDC officials. SSRP funds for ECD are distributed to districts as a quota; districts are expected to use these funds to establish a certain number of new ECD centers according to their discretion. In Tanahun, stakeholders have been able to direct these funds to existing ECD centers, which have previously been supported by communities and NGO partners, thus transferring responsibility for the payment of the facilitators’ salary and monitoring of the center to the DEO. This impressive model warrants replication in as many ECD centers as possible, to begin transferring responsibility for ECD to the local government, which must then allocate sufficient resources.
Efficiency and Quality of ECD
Government of Nepal: To address facilitator turnover, consider increasing ECD facilitator salaries from current levels by reducing the number of new ECD centers funded. Reducing turnover among ECD facilitators can help to ensure that all facilitators receive the required amount of training, provide time for facilitators to gain experience, and potentially improve the quality of services provided. Recent research in other countries shows that investments in child-care quality improvement can significantly decrease staff turnover. This area shows where investments in quality should take precedence over service expansion. Ideally, both investments could happen simultaneously, but budget limitations in Nepal make such a situation unlikely.
Government of Nepal: As an incentive to reduce turnover, consider beginning to offer additional training to facilitators who remain in their positions for at least two years. Funds for capacity building are generally directed toward basic training for new ECD facilitators. A portion of these funds could be used, instead, for additional refresher training and supplemental skills building for facilitators who have been employed for more than two years. The government and its partners should consider other quality-improvement approaches that have demonstrated impact on quality and child outcomes, such as mentoring or coaching. Increased opportunities for skill development might increase the motivation of facilitators and reduce turnover rates.
UNICEF: Provide support to strengthen the existing ECD monitoring system. As noted earlier, districts and communities could benefit from standardized monitoring tools and reporting formats. Developing more standardized monitoring procedures, tools, and reporting expectations would make the monitoring process less duplicative and more efficient, and it would increase the likelihood that monitoring results would be used to improve ECD.
Processes for Planning, Management, and Coordination
Government of Nepal: Strengthen existing collaboration between education, health, and other sectors to promote the delivery of more comprehensive and holistic services for young children. Strong governance structures and clear roles and responsibilities for all aspects of ECD are needed to achieve Nepal’s stated goals for ECD. Closer collaboration between the MOE/DOE and MLD at the national level is needed to set objectives and allocate resources, in parallel with close collaboration between VDCs/municipalities, the DEOs and Resource Centers, and NGO/CBO and donor stakeholders at subnational levels. Figure VI.1 illustrates the linkages that could support stronger intersectoral collaboration on ECD and clarify roles and responsibilities among stakeholders. ECD centers could serve as a platform for the delivery of key health and nutrition services, and parent education could be modified to more fully integrate child-protection components. Similarly, FCHV might serve as an excellent vehicle for the delivery of parenting education, above and beyond the components that have been integrated into micronutrient-supplementation.
UNICEF: Continue advocating for increased intersectoral collaboration between the ministries at the national level and between relevant line agencies and stakeholders at the district and local levels. Closer ties across sectors and levels of government will increase ownership of ECD at all levels, as well as efficiency.
Lessons Learned (Optional):
Nepal’s ECD policy development and activities have focused primarily on the education sector in the last two years since the SSRP was being developed. Nepal’s experience thus far at both the national and subnational levels provides several important lessons learned that may be useful for other countries, particularly about the challenges and potential benefits of focusing most ECD resources in one primary sector.
When countries develop ECD policy primarily in one sector, intersectoral collaboration becomes more challenging. Including policy mandates to implement ECD within policy documents for a single sector, such as the education sector in Nepal, creates challenges in engaging other sectors in supporting ECD. Staff in other sectors may not view ECD as their responsibility, may not understand the importance of providing holistic ECD, and may be reluctant to commit scarce resources when they are responsible for fulfilling other mandates. ECD is by definition intersectoral; hence, implementation efforts should be reflective of this intrinsic characteristic. For example, if an ECD specialist is placed within one section, other mechanisms, such as joint planning and the formation of intersectoral working groups, are likely to be encouraged.
Mainstreaming ECD within a single sector may facilitate rapid scale-up. Clear systems and resource allocation plans can be established in a single sector for replicating specific services, such as ECD centers, in communities across the country. ECD can be introduced efficiently into existing service-delivery systems, such as the primary education system or home-visiting or community-education initiatives operating within health systems. As in Nepal, sectoral approaches can be efficient and where they work well should continue. Intersectoral collaboration is not an end in itself; it is a means for developing holistic ECD policies and activities. However, intersectoral approaches offer one way to address unmet needs and can increase the frequency of conveying ECD messages to parents and communities.
Concentrating ECD policy in a single sector creates challenges for providing ECD services across the age span and for multiple settings, such as home and school. Few sectors offer ECD services and activities that span the age range of birth to 5 years. For example, health interventions often focus on supporting positive maternal health and birth outcomes as well as on delivering basic health and nutrition services to young children under age 3. For those activities, interventions are most often delivered at home or in gatherings that occur in the local community. Preschool education is most often delivered in centers to children ages 3 to 5. To provide holistic services across the ECD age span and in multiple settings, intersectoral approaches that include health and education interventions are needed.
Rapid scale-up can lead to insufficient focus on quality and equity. Implementing ECD is a complex endeavor that requires action at both national and subnational levels. In addition to developing resource-allocation plans, establishing facilities, hiring and training staff, and recruiting families and children, systems must be developed to promote quality services and equitable access to them. Steps required to create these systems—including developing standards, indicators, and targets; collecting data to track indicators and monitor progress toward targets; and use of data for making improvements—take time to develop and implement. Rapid scale-up can occur before critical support systems are fully in place, leading to uneven quality and access to services among disadvantaged populations.
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