Early Childhood Development

© UNICEF/Zambia

Key Statistics

 • Only 6 percent of children aged between 36 and 59 months are enrolled in preschool.
 • Only 17.1 percent of children enrolled in grade 1 in 2007 had pre-school experience.
 • There are no government run ECD centers in Zambia.

A range of scientific findings suggest that the early years of a child are critical in the formation of intelligence, personality, and social behavior. Investment in early child development provides greater returns through increased enrollment, retention, achievement, and completion of primary school level. This also contributes to Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 as well as Education for All (EFA) objectives. Improved parenting and awareness of a child’s growth and development can improve feeding and caring practices, resulting in reduction of malnutrition rates (which contributes to MDG 1). Improved parenting can contribute to reduced child mortality, contributing to MDG 4, since 40 percent of child deaths can be attributed to practices in homes. Child injuries, an important contributing factor to child death, can be reduced by raising awareness of causes of accidents in young children among the caregivers and the community leaders through parenting programmes and community based Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes.

However, only 6 percent of children aged between 36 to 59 months are enrolled in pre-schools in Zambia and only 17.1 percent of new entrants to grade one in 2007 had pre-school experience. There are no Government supported ECD centres in the country. The few existing centres are supported by development partners. Urban provinces have the highest rates of new school entrants with prior early childhood education. The rates for Lusaka and Copperbelt Provinces are the highest in the country with 51.4 percent (2007). The lowest proportion of new entrants with early childhood experience is Western Province with 2.2 percent (2007). Until an integrated model of service provision for children aged 0- to 8-years-old is developed in Zambia, the country’s children will continue to receive inadequate early childhood care services.


The concept of ECD centres is still relatively new in Zambia and as such limited importance is given to sending children to the ECD centres in their early years of life. There is insufficient human resources and capacity to effectively coordinate early childhood programmes. The national ECD curriculum frameworks and policies are in a draft form. ECD is not yet seen as a priority by many cooperating partners and therefore attracts limited resources. As ECD as a programme does not belong to any one specific ministry, it is a challenge to coordinate with relevant line ministries. There is also general lack of infrastructure, curriculum, and materials for a holistic ECD initiative.


 • Development of ECD policy, strategy, early learning and development standards, and curriculum and assessment frameworks.
 • Building systems and institutional capacity to support the coordination mandate of ECD  within the Ministry of Education (MoE) and frontline NGOs working with children.
 • Supporting the establishment of community-based ECD sites for the most vulnerable girls and boys, with active parental involvement and monitoring and supervision by local education authority boards and community-based organizations.
 • Building and strengthening caregivers’ capacities to provide child centered, gender-responsive, and age-appropriate stimulation and learning opportunities for 0-8 year-olds. While the 3-8 year age groups are the primary target for school preparedness, through cognitive, self help, and socialization skills development, the programme will also support the 0-3 year-olds to benefit from enhanced parenting skills in families, child health care centers, and early stimulation activities.


 • In collaboration with UNICEF’s East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO), UNICEF Zambia supported the Ministry of Education to draft the national ECCDE curriculum as part of training outcomes for curriculum specialists. In addition, financial and technical support was provided towards the development of the ECCDE component of the MoE 2009-2015 Strategic Plan.
 • Continued advocacy and technical support resulted in the adoption of a new Curriculum Framework for ECCDE and in the development of an ECCDE Policy (currently awaiting Cabinet approval).
 • Child Assessment tools and pre-school teachers training guides have been developed to improve the quality of service delivery in ECCDE institutions.
 • Water and sanitation facilities have improved in 15 ECCDE centres and communities have been trained on child care with focus on diarrhoea and cholera prevention.
 • ECCDE resource materials have been developed with participation from five technical and vocational skills development institutions.
 • Six new community-based ECCDE centres were supported in Mansa, Mwense, and Samfya districts of Luapula province. Parent ECCDE committees were trained on the basic philosophy of Community-led ECCDE initiatives. 

UNICEF’s Country Programme 2011-15

Under the new UNICEF country programme 2011-2015, Early Childhood Development will be a key focus area. UNICEF will continue its support for building capacity of MoE to develop a viable pre-primary education sub-sector and for increasing access to early learning services among the 4 to 6 year olds, especially those in under-served rural districts where less than 10 per cent of grade 1 entrants have early learning experience. 


Children’s access to early learning and development increased by 15 per cent in target provinces by 2015.




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