Support to Early Childhood Development Programme (SECDP)

Support to Early Childhood Development Programme (SECDP)

The Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development, in collaboration with development partners has been implementing ECD services to improve the living standards of children. ECD services mostly target children from conception to eight years. Recently the Government developed and launched the ECD Strategic Plan (2009 to 2014) to scale up ECD services to reach many children especially in areas not adequately serviced by current outreach programmes. This proposal aims at soliciting for financial support to achieve the targets set  in the strategic plan

The ECD Strategic Plan has the following six strategic outcomes:

  • Developing Institutional framework for ECD 
  • Access and Equity in centre based ECD increased
  • Enhancing Quality and Relevance of  ECD enhanced
  • Leadership, Partnerships and Coordination enhanced, and
  • Research and Monitoring &Evaluation strengthened

These strategic outcomes were arrived at after recognising that despite efforts and commitment by Government to reduce poverty, indicators for child survival, growth and development remain poor. The major underlying cause is that the average child does not receive adequate care, support and protection and the fact that capacity of families and communities to provide for children continues to be challenged. HIV and AIDS is also a major contributing factor as it has increased the dependency ratio of children who require care by the extended family. To address the situation, ECD must be recognised and promoted as an integral part of the development agenda.

In implementing ECD services, Malawi has adopted three approaches: multi-sectoral, life cycle, and human rights based. As stipulated in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to survive, grow and achieve the highest development potential and highest attainable standards of health.  Malawi therefore recognizes that provision of ECD services is a multi-sector responsibility involving public institutions, private sector and non-state actors (NSAs). The key public sector stakeholders for ECD include Ministries of Health, Education, Water and Sanitation as well as the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) through the Department of HIV and AIDS and Nutrition. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development (MoGCCD) through the Department of Children Affairs is responsible for policy development and overall coordination of child development program.  Activities of the program emphasize on a holistic approach to child development focusing on physical, psychosocial and cognitive development processes as desired outcomes of increased and improved survival, growth and development. The key implementing principles include: community participation; building on existing experiences; convergence and harmonisation with existing children services and partnership and networking. A participatory monitory system will be engaged throughout the process to track progress and impact.

According to Malawi ECD Strategic Plan (2009-2014), “ECD is a comprehensive approach to policies and programs for children from conception to eight years. It encompasses early learning and stimulation, health, education, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. ECD is thus a multi-sectoral program which requires full cooperation between key sectors including government ministries, NGOs, Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), the private sector and communities themselves” (p.10). ECD services in Malawi are delivered through nursery schools, preschools, and community-based childcare (CBCC) centres, nutrition rehabilitation units, children’s wards, parenting education, community dialogue on key child care practices, under 5 clinics, and others.  The major purpose of ECD in Malawi is to protect the child’s right to develop his or her full cognitive, emotional, social and physical development, including attention to nutrition, health, water and sanitation and psychosocial care to ensure promotion and protection of the rights of the young child to survival of growth and development.

ECD must be promoted based on the fact that the period from conception to three years of a child’s life is the most critical time for brain development as well as rapid growth. The first eight years lay down the foundation for later learning and socialization and that impressions made during this time determine the quality of life of the child because they last forever. Further, investment in ECD enhances children’s survival, growth and development and ultimately contributes to social and economic development of the nation. Thus, investment in ECD is a reliable and sound strategy for reducing or eradicating poverty in that it lays a strong foundation for optimum development of children, which in turn prepares them to be productive economically and socially. While advancing the long term Government goal of eradicating poverty, investing in ECD ensures that children’s rights are upheld. Again, it cannot be overemphasised that ECD prepares children for primary education and contributes towards increased school retention and higher levels of attainment in school. Studies have shown that if children attend pre-primary school, they are better prepared for school itself. They are more likely to enroll and stay in school and perform better academically than their peers who have not. Early learning also improves children’s health and nutrition status. ECD therefore plays a crucial role in shaping up the character of a person into a productive citizen in later life.

