13 September 2023

Policy options for Early Childhood Education Financing" in Albania

Extensive research shows that the early years of a child’s life really matter. A vast body of evidence has emerged in recent years arguing that investments in early childhood have the greatest return of any human capital intervention. Longitudinal studies from a wide range of case studies show that children who participate in quality early childhood programmes experience multiple benefits, including improved test scores and graduation rates, decreased social exclusion and multi-dimensional poverty, crime, and delinquency rates, and improved long-term income. Importantly, investment in early childhood education can drive progress within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and be central to meet basic child rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In Albania the importance and challenges of preschool education cannot be understated. Albania is faced with an ageing and shrinking population, which presents a concerted threat to the entity’s economic and social development. This demographic situation is the result of both low birth rates and high rates of emigration. They must be the focus of urgent policy and investment attention. Early childhood development is particularly important given this demographic context. With fewer children and limited resources, Albania must cultivate since early age a skilled, productive young work force to sustain and improve economic and social conditions. Over the past fifteen years, progress has been made towards a conducive policy environment for the preschool ecosystem. This includes the National Strategy of Education (2022-2026) which has a focus on preschool, the development of the National Curricula on preschool, The National Standards of Preschool Education etc. However, there are clear untapped opportunities to invest in Albania’s younger generations. The conditions needed for the young children to thrive, and meet their full potential are not fully in place. Funding for preschool has been generally inadequate to meet needs. Further, often figures hide significant inequities in outcome between groups of young children, with Roma children, children with disabilities (CwD), children from rural or low-income backgrounds, all facing additional challenges. In Albania, there are currently about 79,000 children benefiting from the pre-school education service in about 2,000 public and private kindergartens. There are about 4,800 teachers employed in the pre-school service in 61 municipalities (average 2019-2021). In Albania the function of pre-school education was transferred to the local government since 2016, but the competences remain ambiguous. Following a major decentralization Territorial-Administrative Reform (TAR), becoming thus a local government own function. The local government is responsible for the management and administration as well as financing of this public service. Despite being a municipal own function, many areas of preschool education involve responsibilities that are either shared between the national and the local levels of government or remain prime responsibility of the national government without municipal involvement. Pre-school education service “” is de jure an own function of the local governments, while “de facto” it is delivered as a shared function.  In all cases, evidence shows that this function has suffered a long-term underfinancing.  In the backdrop of this situation and with earliest investments in children results in greater productivity and consequently reduce social spending later, UNICEF commissioned this study which aimed at:  Identifying sustainable financing mechanisms, which would allow for an increased coverage of quality Early Childhood Education and provide sound and feasible policy options and solutions to finance early childhood education services at a decentralized level“.