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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2014 CEE/CIS and Baltic States: RKLA 3 - Multi-Country Evaluation (MCE): Increased Access and Equity in Early Childhood Education

Author: John Wood, Laetitia Antonowicz, Jake Grout-Smith, Prof. Helen Penn and Dr. Anise Waljee

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labeled as ‘Part 5’ of the report.


Across the CEE/CIS region many countries share traditions of state-funded care and education of preschool children under former Soviet Union or former Yugoslavia systems. Following the collapse of these systems and the loss of social subsidies, many countries were unable to sustain their early childhood education and care services because of lack of funds, structure and political will. The residual kindergartens are concentrated in urban areas and cater for the wealthy, leaving much of the population without access to early childhood education or care. Over the past decade governments have gradually started to rebuild national and decentralised systems for early childhood education but coverage in many cases remains low with significant equity gaps in access.

UNICEF has been working in the region at a national systems level to support transition to sustainable, quality preschool education, able to reach all children aged 3-6. It has supported approaches that prioritise early learning and school readiness (ELSR) in contrast to the legacy of care-driven provision for working parents.


This evaluation of UNICEF’s ELSR work was commissioned by UNICEF CEE/CIS Regional Office (RO) in 2013. It is one of five multi-country evaluations, each on a different thematic area, which were commissioned to test the validity of UNICEF’s regional generic Theory of Change (TOC - below). This TOC articulates UNICEF’s programming shift to contributing to systemic change as the most effective route to the progressive realisation of children’s rights.

The specific objectives of this evaluation were to assess: i) whether changes in national ELSR systems have led to increased access and reduced equity gaps in ELSR; and ii) the contribution of UNICEF to these system changes and the validity of the generic TOC to UNICEF’s ELSR work.

The evaluation covers the period 2005-2012 and focuses on the six cases of Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. These were selected as cases in which UNICEF believed significant results had been achieved in terms of improved coverage of ECE services and reducing equity gaps.

The UNICEF generic TOC sets out four areas of system changes and examines UNICEF’s contribution through seven core roles. This was adapted to the ELSR sector (Figure 1) and used to guide the evaluation analysis.


Extensive document and data reviews were carried out for each of the six cases. These informed two week visits to each country/territory for consultations with a broad set of ELSR stakeholders at national, district and community levels. The independent evaluation was conducted by Education for Change Ltd. between 2013 and 2014.

Findings and Conclusions:

Changes in the lives of children and equity
- There have been increases in the number of children aged 3-6 who have access to ELSR
- In most cases national figures show higher preschool enrolment rates for girls than boys, but gender intersects with other factors of exclusion (such as disability or ethnicity) to prevent girls from certain groups attending.
- Whilst access to ELSR has opened up for many in the large group of previously excluded children, available data show that equity gaps remain (and increased in some cases during the earlier part of the evaluation period)

- UNICEF has understood the particular system challenges to ELSR in each of the six case countries/territory.
- UNICEF has mediated its interventions through a strong grasp of the political, social and economic contexts in which it operates, using a range of its core roles to seize opportunities to progress ELSR.
- UNICEF has sought increased access across broad categories of marginalisation (such as rural location) before addressing more complex inequities and vulnerabilities.
- Quality of provision has, until recently, been a secondary focus of UNICEF’s work. However, UNICEF is now starting to match its priority on access with concern for quality of inputs, services and learning outcomes.

System level changes
- Social norms have increasingly recognised the importance of early learning and school readiness.
- The evaluation period has seen legislative frameworks for preschool education established in all six cases, providing a significant step forward.
- Coordination mechanisms for ELSR at the national level have been developed, such as in the National ECD task force set up in 2005 in Armenia for the development of the legislative framework.
- There have been substantial increases in preschool facilities, particularly in rural areas under large-scale, often externally-funded programmes.
- Despite the expansion of low-cost or officially free ELSR models of provision, affordability of ELSR services remains a barrier for many families because of informal fees and costs arising under intense competition for places.
- In all six country/territory cases the focus on the expansion of access has been paramount, but there has been an increasing range of work on the quality of provision at national and local levels.

UNICEF's contribution
- UNICEF has been a strong advocate and voice for early childhood education, contributing significantly to bringing the sector onto the agenda of government and other stakeholders.
- UNICEF has been an important player in the development of the legislative and policy frameworks for preschool education over the evaluation period, which has been a critical first step in moving the sector forwards.
- A significant amount of UNICEF’s financial resources for ELSR has been allocated to developing alternative, low-cost models for ELSR provision.
- Leveraging funds has been a particularly strong and successful aspect of UNICEF’s work across the six cases.
- UNICEF has supported and contributed to reform agendas for ELSR by generating evidence and formulating recommendations through a growing collection of studies and reviews.
- UNICEF draws on a range of activities to promote dialogue on child-friendly norms and standards for ELSR.
- UNICEF has been flexible in responding to ad hoc needs and demands from governments for knowledge exchange activities.


1. Amend the TOC to: (see report)

2: UNICEF, headed by the RO and working with all COs, develops a long-term vision and strategy for ELSR in the region.

3: UNICEF COs review the possible risks to quality arising from rapidly increasing access, with short national research studies.

4: UNICEF deepens its approach to teacher training and professional development and work on children’s ways of learning and respect for children’s rights.

5: UNICEF develops guidance and tools for child participation to ensure children’s voices are heard and integrated into the general reflection on ELSR quality.

6: UNICEF RO provides further support to institutionalising the development and dissemination of quality children’s TV.

7: Where there are standards in place that do not articulate with the start and end points of the main modalities of provision (multiple-year/single year, full year/limited hours, full-day/half-day etc.), an additional guideline should be prepared to allow the standards to be used within provision that has limited age coverage and timing.

8: UNICEF strengthens its ability to navigate decentralisation and support sustainable capacity development at national and sub-national levels.

9: UNICEF RO publishes an open call for consultants...

10: UNICEF supports the development of a stronger framework for data collection in ELSR through: (see report)
11: UNICEF supports and, if necessary, drives a regional research agenda on: (see report)

12: UNICEF reviews how it handles inter-sectorality at regional and national levels (see report)

Management Response

Find below:

"Report" - Evaluation Report [Eng]
"Part 2" - Evaluation Report [Rus]
"Part 3" - Annexes [Eng]
"Part 4" - Executive Summary [Eng]
"Part 5" - GEROS

Full report in PDF

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Report information


Baltic States


Early Childhood Education


English, Russian

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