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Results BriefsApril 9, 2024

Combining Childhood Education and Nutrition to Cultivate Bright Futures in Senegal

Combining Childhood Education and Nutrition to Cultivate Bright Futures in Senegal

Khady Coulibaly, volunteer teacher, and her students at a community preschool classroom.

Photo credit: Ousseynou Ndiaye, Project Implementation Unit (PIU), Ministry of Family.

Key Highlights

  • Early childhood interventions benefited 14 million mothers and children in Senegal between 2020 and 2024.
  • More than 10 million children aged 0 to 23 months in targeted regions benefit from vital nutrition and early stimulation interventions between 2020 and 2024.
  • Early childhood interventions resulted in a decrease in stunting from 21 percent to 18 percent (2015-2019), as well as an increase in birth registration from 43 to 73 percent (2018-2023).
  • An estimated 92,300 girls and 94,500 boys benefited from improved early learning services. 
  • With the help of 900 religious leaders, the National Nutrition Enhancement Program (CNDN) developed a key initiative to advocate for increased investments and parental involvement in early childhood development. 
  • Multi-sectoral collaboration involving national agencies, ministries, and technical partners has been crucial for effective implementation.

Through its Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project, the World Bank supported a range of early childhood interventions in Senegal, particularly through the provision of essential nutrition services, benefiting 14 million mothers and children. It helped the government of Senegal to address critical health and nutrition challenges, leading to a decrease in stunting from 21 percent to 18 percent between 2015 and 2019, and enabling a significant increase in birth registrations from 43 to 73 percent between 2018 and 2023. The impact extends to gender inclusivity, with over 92,000 girls and more than 94,000 boys receiving early learning services.


Addressing the multifaceted issues of poverty and inequality in Senegal, as in West Africa as a whole, represents a critical development challenge. Senegal currently ranks in the lowest quintile of the Human Development Index (HDI), ranked 170 of the 190 countries surveyed1, with 9.2 percent of the population living on less than $2.15 a day. While poverty figures are lower than some neighboring countries, such as Mali (15 percent), Guinea (14 percent), and Guinea Bissau (22 percent), they underscore the substantial hurdles facing the region. Rural areas in Senegal bear a disproportionate burden: they contain just over more than half the population (53 percent) but are home to 80 percent of chronically poor and vulnerable households. The impact is particularly severe on young children, as 85 percent of the poorest households have children under the age of five, and poverty adversely affects their nutrition, health, and education2

Regarding nutrition, a significant proportion of infants, 64 percent, are not exclusively breastfed, and 93 percent of young children do not receive a minimum acceptable diet, thus hampering their growth and educational prospects. The gravity of the situation poses a threat to Senegal's achievement of key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the education sector, despite a significant increase of over ten percentage points between 2000 and 2020, the proportion of children attending pre-school is still low compared to the regional average, with a rate of 18 percent for girls and 16 percent for boys in Senegal. This compares to an average of 24 percent for both sexes in the West and Central Africa region3. Thus, pre-school education reaches a small proportion of the country's school-age population; it is primarily a concern of the middle- and upper-income classes, who live in cities and see the benefits of pre-schooling for their children's success. Additionally, in both rural and urban areas, many parents prefer to give their children a religious education from an early age.

Despite Senegal's robust economic growth—consistently surpassing 6 percent annually from 2014 to 2020—inclusive development remains a challenge. Although government spending on social sectors averages 30 percent, there is a discernible gap in translating economic growth into widespread prosperity. The presence of a fragmented institutional framework and the lack of strong leadership compounds the complexities faced in achieving sustainable and inclusive development in Senegal. Difficulties in making progress spurred engagement with multiple actors and cross-sectoral coordination to tackle underlying challenges.


Aligned with the government’s Plan Senegal Emergent, and its Second Priority Action Plan (2019-2023), the World Bank's strategic focus emphasizes early childhood interventions, expanding access to services in marginalized rural and peri-urban areas, and enhancing the efficiency and transparency of governance institutions and social protection systems. The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project support to this plan is twofold, involving support to both the education and nutrition sectors.

The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project builds on the Investing in Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health (ISMEA) Project, a World Bank initiative supporting maternal and child health services. Both projects have divided geographic regions during the same time period to ensure widespread coverage, implementing consistent early nutrition and stimulation activities nationwide. This collaborative approach aims to enhance the impact and reach of crucial initiatives to support early childhood development.

The World Bank's support for Senegal’s National Nutrition Enhancement Program (CNDN) is a pivotal initiative in the battle against poverty and malnutrition. As such, the Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project incorporates support for the CNDN, which is designed to dismantle the numerous barriers that families, especially women, encounter in accessing quality nutrition and resources for their households. The CNDN works with local communities and religious leaders to provide a stronger foundation for Senegalese children. Notably, the engagement of over 900 religious leaders plays a crucial role in advocating for increased investments and parental involvement in early childhood development. 

The CNDN has embraced a multifaceted approach over the years, implementing cross-sectoral and innovative practices to empower women in rural and semi-urban areas grappling with high rates of food insecurity and acute malnutrition in infants. These practices encompass child nutrition and early stimulation in the crucial first 1,000 days by leveraging new technologies to strengthen existing systems, as well as promoting essential family health and nutrition practices. The success of this novel approach hinges on the empowerment of women and the prioritization of community assets. 

The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project also aims to support quality education. Thus, it undertakes innovative partnerships with Koranic schools, known as Daaras in Senegal, an approach that has proven to be highly effective. Performance-based contracts with Daaras ensure the integration of at least 10 hours per week of quality, play-based early learning, thereby fostering cognitive and social development, as well as early literacy and math skills that can further advance children’s educational development. The project also supports the creation of community pre-school classes (CPCs) and the launching of the Read@Home initiative. By distributing story books in Arabic, French, and seven Senegalese languages, the Read@Home initiative aims to reach 50 percent of all children under the age of six in seven regions, particularly those with the lowest early childhood development outcomes.


