Early childhood development and learning

UNICEF’s work on early childhood development (ECD) recognizes that all children deserve a chance to grow into healthy, educated, and competent people, no matter where and when they were born.

Early Childhood Development and Learning

The challenge

The formative years are the most important in children’s lives. The foundations of their lifelong habits and patterns are established at this stage.

Many children in Albania do not reach their full potential because they grow up in constrained environments. Without any parenting programs, parents do not have adequate information about the importance of early learning and development.

Single mothers may have to cope with the added burden of childcare while being the family breadwinner, with access to limited financial resources for preschool fees.  

Gradual improvements in Albanian children’s access to pre-primary (3-5 years) education over the past years are reflected in the current Net Enrolment Rates (NER) — 81 per cent for children aged five years while much lesser amongst children aged 4-5 years. However, according to the Living Standards Measurement Study of 2012, inequities in access by income level still persist — 48 per cent of children from top income families have access to pre-primary education versus only 23 per cent in the low income families.  Roma children benefit far less from early education, although the number of Roma in Albania’s kindergartens almost doubled since 2011.

ECD delivery, child-centered teaching and teacher practices are yet to be upgraded to provide better quality and inclusive teaching in preschool.

Children must not be deprived of their potential even if they live in difficult circumstances. Where families are unable to provide for their children, the state must assist those families.

Preparing children for school is an important prerequisite for getting into the education system. This requires a significant increase in the share of preschool services within the education budget which is slated to rise from 6.9 per cent to 14.8 per cent to upgrade quality as per standards and increase universal access for all five-year olds. Furthermore, access of children from the most vulnerable families need to be to subsidized.

The solution

Compared to other education programmes, the returns on investment in early childhood education are the highest, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Educational investments later in the life are known to bring fewer returns, and disproportionately tend to benefit children from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

UNICEF works with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth developing financial analysis and effective ways to expand preschool education; identifying out-of-school children and integrating them into the system. We support the Albanian Government in adopting standards for preschool, to develop curriculum, and improve teacher training and qualification. UNICEF promotes larger investment in young children by government and local government and in the scaling up of critical early-childhood programs. We urge that mechanisms– based on the principles of solidarity and human rights – be found, to ensure access to ECD facilities and programs by children from the most marginalized communities.

With political will and increased awareness among key stakeholders and local government units, Roma children (3-6 years) attending early learning services increased to 66 per cent in the 2016-2017  academic year compared to only 26 per cent in 2011.

Early Childhood Development and Learning

Due to the joint efforts of civil society organizations and with social service delivery structures at municipal and commune levels, particularly regional education departments, the quality of pre-university education in Albania has been steadily improving.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports, is working to achieve the universal introduction of a pre-primary schooling year (for children aged 5-6 years), and in the systematic expansion of early childhood development services (for children aged 3-5 years).

Parenting programmes are also in focus: to highlight the importance of nurturing and stimulating home environments for the development and learning of boys and girls alike; to promote demand for early childhood development and social protection services; and, to encourage cooperation with local authorities and civil society in mobilizing resources.

For further reading

These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF globally and its partners in Albania. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information