2018 Nepal: Evaluation of the National Early Childhood Development Program
Author: Dr Shrochis Karki, Dr Prem Narayan Aryal, Dr Sushan Acharya, Meenakshi Dahal, Jaya Upadhyay, Dhruba Ghimire, and Kritika Singh
With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System (GEROS)". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. The quality rating scale for evaluation reports is as follows: “Highly Satisfactory”, “Satisfactory”, “Fair” or “Unsatisfactory”. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as‘Part 3’ of the report, and the executive feedback summary labelled as ‘Part 4’.
Early childhood development (ECD) is key to the future wellbeing of children. This importance has been recognised globally over time, and this has been cemented through the adoption of ECD targets and goals as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which itself is part of the United Nations’ (UN) global development goals.
Amidst the political, social, and educational transformation that Nepal is undergoing, there has been a renewed focus on ECD, with evidence showing progress is being made, albeit slowly. In 2004, the ECD Strategy Paper was developed under the leadership of the Ministry of Education (MoE) with elaborate plans/strategies to expand ECD services in the country. Indeed, Nepal has developed various plans, programmes, strategies, and projects related to ECD services in education, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and protection sectors to develop this vision.
This evaluation sought to evaluate Nepal’s National Early Childhood Development Program (2004–2015) to identify potential ways of enhancing coordination among key ministries, demonstrate the linkages between early childhood education (ECE) and other sectoral interventions of ECD, and identify the gaps between policy and implementation. The focus of this evaluation was on the five sectors touched on above and considered central to ECD provision: education, health, nutrition, WASH, and protection.
As agreed with UNICEF and the National Planning Commission (NPC) at the start of the assignment, the evaluation did not focus on any particular set of interventions to assess the performance of the ECD strategy against the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) criteria. Instead, we assessed the whole milieu of activities in the ECD sector to determine their contribution to the ECD strategy and its objectives.
The main objectives of the evaluation are to:
- Reconstruct a theory of change (ToC) for the ECD Strategy 2004–2015;
- Assess the existing services available for ECD across the sector;
- Assess how the ECD strategy (2004–2015) was integrated in key sectoral strategy/policy documents, programmes and budgets;
- Assess the implementation linkages with key ministries in Nepal, especially the ministries of Education, Health, Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD), and Women, Children and Social Welfare in implementing ECD programmes at national and subnational levels; and
- Assess the extent to which the interim outcomes/results of the ECD strategy were achieved.
The purpose and objectives of the evaluation are reflected in the four key research questions, which underpin the findings of this evaluation:
- How successful was the implementation of the current national ECD programme in line with the national ECD vision?
- How efficient were the sectoral resources allocated to ECD in meeting national and subnational needs?
- How were the implementation of ECD programmes and achievements perceived by key stakeholders in the intervention districts?
- What learning can be drawn to inform the new ECD strategy development and implementation?
The findings from this evaluation are expected to contribute to provide strategic guidance during the elaboration of the new ECD strategy (2017–2030), and the findings and recommendations will support the government in policy making and national and subnational planning.
The main audiences of this evaluation are the NPC, the Ministry and Department of Education, the Ministry of Health (MoH), the MoFALD, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW), the ECD council, the ECD network, the ECD caucus, UN agencies, development partners, international and local non-government organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders in ECD.
The evaluation questions have been addressed through primary qualitative research, complemented by an analysis of secondary quantitative data and existing documents. We have used a mixed-methods approach to consolidate the findings from qualitative and quantitative evidence gathered from multiple sources to cover the breadth and depth of the evaluation in a comprehensive and rigorous manner.
Secondary data sources were used to provide descriptive statistics of the national context on selected indicators of ECD services in the education, health, nutrition, WASH, and protection sectors. These informed the design of the primary data collection and provided insights into and a source of triangulation for the information collected through qualitative research. However, the lack of availability of critical data in some areas, including the lack of disaggregated data by age, limited the level of secondary analysis.
Seven districts covering all ecological belts and seven provinces of the country were selected based on a range of variables of interest. ECD centres were sampled purposively based on variables of interest such as existence of community-based ECD centres, number of households in the community where an ECD centre is located, and the number of children aged under five in that community. Respondents were identified in the school- and community-based ECD centres of the selected sampling units in each district. Interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) were carried out with a wide range of stakeholders to inform and triangulate our findings.