Despite daunting challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and government restructuring, since 2018 the Project has displayed remarkable progress and tangible achievements. 

A standout accomplishment is the transformative impact for over 10 million children, 52 percent of those aged 0-23 months in targeted regions, who benefited from vital nutrition and early stimulation interventions. This represents a remarkable surge from a mere 19 percent in 2018, underscoring the Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project’s prowess in reaching and positively impacting a significant segment of the intended demographic.

Beyond education, the initiative has made substantial strides in improving birth registration rates for children aged 0-5 years, surging from 43 percent to a 73 percent. This achievement is of particular importance because birth registration is a prerequisite to enrollment in schools at an appropriate age and grade level, as well as to better targeted nutritional support. 

The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project’s focus on gender inclusivity is evident, particularly its emphasis on girls' access to quality early learning services. Direct interventions have resulted in over 92,000 girls and over 94,000 boys benefiting from improved early learning services.

Beneficiary Quote

Combining Childhood Education and Nutrition to Cultivate Bright Futures in Senegal

Sokhna and her son, Khalifa Babacar Thiandoum. Thiekene village in the department of Pout, Thies region, Senegal.

Photo credit: Lamine Ndao, Senegal - National Nutrition Enhancement Program (SE-CNDN).

I think this program is very useful and beneficial to my family. Because unlike my first children, my son, for example, I take better care of him, and he grows better. If I have achieved this result, it is because my child and I benefit from all the services offered, which enable children to grow well, develop harmoniously and be more fulfilled. We, the mothers, just hope that this will continue, because thanks to this program, there is no longer malnutrition in our locality.
Sokhna Pouye,
Mother of a two-year old. She lives in Thiekene village in the department of Pout, Thies region, Senegal.

Data Highlights

Combining Childhood Education and Nutrition to Cultivate Bright Futures in Senegal

Source: PIPADHS Project Monitoring and Evaluation team (World Bank).

Bank Group Contribution

The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project, funded by a $75 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA), unfolds as a comprehensive initiative. This endeavor allocates $37 million to sow the seeds of health and development in the first 1,000 days. It also dedicates an additional $22 million to fostering quality early learning. Additional components build on this base, with an allocation of $11 million toward child protection and system strengthening to ensure resilience and safety for the most vulnerable. 


The Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project's multi-sectoral approach necessitates collaboration with key stakeholders directly engaged in its implementation. This includes the National Council for Nutrition Development (CNDN); the Ministry of National Education (MEN); the Ministry of Family, Women and Child Protection (MFFPE); and the National Agency for Early Childhood Development (ANPECTP). To facilitate coordination, a dynamic multi-sectoral Technical Working Group has been established. It is chaired by the Secretary-General of the MFFPE and comprised of technical officers from the three implementing structures and the Project Implementation Unit (PIU). Building on a longstanding partnership dating back to the 2000s, the World Bank collaborates closely with the CNDN, resulting in a substantial expansion of early year services encompassing nutrition, stimulation, and protection within the Project. Implementation is further enriched by the involvement of entities, such as the Birth Registration Agency, as well as technical partners including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Save The Children, ChildFund, the Associates in Research and Education for Development (ARED), La Lumiere, and Tostan, alongside various national non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

The World Bank’s partnership with UNICEF illustrates the broad range of activities carried out in partnership with other organizations. For example, early stimulation activities developed as part of the Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project were based on a pilot program financed by UNICEF. Similarly, the Project has drawn on UNICEF's work with the Ministry of National Education to develop a curriculum and pedagogical tools for Koranic schools. Additionally, regular consultations have been held with the UNICEF team since the design and implementation of the Project began. This seamless, cross-sectoral collaboration, bridging national agencies with local and regional actors, exemplifies effective project implementation, and provides a replicable model for similar settings in other countries and regions.

Looking Ahead

Senegal's government is forging ahead in its collaboration with the World Bank, demonstrating its dedication to constructing resilient communities. The ongoing Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project seeks to enhance management and accessibility to fundamental services across the remaining seven regions of Senegal, impacting nearly 4 million additional individuals. In addition, it will continue to refine strategies with a focus on improving childcare activities, education, as well as social protection in higher education and health initiatives. 

The valuable lesson learned from this endeavor is the effective cross-sectorial approach, exemplified by the geographic distribution across two World Bank projects (namely, the Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project and the Investing in Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Project) to ensure comprehensive coverage. Drawing from this experience, new higher education, and health projects in the region (including the Senegal Higher Education Project, Enseignement Supérieur Professionnel Orienté Insertion et Réussite des Jeunes (Espoir-Jeunes) Project in Senegal, effective in January 2024, and the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) Project, effective in September 2023) integrate childcare activities. Social protection teams are also exploring innovative ways to utilize the social registry and cash transfers, while also working closely with mother leaders’ groups to bolster Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiatives. 

Extending this cross-sectoral paradigm, other countries in West Africa are embracing the opportunity to reinforce developmental initiatives by fully incorporating diverse ministries into collaborative projects. In Benin, for instance, the Gbessoke Program (effective in 2023) is an integrated initiative that links people with a range of social services to foster productive livelihoods, resilience, and improved education and health outcomes. It is expected that 150,000 individuals, representing 61 percent of extremely poor households in the social registry, will benefit from the program, which will run until the end of 2027.


2. Situation économique du Sénégal en 2023, World Bank (2023). 
3. World Bank Data: