ADEA and the Pivotal Role of Early Childhood Development in Africa

From the Birth of ADEA Working Group on Early Childhood Development to the Africa Play Conference 2019

Young girl playing with LEGO bricks at the Esikhisini Primary School in Atteridgeville (South Africa) which is a well-known school due to the adoption of play-based learning methodologies thanks to the key collaboration between your Ministry of Basic Education of South Africa, the LEGO Foundation and UNICEF South Africa. Copyright: ADEA | Photo: Stefano De Cupis

1993: Birth of ADEA Working Group on Early Childhood Development (ECD)

Several studies, research works and agendas invariably mention the recognition of early childhood as the basis for sustainable development as one of the priorities and success stories for the African continent. It is in this context that the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) established the Working Group on Early Childhood Development in 1993. Initially, it was a Task Force within the Working Group on Women’s Participation, which later on became the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). Led in its first stages by a group of committed professionals from sub-Saharan African and European countries (Ghana, Finland, Namibia, and the Netherlands) who had integrated early childhood development and planning in their agenda as an important feature of their Education for All (EFA) strategy, the Working Group on Early Childhood Development became operational in 1996. This phase followed the EFA mid-term review meeting held in Amman (Jordan), where the Joint Committee on ECD introduced the slogan “Eight is too late.” Countries such as Finland, Ghana and Namibia together with UNESCO and UNICEF played a major role in the process. 

From Libreville to Kigali: Key achievements since the ADEA 2006 Biennale & Launch of Inter-Country Quality Node on Early Childhood Development (ICQN-ECD) 

The outcome of the Libreville discourse triggered the achievement of a series of milestones that culminated into the establishment and launch of the ADEA ICQN on ECD in Kigali in 2015. These milestones include the launch of the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report in 2007 focussing on early childhood care and education, the fourth ADEA African Conference on ECD in 2009, the inclusion of ECD in the AU Second Decade of Education for Africa's Plan of Action by the Conference of Ministers for Education of the African Union (COMEDAF) in 2009, the Moscow Conference and the Mauritius Africa Initiative in 2010.

The ADEA 2006 Biennale, which was held from 27th to 31st March 2006 in Libreville (Gabon) and focused on the “Characteristics, Conditions and Factors underlying Effective Schools and Literacy and Early Childhood Development Programs in Africa” as key theme, led to the following main conclusions regarding ECD:

  1. Promote links between primary schools and ECD programmes to foster mutual understanding and a smooth transition; 
  2. Ensure that school leaderships encourage community participation and parental involvement in children’s learning both at school and at home;
  3. Integrate ECD content and messages into all functional adult literacy and non-formal education programmes; 
  4. Promote and participate in collaborative initiatives with other services (health, nutrition, social welfare, protection, water and sanitation) to provide a comprehensive response to young children’s needs and rights;
  5. Support and participate in the development of a comprehensive policy framework and action plans for ECD (with priorities, costing, financing and resource mobilisation strategies);
  6. Support and participate in parenting education programmes for all caregivers (including fathers and young parents) to promote early stimulation of children and good learning content.

In 2007, UNESCO made a valuable contribution to the cause by launching its Global Monitoring Report entitled “Strong foundations Early childhood care and education”, an advocacy and mobilisation document to fast-track progress in early childhood development. The 2007 EFA Monitoring Report concluded that: “We will not achieve EFA nor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) without early childhood programmes.

From 10th to 13th November 2009, the fourth ADEA African Conference on Early Childhood Development was held under the theme “From Policy to Action: Expanding Investment in ECD for Sustainable Development”. This high-level and advocacy meeting was attended by 700 participants, including two (2) Heads of State ( H.E. Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal and H.E. Amadou Toumani Touré, President of the Republic of Mali), 43 ministers of education, finance, health, protection and social action, 23 agencies and development partners, 37 NGOs, 21 local governments and community development organizations.

One of the main outcomes of this meeting was the adoption of ECD by the African Union (AU) as the 8thpriority of the Second Decade of Education for Africa at the Conference of Ministers for Education of the African Union (COMEDAF) held from 23rd to 26th November 2009 in Mombasa (Kenya).

The Moscow Conference held from 27th to 29th September 2010, less than a year after the fourth COMEDAF, helped to support the implementation of the 8thpriority area of the AU Plan of Action for the Second Decade. I also aimed to strengthen political commitment to early childhood and define a set of actions to strengthen international education and development programmes, specifically Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The ADEA Working Group on Early Childhood Development provided technical support in preparing and drafting the regional report and in convening a press stand, organized a side event during the conference on “Africa’s Regional Campaign to Promote Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE): the Framework of the ADEA WG-ECD in Organizing the Early Childhood Development Agenda”. The official presentation of the “Bouba and Zaza, Childhood Culture” series by Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO was one of the main highlights of this conference. This collection of children’s books, published by the ADEA Working Group on Early Childhood Development, UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa (BREDA) and the publisher Michel Lafon Education  - available in French, English, Portuguese and Kiswahili- is a first in Africa, as it was developed by Africans. Designed to improve the quality of education and democratization of information on contemporary themes of crucial importance for Africa’s sustainable development, “Bouba and Zaza” deals with topics such as peace, respect for oneself and others, environmental protection, HIV/AIDS, etc.

The official launch of the Mauritius Africa Initiative (MAI) took place from 23rd to 25th March 2010 in Balaclava (Mauritius). It followed the decision made by experts and representatives of ministers of education, child development and civil society organizations, countries and organizations at the ADEA 2006 Biennale in Gabon, which underscored the need for more comprehensive regional approaches and policies for ECCE in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Inter-Country Quality Node, which builds on the activities of the MAI, was officially launched on 9th February 2015 at the Kigali’s Ministerial Conference on the post-2015 agenda. It thus became a platform to serve as a forum for advocacy and positioning ECD as a priority on national development agendas and to improve the offering of quality ECD programmes on the continent. Since then, it has continued and expanded the work initiated by the ADEA Working Group on ECD, coordinated by UNESCO since 2007. Mauritius was chosen based on its success in this field and the strong commitment of the Government. These same arguments also prevailed for Mauritius to be designated, through the ADEA’s Inter-Country Quality Node on Early Childhood Development (ICQN-ECD), as the lead country of the Early Childhood Education Cluster, launched on 3rd and 4th September 2018 in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) as part of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 2016-25).

As part of its 2018-2022 strategic plan that seeks to improve the quality of education in Africa, ADEA, together with the Ministry of Basic Education of South Africa, UNICEF South Africa and the LEGO Foundation, organized the first Continental Conference on Play-based Learning for the 21st Century Skills also known as Africa Play Conference (APC). The Conference, held from 25th to 27th February 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa, brought together 400 participants including leaders, educators, policy-makers and researchers from around the world to integrate play-based learning into approaches, resource allocation, teacher development and support materials for the implementation of Agenda 2063, 2030 Agenda – in particular the Sustainable Development Goal 4 – and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25).

At the conclusion of the highly successful Africa Play Conference, among the main key takeaways of the APC Statement, the delegates from Angola, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire,  Eswatini,  Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe representing Ministries, Governments, civil society, and academia:

  • urged all governments to put in place robust policies, legal frameworks and programmes that support the seamless integration of play-based learning from birth until completion of basic education;
  • committed to support measures taken to create open and flexible learning systems;
  • urged that reskilling, upskilling and reorientation of the existing workforce be prioritised to support the change in play-based teaching, facilitation and learning of children at all levels;
  • agreed to promote the universal principles of play-based learning in all our programmes, which are inclusive in nature, and will provide for all children regardless of ability, culture and socio-economic status;
  • called upon governments and all stakeholders to optimise access and use of resources and materials for teaching and learning;
  • committed to continuously find ways that will encourage and support parents, guardians and caregivers to provide playful and nurturing care and learning opportunities to their children;
  • urged all stakeholders to harness the collective impact of partnerships at local, national, continental and global  levels for resourcing and implementation of play-based learning across the education continuum.

It is vital that all countries, relevant intergovernmental bodies, organizations of the United Nations system, relevant non-governmental organisations and all other relevant stakeholders give due consideration to the contribution of play-based learning to develop the knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovations, sustainable development and prosperity in the 21st century towards the aspirations for the Africa we want.