Situation analysis

In spite of the investment the government of Malawi and its development partners have made, indicators for child survival, growth, development and protection remain poor. Vital statistics reveal that:

  1. 52.4% of the population lives on less than $1 a day
  2. Life expectancy is at 38 years
  3. Under five mortality  at 133 deaths per 1000 live births
  4. 49% of the children being stunted
  5. 22% of children being underweight.
  6. 2% of live births in Malawi result in the death of the mother.
  7. It is estimated that nearly one third of infected mothers pass the virus to their babies.
  8. 50 % of 1 million orphans are due to HIV and AIDS.
  9. Of children who enrol to standard one, only 40% reach standard four, and only 26% of the children (16% for girls) complete primary school.   Repetition rates are at 25% and there is long period of time (14 years) taken to complete the primary education cycle.
  10. 37% of the children are engaged in child labour
  11. 50% of the women getting married before they reach eighteen years.
  12. Only 30% of children attend Centre-based ECD, leaving 70% of the targeted ECD-going children with no access to ECD services. 

Achievements and Challenges in ECD

Notable achievements in ECD initiatives in Malawi for the past few years include development of the ECD Policy, development of the ECD Strategic Plan (2009-2014) and the ECD Communication Strategy. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development (MoGCCD) in collaboration with Cooperating Partners has also developed the national ECD network to provide support in mobilizing resources; trained a core team of trainers at national and district levels; trained community facilitators and caregivers; and development of various ECD instructional materials to enhance quality.

Due to increased awareness of the importance of ECD services, more child care centres are being established in all districts of the country.  Currently, over 8390 CBCCs have been established with enrolment of 683,825. The Ministry of Education through its Primary Curriculum Assessment Reform (PCAR) has also integrated ECD services in early primary school.  At the same time, expansion of child survival programs in the health sector has led to an increased number of mothers receiving care and support and reaching more children in the 0-8 years age bracket. Of particular significance is the growing number of HIV positive children accessing ART and an increasing number of HIV positive pregnant mothers accessing PMTCT services through CBCCs, health facilities and community based organisations.

2.3    Problem Statement
Despite the progress made in ECD initiatives, there are still many and varied challenges in the delivery of programme activities and these can be categorised under the following 5 major areas:

Policy and regulatory framework:      The existence of an ECD policy has not translated into an understanding and support from policy makers, and as such, ECD continues to be accorded low priority on the national development agenda.
Access and equity: Currently there are over 8,398 ECD centres known as Community Based Childcare Centres and pre-schools in Malawi. Access to ECD centre services is at 30% percent (683,825 children). This implies that approximately 70 percent of the legible children are not accessing the service. The scenario is worse for children with special needs, children on the streets, the girl child and orphans and other vulnerable children.  Equitable access has not been achieved due to several reasons including; inadequate service delivery points, unavailability of appropriate services, cultural barriers to using the services, poor quality services, geographical barriers and limited capacity of service providers.

Quality and relevance:This is affected by ad hoc capacity building for ECD due to lack of relevant training institutions or recognized training program resulting in inadequate training and qualification of caregivers; lack of minimum set standards in the delivery of ECD services; lack of properly designed parent support programmes; inadequate resources to guarantee quality; Inadequate qualified ECD personnel.  

Infrastructure:  Most ECD centres lack adequate facilities. The current infrastructure is inappropriate to provide adequate care for the survival growth and development of young children. The centres are characterized by temporary dilapidated structures, with poor ventilation, dusty rooms, poor lighting, and absence of child friendly sanitary facilities.

Leadership, partnership and coordination: Absence of a well resourced ECD unit in the Ministry negatively affects the role and authority to coordinate implementation of ECD policy. 

Monitoring and evaluation: Ministry of Women and Child Development recognizes the importance of monitoring and evaluation for feedback into the ECD program. Currently the Ministry has not developed a clear monitoring and evaluation system for ECD,

To address these challenges and make the envisaged positive impact on the national development agenda, the MGDS, the National ECD Policy (2006) and the National Strategic Plan 2009-2014 provide the direction for achieving national targets for ECD.  However, this needs a lot of support if such targets are to be achieved.  It is in this context that the Government of Malawi, through the MoGCCD is applying to the World Bank for financial support.

The vision of ECD in Malawi is to realize “Malawian children that are holistically developed: well stimulated and educated, healthy and nourished, well protected and morally upright so that they can excel in life” (National Strategic Plan 2009-2014, p.16).  To achieve this vision, ECD in Malawi intends to provide the Malawian child with high quality services in early childhood care that ensure his/her survival, growth, protection and development that would lead to his/her active participation in national development

Goal for the SECD Programme

The goal of the SECD programme is to facilitate the provision of ECD services in key areas of legal and institutional framework, access and equity, quality and relevance, research, monitoring and evaluation for purposes of raising the quality of ECD in Malawi.  In the long term, the programme intends to assist the Government of Malawi (GoM) through the MoGCCD to achieve the targets stipulated in the National Strategic Plan for ECD 2009-2014.

Objectives the SECDP Programme

The SECDP project intends to:

  1. build the capacity  to increase, access and equity in ECD Service provision by 2014
  2. develop standards to improve quality and relevance of ECD service
  3. strengthen partnerships, leadership and coordination among various ECD stakeholders and structures to ensure improved governance and management of ECD Programmes
  4. support the development of an effective ECD monitoring and evaluation system

Activities under the SECD Programme

Out of the 6 key strategic outcomes of the ECD Strategic Plan, the project will focus on the following 5 key areas: Legal and institutional framework; Access to and equity in ECD services; Quality and relevance of ECD services; Leadership, Partnership and Coordination;  and Research, monitoring and evaluation

Legal and Institutional Framework

Under this component, the project aims at supporting efforts to put in place legislation and regulatory frameworks that will give ECD prominence in the government decision making process at all levels including resource allocation. Key strategies under this component will be to support implementation of capacity development plan for ECD at both managerial and technical levels and instituting standard guidelines for operating ECD facilities. Specifically the activities will include:

  1. Support implementation of capacity development plan for ECD at both managerial and technical levels.
  2. Procure vehicles for ECD resource centres and the Ministry for implementation, supervision and monitoring of activities.
  3. Procure computer sets for ECD resource centres, project unit and the Ministry. 
  4. Procure office furniture for ECD resource centres, project unit and the Ministry 
  5. Procure laptops, LCD projectors, still cameras and cameras for ECD resource centres, project unit and the Ministry
  6. Provide salary for project unit staff.

Access to and equity in ECD Services

This component will aim at increasing access to ECD services through strengthening linkages between ECD centres and  other related facilities such as primary schools and Community Based Organizations (CBOs); supporting the acquisition of play and development materials. The component will also advance equity issues in ECD by supporting the implementation of activities related to the inclusion policy as stipulated in the National Strategic Plan for ECD (Inclusion issues include special needs, gender, HIV and AIDS, street children, children in difficult circumstances, etc). The componemt will also support the establishment of more ECD centres. The specific activities are:

  1. Assessing requirements for ECD structures by District and TA
  2. Upgrading 3000 ECD centres (CBCCs with play grounds, materials, water source, etc)  in communities, prisons, hospitals and markets by 2014
  3. Building and equipping 30 Model ECD centres  
  4. Providing  cash grants to model ECD centres
  5. Developing tailor made teaching and learning aids (including technologies), mobility and other accessories
  6. Training 1500 caregivers and teachers working with children with special needs
  7. Providing child/user-friendly structures, including children with special needs

Quality and relevance of ECD services

This component shall focus on capacity building for relevant personnel and institutions involved in the delivery of ECD services.  Capacity building will ensure that quality ECD programmes are not only developed but also implemented efficiently across sectors.  The specific activities will be as follows:

  1. Provision of comprehensive ECD training and distribution of relevant learning aids and play resources
  2. Training ECD certificate caregivers
  3. Conducting training for 300 ToTs (ECD trainers in each district and tertiary institutions)
  4. Conducting orientation workshops in ECD for 2000 service providers (primary school caregivers and other extension workers)
  5. Conducting parenting orientation workshops targeting parents for 0-2 year olds.
  6. Conducting 4000 ECD centre parent committee orientation workshops
  7. Constructing and equipping early childhood development Annexes at Colleges and Universities

Leadership, Partnership And Coordination

Support in this component will be directed towards ensuring efficiency in the management (coordination, supervision, monitoring, etc) of  ECD activities through the development of M&E system in the coordinating Ministry, strengthening research (and dissemination) in ECD, and capacity of key institutions and organisations implementing ECD in Malawi. Planned activities are:

  1. Provision of ECD scholarships at different levels for education advancement of caregivers, graduate and post graduate studies to persons and organizations implementing ECD services
  2. Conducting an audit of institutional and technical capacity of organizations implementing ECD services
  3. Developing a capacity development plan
  4. Monitoring implementation of capacity development plan

Research, Monitoring and Evaluation

This will involve a continuous and systematic process of collecting and analyzing data to measure the performance of the interventions to wards achieving the desired results. Activities outlined for this component include:

  • Reviewing existing ECD tools on M&E
  • Training officers and stakeholders in updated M&E system
  • Supporting supervisory activities
  • Supporting national and district stakeholder meetings
  • Compiling and disseminating ECD implementation reports
  • Conducting research on various areas of ECD (cross-sectional and longitudinal)
  • Disseminating research findings

The Ministry of Development Planning and Cooperation (DPC) is responsible for overall monitoring and evaluation of development programmes in Malawi.  The MoGCCD operates within this national framework to monitor development activities under the Ministry. Thus at programme level, the MoGCCD has direct mandate to monitor programmes through its own M&E System, which feeds into the nation M&E system.

For the proposed SECD Programme, the MoGCCD through its Planning Department will have the overall responsibility for monitoring the programme at three levels, namely: national, district and community. However, as part of monitoring, external evaluators (consultants) will be engaged do conduct baseline study at the beginning of the program, mid-term and final evaluations for the programme.

Implementation of the ECD M&E system will involve development ofstandardized M&E tools based on the data needs of all the stakeholders of the project. There will be quarterly monitoring visits by the Planning Department to the district and community levels to assess the progress being achieved at the point of service delivery. Multilevel supervision will also be carried out by officers from both the national and district offices. The Planning Department will also coordinate the development of an ECD database which will eventually be integrated into the overall Ministry database.

District level monitoringwill be implemented by the District Assembly through the District Social Welfare Offices (DSWOs), which will also be trained to manage the data base at that level. At the community level,child protection workers, care givers, CBOs, FBOs’ and NGOs’ staffwill collect the necessary data to feed into the database at the district level.

As part of implementing the SECDP, the technical capacity at the ministry headquarters will be strengthened to ensure efficient management of the data base, by recruiting an M&E technical expert.  Similarly, partners involved in ECD at district and community levels (i.e. key line sectors, NGOs, CBOs, FBOs and caregivers) will be strengthened through training and provision of essential equipment and materials to ensure availability of quality and timely data.

Details of the proposed M&E System are indicated in detail in Annex A – Logical Framework

The programme will create opportunities for both girls and boys to participate in education and development programmes in the country by ensuring that they have access to ECD services and therefore a good start in life and preparation for formal education.  Research has shown that when children go through ECD, they are less likely to dropout of school than when they do not.  In Malawi, most girls drop out of school early partly due to lack of stimulation and good foundation when they are young. 

The programme will also address issues of abuse of the girl child, by offering protection through the activities around the ECD centre and capacity building of various service providers at the grassroots level such as child protection workers and other extension workers. Furthermore, the programme will promote equal participation of both men and women in the implementation of ECD service by encouraging men to take a more active and supportive role as caregivers, members of parents committees and implementers at various levels.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development is the lead agency that oversees and coordinates the provision of ECD services through the Department of Children Affairs. The Department is headed by a Director of (Children Affairs), assisted by a Deputy Director. A number of officers responsible for diffrent programs, including ECD, report to the director through the deputy director.

Under coordination, a national level Steering Committee, Technical Working Group and the ECD Network facilitates the decision-making processes.

However, a scaled up ECD programme will require a considerable human resource capacity building both professional and support staff. Apart from strengthening the staffing levels of the ECD unit, the project will therefore have to also focus on training of staff in early childhood development. This will ensure that appropriate staff is in place at the national, district and community levels. Despite this, the programme shall still require technical support in form of a Technical Advisor, an accountant and procurement officer as part of institutional strengthening and capacity building at Ministry level.

