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Increasing access to early learning opportunities and pre-school education

When a child has been to pre-school, they are more likely to enrol in and complete primary school on time. They are also more likely, as adults, to plan their families, earn a higher income and support their own children’s education.

Despite their importance, less than 10% of children access early childhood education programmes in many countries. In others where services do exist, they are often only for 1 year, are under-financed and supported, and quality is an issue.

Plan International supports communities to provide early learning opportunities for children aged 2-3 years and up, usually through neighbourhood playgroups and community play spaces, staffed by trained community volunteers.

Plan International also promotes access to quality pre-school education through teacher training, support for curriculum development, and school readiness initiatives. Supporting culturally relevant mother tongue education, and ensuring that play spaces and pre-schools are gender-responsive and inclusive of children with a disability, are priorities.

Our work supports Sustainable Development Goal target 4.2 which ensures that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

Case study: Support for children with developmental delays or disability

A girl taking part in an assessment to identify disabilities and learning difficulties
A girl taking part in an assessment to identify disabilities and learning difficulties

In Sri Lanka, Plan International has worked for over 3 decades supporting children’s access to quality early learning opportunities and as a result, the pre-school enrolment rate has increased from 70% to 85% in the areas where we work.

In December 2015, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs set early learning and development standards that pre-school teachers should use as the basis for assessing the development and progress of children in their classes - however, teachers had not been trained or equipped with the necessary tools and skills.

In addition, Sri Lankan culture and limited political will to invest in services in this area has resulted in young children with disabilities usually having limited or no access to early intervention programmes.

Parental guidance

Since 2012, Plan International has worked to address this gap and ensure early childhood care and development (ECCD) programming includes and supports children with a disability.

In partnership with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, guidance was developed for parents promoting responsive care and early stimulation and advising on how to monitor their child’s development. As a result, the number of mothers aware of the importance of home based early stimulation rose from 63% in 2012 to 94% in 2014.

Teacher training package

In parallel, Plan International has worked with child development experts from the University of Kelaniya to develop a screening tool to identify children aged 2-6 years at risk of developmental delay.

By using simple tools, we’ve learned how to assess the level of children’s competencies

A training package for teachers was developed on the use of the screening tool and, following training of 3,270 teachers, nearly 4,600 pre-school aged children have now been screened, and 671 referred to health institutions for more detailed assessments.  

Hemawathie Manike, a pre-school teacher, said: “By using simple tools, we’ve learned how to assess the level of children’s physical competencies (and) personal, social, problem solving and  communication skills." 

Download the University of Kelaniya's report on the project