Early childhood experiences lay the foundation for outcomes later in life. Large shares of children in Africa enter formal education without prior exposure to any structured pre-school program, including contact with, and practice of, the instructional language. Policymakers face a dual challenge of promoting access and quality in pre-school services, but evidence on how to manage this tradeoff is scarce. In early 2010’s, The Gambia government developed a comprehensive curriculum and decided to experimentally test it with two approaches to delivering preschool services nationally. In the first experiment, new community-based centers were introduced to randomly chosen villages that had no pre-existing structured services. Another group of communities, which did not receive the program, served as a comparison group. In the second experiment, existing kindergartens tied to primary schools, known as Annexes, were randomly split in two groups. One group received the new curriculum along with a comprehensive training for an effective implementation, while the other group received the curriculum only and served as control group. The authors found evidence that both programs show significant heterogeneous impact, while not raising significantly the overall average levels of school readiness measured by a standardized assessment of language and fine motor skills. Children from more advantaged households improved less when exposed to community-based ECD centers, while more disadvantaged children benefitted from provider training in existing Annexes. Taking into account additional implementation-related considerations, they argue that on both the equity and efficiency grounds that the expansion of formal public kindergarten tied to primary schools would be more effective than the initiation of a community-based approach.
Early childhood education