GoM Contributions

An extensive programme like the ECD requires considerable human resource personnel both technical and administrative staff. The GOM will ensure that the following personnel is in place:-

      • 1 National Coordinator (P5) who will be the overall in-charge of the programme
      • 3 ECD officers at grade G (P7) each responsible for training, curriculum development and parenting education components. However these officers will have to specialise in their areas of operations
      • 3 Accounts Assistants to handle relatively large amounts of  money in the process of implementing programme activities
      • 30 District ECD programme officers whose function will be to coordinate district level activities; and
      • 2 administrative  secretaries, 1 messenger, 2 drivers according to the distribution of vehicles to be purchased

Linkages with ongoing programmes

The ECD programme will establish linkages with programmes implemented by the some of government and non-governmental agencies as listed below.

  • Ministry of Health: health care, growth monitoring, imunisation, disease prevention and treatment
  • Ministry of Education:  basic education, teachers training in ECD, monitoring and data collection and introduction of ECD training in colleges of higher learning and teachers training colleges
  • Ministry of Water and Enviromental Sanitation: provision of safe water points, environmental sanitation and hygiene education
  • Ministry of Agricultures:  food security and nutrition education
  • Ministry of Justice: Promotion and advocacy of child rights, law reform and putting in place systems for protecting children against abuse.
  • Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for HIV and AIDS and Nutrition: Nutrition care, including HIV and AIDS education
  • Ministry of Local Government and District Administration: Inclusion of ECD activities in district development planning, development of by-laws to safeguard the interests of children, reources mobilisation and maintenance of ECD facilities
  • Ministry of People with Disabilities:  Integration and support to children with special needs and training caregivers in working with children with special needs
  • Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture: promoting child and youth participation
  • Various Civil society Organisations: Scaling ECD services to reach many children

The ECD programme addresses five of the six Strategic Key Outcomes from the Malawi National Strategic Plan for ECD 2009 to 2014.  This means that the project will help move the ECD agenda to a higher level as this will allow Malawi to explore more possibilities within the plan. The fact that this ECD programme is to be implemented through a community-based approach, gives Malawi the opportunity to explore more issues around this model to promote community ownership of the initiatives. The establishment of ECD resource and Model ECD centres in each of the 29 districts in Malawi is unique innovation as it will facilitate the development of professional skills and social effectiveness among caregivers, parents committees, extension workers and community leaders in the delivery of services.  Furthermore, ECD centres are being linked to primary schools to create opportunities for interaction between formal education service providers and ECD services to ensure the child is ready for school.  Community capacity building in M&E, will lead to creation of a comprehensive and therefore dependable data base for ECD in Malawi.  A strong M&E System for ECD is central to the advancement of ECD in Malawi as it will allow various stakeholders to clearly see the levels of progress in various components.  Inclusion of basic research component in the project will be another innovation in ECD in Malawi as we shall add an African voice to ECD literature since there are currently very few published African voices in the literature related to ECD.


The Government of Malawi is implementing other development programmes to reduce poverty towards sustainable development. The ECD services are therefore specifically designed to invest in children to sustain their health, social and economic well-being and contribute to overall national development. Sustainability in the context of the ECD programme is related to three key issues, which are:  institutional, technical and financial.

Institutional Sustainability

The MoGCCD has over the past years shown very strong commitment to the implementation of ECD activities despite the limited resource-base.  There is already a well defined implementation structure at community, district and national levels.  The community–based approach to ECD that the MoGCCD and its partners follow is one of the major institutional strengths, as the community runs and owns the CBCCs.  In terms of cost-effectiveness, both the short and the long-term benefits outweigh the costs involved in the setting up and running of a Community-Based Child Care Centre (CBCC). Thus the proposed Support to Early Childhood Development Programme will extend, strengthen and add value to the already existing structures to be more robust in terms of quality service provision.

Technical sustainability

The Coordinating Ministry has a Child Development department which has over the years coordinated ECD services across the country.  The existence of the Planning Department, with expertise in M&E will ensure technical sustainability of programme.  However, technical challenges remain, and the capacity building proposed for this programme (leading to the creation of a pool of trainers at all levels) will contribute towards addressing the technical capacity challenges in the Ministry and other sectors, and therefore improve technical sustainability of the objectives of the proposed programme

Financial Sustainability

The government of Malawi is committed to promoting ECD, and therefore financial sustainability of the activities supported under this programme will be ensured partly through the government’s subvention and partner support.  Since the ECD centres at the community level are owned and run by the communities themselves, there will be limited financial support to these, except in core areas of further capacity building.