Three hundred children graduate from Liberia's first community-based pre-primary programme

The children began primary school in September 2018. Age appropriate enrolment will reduce drop-outs and grade repetition, increase completion rates and transition to secondary schools

UNICEF Liberia
ECD programme-Liberia
UNICEF Liberia/Noorani
16 January 2019

Liberia is celebrating the graduation of 300 children from the country’s first formal community-based early childhood development (ECD) initiative. The 5-to-6 year-olds completed the ECD programme in June 2018 and began primary school in September.

The Ministry of Education, with UNICEF support, has been expanding ECD services in some of Liberia’s most deprived areas. Right now, these services are being provided in Bong, Grand Bassa and Grand Gedeh counties and 30 communities, where more than 900 children are enrolled. This is still a small fraction of the thousands of children aged 3–5 years who do not access ECD programmes. But it’s a start.

“Early childhood development is the process through which children learn the basics of their families, communities, environment, and themselves. It is the critical foundation on which children build their confidence and their sense of the world," says Bernard Batidzirai, UNICEF’s Chief of Education in Liberia.

Access to quality early learning and school readiness programmes for young children is limited in Liberia, especially in remote, hard-to-reach rural areas. Just over a third of all 3-to-5 year-olds are enrolled in pre-schools at the right age. 

A number of factors affect ECD enrollment, according to a recent study on out-of-school children. The majority of ECD centres are concentrated in urban areas, while families living in rural areas don’t have a good understanding of why they should send their children to ECD programmes, even if they were available. There is also a shortage of trained pre-school teachers, which affects enrolment.

 “Not being enrolled in pre-primary education at the right age means that children don’t start primary school at the right age. We see a domino effect that, in the long-run,   results in grade repetition, drop-out, low completion of primary education, low transition to secondary education and poor learning outcomes,” says Batidzirai. 

Creating an enabling environment

An enabling environment plays a key role in supporting children's learning and development. It is well recognized that children learn and develop best in caring, supportive environments, which respond to their individual needs, allowing them to play and explore.

To achieve this in Liberia, UNICEF and education sector partners have helped to develop a comprehensive ECD policy, training manuals and a curriculum. They have also lobbied hard for free ECD provision for children between the ages of 3–5.

Children take part in structured learning through developmentally appropriate activities such as jumping, playing, storytelling, writing and numeracy as they progress through the programme. Teachers and caregivers are also trained to track the progress of each child, identify where some may need extra attention, and support children who are differently-abled.

UNICEF has helped to expand ECD services through the formal education system by training 300 pre-primary teachers in government-run schools in the three counties. UNICEF is also presently helping formulate early learning development standards for Liberia. 

“We are working with the Ministry of Education to raise awareness across Liberia of the need for children to be enrolled in ECD programmes and attract funding to expand services to reach children in other counties where the need is great, and where children live far from schools with ECD programmes,” adds Batidzirai.

Community engagement

Overage enrolment is a significant challenge at all levels of the education system. The Education Management Information System (EMIS) 2015 shows that approximately 40 per cent of primary school students are three years older than the appropriate age for their grade. In addition, EMIS data also shows that only 59 per cent of children who enroll in school complete Grade 9.

“I see the benefit of ECD programmes in my own community. My daughter is now more interactive, sings songs, plays with other children and is keen on learning,” says Marmie Gosoe, who is one of 11 caregivers in the community-based programme in Grand Gedeh County.  “My main message to parents is that enrolling your children at the earliest age for pre-schooling is the best decision you can make.  This helps children see learning as a way of life. It also helps them enter school and perform well to completion.’’