Increasing Early Childhood Care and Development through Community Preschools in Cambodia: Evaluating the Impacts

November 17, 2016

In Cambodia, preschool attendance isn’t very high and children often don’t have the skills they need to do well when they start primary school. Impact evaluation evidence has shown that preschool or other early childhood education programs boost children’s skills and help improve their readiness for primary school. This evaluation will help the Government of Cambodia inform the development of a cost-effective and scalable early childhood education program for Cambodia.

Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development and Health

Country: Cambodia

Evaluation Sample: 305 villages

Timeline: 2015-2019

Intervention: Education, Information, Stimulation

Researchers: Deon Filmer, World Bank; Adrien Bouguen, University of Mannheim, Germany; Jan Berkes, DIW Berlin

Partners: Education Research Council, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Government of Cambodia; Department of Early Childhood Education, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Government of Cambodia; The World Bank


Policy Issue

Preschool programs are a valuable route for children to acquire the cognitive, physical and socio-emotional skills they need to do well in primary school and later in life. In poor countries, where there are so many competing needs, it can be a challenge to develop cost-effective preschool programs and ensure that families have the interest and access to send their children. This evaluation in Cambodia will examine whether a program that combines building and renovating community preschools with face-to-face meetings with parents on the importance of childhood education is an effective route for boosting enrollment and improving children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.


Cambodia is a low-income country and almost 20 percent of the population lives in poverty. The country has made important strides in improving maternal and child health and boosting primary school enrollment to just over 95 percent, based on 2014 World Bank figures. However, poverty, lack of access to improved water and sanitation, along with limited early childhood development programs and knowledge means that Cambodia’s youngest aren’t getting the right start in life. About a third of children under the age of five are stunted, which can have lifelong effects on socio-emotional development, cognitive skills and, ultimately, the ability to be a productive adult.

The Government of Cambodia has a national preschool program but enrollment is low and quality is uneven. In 2012, 56 percent of children aged five and 21 percent of children aged three to four were enrolled in preschool programs, according to the Global Partnership for Education. Part of the problem is that facilities are lacking and parental demand is low, sometimes due to a lack of knowledge of the important role early education plays in children’s development. A previous program, which ran between 2008 and 2012 through the country’s Education Sector Support Scale Up Action program, faced implementation problems and had limited success at increasing preschool enrollment. In line with the country’s 2014-2018 national education sector strategic plan, the government is working to boost use of early childhood programs by increasing availability of preschools and educating parents about their importance. The evaluation, carried out with the support of the Government of Cambodia, will provide evidence the government can use in deciding how to continue the program and whether any changes are needed to improve quality and access.

Photo: Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank

Intervention and Evaluation

The government’s plan is to refurbish more than 900 existing preschools and build nearly 600 preschools in villages that don’t have one. The preschools are expected to operate two to three hours a day, five days a week, providing center-based activities for children aged three to five years. Preschools will also be provided with teaching and learning materials and training will be given to 1,450 community preschool teachers. The plan includes taking steps to promote demand for preschools, especially among poor families. Government workers will go door-to-door to tell families about the value of early childhood education. During the visits parents also will be told how to sign their children up for preschool. Separately, families with children under the age of five years old will be invited to attend monthly meetings on childhood development, led by trained parents. The meetings will focus on nutrition, language development and early stimulation to encourage parents to do things at home to improve their children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.

Impact Evaluation

Researchers will evaluate the impact of building new preschools and giving families information about early childhood education and available options on enrollment in preschools and on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.

The main research questions the evaluation seeks to answer are:

  • Does preschool construction and provision of materials and teacher training (supply-side) improve cognitive skills and socio-emotional development of 3-5 year old children?
  • Does the impact of preschool enrollment on child development of 3-5 year old children depend on the family background of children?
  • Does preschool construction and provision of materials and teacher training (supply-side) increase preschool enrollment of 3-5 year old children?
  • Do door-to-door visits and support for home-based care activities (demand-side) increase preschool enrollment, especially for families from disadvantaged backgrounds?
  • Some children might benefit particularly from preschool, but would not be enrolled without additional effort.  Can door-to-door visits and home-based care activities (demand-side) increase preschool attendance of such children and change the overall impact of preschool enrollment on child development?

The impact evaluation design is a randomized control trial. In the provinces where the program will be implemented, 305 villages that qualify will be randomized into two treatment and one control group. Treatment group 1 consists of 120 villages where community preschools will be built and appropriate learning and teaching materials and teacher training will be provided. Treatment group 2 includes 127 villages where community preschools will be constructed, materials provided and training conducted the same way as for treatment group 1 but with the addition of two activities: door-to-door visits to increase parents’ demand for early childhood education and meetings to encourage home-based care activities to enhance children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. The control group, with 58 villages, serves as the ‘business-as-usual’ group and in these villages no new preschools will be built nor will existing ones be refurbished, and there won’t be any home visits.

Villages eligible to participate in the program were those with high poverty rates and large numbers of children up to the age of five. Randomization of villages to treatment or control groups was stratified at the province level. Reserachers will sample up to 40 households in each village. Data will be collected at program baseline in 2016, midline in 2017 and endline in 2018.

To measure impact of the evaluation several different instruments will be used. The research team will conduct household surveys to capture the program’s impact on gross and fine motor development, emergent literacy and language and numeracy, socio-emotional development and executive function of 3-5 year old children. In addition, an early grade reading assessment will be administered to children enrolled in grade 1 to measure program impact on early grade learning levels. To explore which parts of the program improve interest in preschool, the evaluation will use household instruments that capture preschool enrollment, grade 1 enrollment and entry age, socio-economic characteristics and parental involvement in children’s early childhood development. Instruments will also be administered to community preschools to measure student enrollment and attendance, teacher attendance and pay, and classroom quality. To examine adherence of the program implementation to the program design, the evaluation will collect monitoring data on community preschool construction and teacher training and on door-to-door visits and home-based care activities. The evaluation will also collect data on the costs of the program activities for assessment of cost-effectiveness.