Mozambique: Can Community Preschools Improve Children’s School Skills?

November 1, 2016

" This whole (early childhood development) movement was a kind of awakening for our government.  "

Ines Tembe Magode

Chief of Preschools, Mozambique Ministry of Education

More than 40 percent of children in Mozambique are stunted, an indicator of extreme poverty and the often accompanying problems that can harm a child’s development. When Save the Children, an international non-governmental group, decided to pilot a preschool program to help children get on track for learning, SIEF supported researchers worked with them to design a randomized control trial (RCT) to measure whether getting children in preschool made a difference. The experiment showed that preschool matters. Children went on to do better in primary school and they were more likely to start at the right age. Mozambique’s Ministry of Education took the results and used them to build support in the country and in the international community to scale up the preschool program so it now reaches some 84,000 children in 600 rural communities. 

Primary school enrollment in Mozambique is high, but around half of children who start school don’t finish. Children often don’t enroll until after age 6, the formal start for school, and when they do begin they are poorly prepared for the demands of learning. Very few attend preschool, which can help children develop the skills to do well in school and thrive. Save the Children, an international nongovernmental organization, decided to pilot a community-based preschool program to promote physical, social, emo­tional and cognitive development.

Researchers worked with Save the Children to incorporate a randomized impact evaluation into the roll out of preschools to 30 communities from the original 12 in Gaza province. The preschools were built by local communities, staffed by volunteer teachers who received a small stipend, and supplied by Save the Children with materials for a playground, latrines and hand washing stations. The impact evaluation, which ran for two years, measured the impact of preschool education on children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, linguistic, and fine motor development.

Children who attended preschool were 24 percent more likely to be enrolled in primary school at the end of the two years. Once in school, they spent an average of 7.2 hours extra a week on homework and classroom time, a 50 percent increase over the control group. They also had a 12.1 percentage point gain in cognitive skills, compared with the control group, and improved emotional maturity. There was also spillover on older siblings, who were five percent more likely to be in school—maybe because they didn’t have to watch their younger siblings during the day. Caregivers, who now had more time, were more likely to be working and less likely to believe that physical punishment was appropriate for a child.

Mozambique’s Ministry of Education, together with the World Bank, has expanded the preschool pilot pro­gram, to reach 84,000 children in 600 rural communities. A SIEF supported team is currently measuring whether the gains seen in the original group of children who went to the preschools continue years later; and whether children who attend the new preschools are doing as well.