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Assessing the quality of early learning systems in Liberia

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David Jeffery

The Early Learning Systems Research (ELSR) programme is a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank which works with countries to improve early learning opportunities and outcomes for young children, through both research and operational support. ELSR aims to provide policymakers with actionable information to help guide the delivery of quality, equitable early learning at scale, and to build the international evidence base in the emerging field of systems research in early childhood education.

We provided a comprehensive system diagnostic of early learning in Liberia, which examined what children were learning, how they were being taught, how this teaching was being supported through training and management, how classrooms were equipped, how parents engaged with the school, and how the school was supported by the government. Our report was used to inform the second phase of the ELP programme, which will pilot interventions to address the challenges that we identified.

The challenge

Although early childhood education (ECE) is universally considered critical for human development, the challenges of quality provision in low- and middle-income countries are immense. In Liberia, previous studies on early learning found a high prevalence of over-age enrolment and rote-based instruction.

The Ministry of Education in Liberia has been active in developing and promoting an early learning curricula, and encouraging families to enrol their young children into preschool. However, there is little information available on the state of early learning in Liberia without which effective intervention is impossible.

Our approach

Using an analytic framework developed by the World Bank and Lantt Pritchet, our diagnostic evaluated the ‘accountability relationships’ between the government, schools, teachers, and parents. Our focus was on whether the ECE system in Liberia was aligned to promote quality, age-appropriate teaching and positive levels of enrolment, as these had been prioritised by the Ministry of Education.

Our fieldwork was conducted across eight counties in Liberia, including five of the most disadvantaged. It consisted of 490 student assessments, 478 interviews with parents of sampled children, 53 principal interviews, 50 classroom observations and teacher interviews, five interviews with MoE officials, three interviews with District Education Officers (DEOs), and an interview with representatives from the President’s office.

Outcomes and wider impacts

Using this data we were able to offer insight into children’s learning levels, the quality of education provision within classrooms, the support provided to teachers and principals, involvement of parents, and the current costs of provision. We were also able to provide recommendations on what it would cost to provide education of a higher standard, as well as the elements of the accountability relationships within the ECE system that would most benefit from support. Our recommendations have formed the basis of the second phase of the ELSR, which will pilot and evaluate promising interventions.

The evaluation was conducted with support from Joanna Härmä, Brian Law, Nardos Tesfay, Thomas Davis (Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geoinformation Services), Yvonne Capeheart Weah (We-Care Liberia), Aleesha Taylor, Kirsty McLaren, and Emily Vargas Baron.