Findings and Conclusions:
Although the ECD strategy is explicit about a holistic approach to ECD, the provision of ECD services has in reality taken place in sectoral terms. Relevant line ministries have been responsible for providing specific services to children between conception and five years of age, but these have not been integrated meaningfully to ensure that each child has received each of the services necessary to support the holistic development of the child.
The MoE provided the leadership to draft and deliver Nepal’s ECD strategy. In practice, Nepal’s ECD strategy has remained largely an ECE strategy. There have been some significant improvements in the provision of ECE in Nepal, although disparities remain.
There has been an overall increase in safe motherhood practices across Nepal. A range of new interventions to promote exclusive breastfeeding and immunisation, among others, have helped to reduce child mortality in Nepal.
Access to improved water sources increased from about 82% in 2006 to 95% of households in 2016. The proportion of the population using improved sanitation facilities increased from 39% in 2005 to 82% in 2015.
A number of sectoral interventions are associated with ensuring the protection of children under the age of five, but a lack of coordination and linkages between different aspects of the development rights of children continues to diminish this agenda.
The findings from this evaluation suggest that the provision of ECD services has generally improved during the timeframe of the ECD strategy (2004–2015). However, despite these improvements, significant geographical and wealth variations remain and these have profound implications for access to and quality of ECD services. To the extent that ECD services are being provided, there is minimal evidence to suggest that all children are receiving all the key services they should receive to ensure their all-round, holistic development.
The ownership of the entire ECD strategy, beginning from the conceptualising and designing phase, must be shared by each of the relevant sectoral and intersectoral ministries in a defined way. A representative from each of the relevant government bodies should be assigned the responsibility to both draft the ECD strategy and to align all their relevant department programmes and policies related to children under the age of five with this ECD strategy. An intersectoral body (such as the NPC), rather than a sectoral body (such as the MoE), should coordinate these activities.
The ECD strategy should clearly spell out minimum ECD services that all children from conception to the age of five should receive. Such a service mapping should account for both chronology (that is, the services that a child should receive based on their age) and theme (that is, the services a child should receive in each of the five key sectors relevant for ECD).
Key indicators should be agreed to provide guidance on the success (or failure) of the programme from the beginning of the strategy period. Each ministry as well as relevant local authorities should then regularly collect disaggregated data on those indicators through the Management Information System (MIS) to ensure that this information can be analysed to assess and evaluate the performance of the programmes as well as to inform the design and delivery of future programmes.
The minimum ECD services spelled out in the ECD strategy should be backed by a credible resource plan as well. There should be a strong political commitment to allocate the required resources to deliver this ECD strategy.
There should be a special focus on deprived children, and the ECD strategy should clearly outline both supply-side and demand-side initiatives to enhance access for these children. The next ECD strategy should explicitly address the quality of ECD services to be made available to children.
- A sense of ownership of the entire ECD strategy by each of the relevant ministries is a pre-condition for the successful development and implementation of an ECD strategy.
- As Nepal is undergoing an extensive decentralisation process under the new federal set-up, engagement with local government presents a unique opportunity to ensure the holistic development and delivery of ECD. While various central line ministries have been responsible for various sectors such as health and education, in the new situation it is expected that local units will be responsible for all these dimensions.
- Knowing what services children are supposed to receive, and what services they actually receive, is important; however, this should then be the basis upon which action is required to ensure that all children receive all these services, which is the goal of complete ECD service provision.
- This significant deficit suggests a need for innovative financing. Communities should be mobilised so that community members can make both financial and non-financial (labour) contributions, although these are still likely to not be enough.
- It appears in some ways that the ECD strategy was prepared based on the conventional notion of an ideal family, with both parents available for child caring and rearing. It did not foresee the development, protection, and learning of children living in institutional homes, in prison with convicted parent/s, in foster care, or in single parent households.
- There is an issue about what constitutes quality in the first place. Many parents and even teachers consider ECD to mean school preparation, and treat ECD centres as downward extensions of the school system. They consequently focus on paper and pencil-based tests and exams. However, young children are supposed to be playing and learning through alternative methods rather than focusing on tests and exams.
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