Globally, the pre-primary school years (ages 4-6) are becoming increasingly recognised as the most critical period for learning and supporting lifelong achievement. This is reflected by the explicit inclusion of Early Childhood Development (ECD) – internationally defined as ages 0-8 – in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Recognising the importance of ECD, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) – in partnership with the Government of Canada, the Government of the United Kingdom and Dubai Cares – have been assisting the Government of Afghanistan and local communities to establish and sustain over 213 government and community based pre-schools and ECD centres in remote areas of Badakhshan, Bamyan and Baghlan.
This programme aims to enable most marginalised pre-school aged children to access a supportive and stimulating learning environment. Considerable attention has been given to the quality and sustainability of the pre-schools. A contextually relevant and age-appropriate curriculum has been developed; teachers have received professional training, mentoring and support; emphasis has been put on community ownership and parent involvement; as well, initiatives are in place for the pre-schools’ long-term sustainability.
To date, the programme has enabled over 9,100 boys and girls to access pre-primary education. In addition to the 213 community based pre-schools in operation, the programme includes two Teacher Resource Centres (TRCs) in Badakhshan and Baghlan to provide regular professional development training and support to the region’s pre-school teachers.
An independent study undertaken by McGill University in 2014 demonstrated the important role that these pre-schools are playing in children’s school readiness and learning. Children who had attended an AKF-supported pre-school scored 31 percentage points higher than children who had not attended a pre-school centre (77 percent vs. 46 percent). These statistically significant results speak to how quality pre-school education provides young children – particularly amongst the poor – a solid foundation for lifelong learning.
To widen the positive impact of pre-school education and parental involvement, the Foundation is assisting the Ministry of Education's (MoE) ECD working group in implementing early childhood development programmes. Its efforts and participation in policy dialogue have catalysed Government to include provision of one year of pre-primary education within the National Education Strategic Plan III (2015-2020) and approve an ECD policy.
AKF has also helped the Ministry of Education to establish its first two pilot pre-schools by sharing experiences, training courses and materials with government teachers and staff. Improving children's school readiness will contribute to the Ministry's aims of increasing enrolment and transition rates of school-aged children. AKF is currently the technical lead for the MoE in developing the national pre-school curriculum.