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Background and Overview

In demographic terms, Africa is the youngest continent in the world with 41% of the population being under the age of 15 years. The growing youthful population positions Africa well to provide a large, educated and skilled workforce capable of meeting the brainpower demand of the global economy, as articulated in Agenda 2063. To maximize and take advantage of this opportunity, it is important to strengthen Africa’s system of developing an effective, efficient and productive workforce. Agenda 2063 emphasizes that human capital will fully be developed through sustained investments that must start from the earliest years and continue lifelong (Aspiration 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development”). It is also in view of this that Agenda 2063 aspires an Africa that puts “children first”. This focus and commitment not only ensures a firm foundation but also reskilling through continuous learning that is becoming increasingly necessary.

Over the past few years, great progress has been made in improving Africa’s workforce. Countries across the continent have developed polices, plans, resources and programmes to strengthen and improve the knowledge and skills base of their youth. Africa as a region however has a very long way to go in ensuring an education system that will produce a workforce able meet the needs of a fast changing national, regional, continental and global work environment. In developing its CESA 16-25, the AU emphasizes the need to “reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture African core values and promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels”. The need to focus on improved educational outcomes that are relevant to a fast changing world cannot be overemphasized.

While much attention has been placed on improving the efficiency of the education system through curriculum reforms, continuous learning, strengthened capacity of teachers and improved infrastructure much less attention has been given to strengthening the foundations upon which an effective and efficient system must be established. The CESA 16-25 puts it this way: “Pre-primary education is the pillar on which future learning and training are grounded. However, it is a neglected area in terms of policy and investment.”

Over the years, research has demonstrated the importance and enormous benefits of investing in the early years.  The early years of a child’s life play a critical role not only in later development, but also on improving educational efficiency, productivity in adulthood and economic development.  Brain science has demonstrated that 90% of children’s brain develops by the time they are age 5. It is during the early years that children develop cognitive, language, physical, social and emotional skills that lay the foundation for their success. These skills also lay the foundation for their general well-being – how they cope with future successes and setbacks, professionally and in their personal lives.

It is also during the early years that environmental influences have the most affect on development. Widespread poverty and multiple deprivations thus expose Africa’s children to situations that have the potential to stunt their bodies, their minds, and their potential to fully contribute to their country’s economy. According to the World Bank, this great loss holds back a country’s potential for a vibrant, productive labor force and its ability to realize the promise of the demographic dividend.

This calls for intentional efforts by governments to ensure children have access to high quality nurturing environments in the early years that will support achievement of their fullest potential. With growing numbers of new births, comes the growing need for policies, programmes and services aimed at creating an enabling environment for all children especially the poor and marginalized. Young children who are healthy, safe, well nourished and have access to good quality early learning services have a high likelihood of leading productive lives in adulthood and of making a greater contribution to the national, regional and global economy.

Globally, there has been increasing commitment and momentum in ensuring that all children survive, thrive and are able to make a contribution to transforming their environments.  To drive this agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals that are providing much needed impetus to the achievement of regional and national commitments for children. SGD 4.2 specifically focuses on early childhood and calls on all countries to “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education by 2030”

Access to various models of early childhood programs continues to be low and inequitably distributed across the region. There exist various implementation models targeting different age groups, populations and objectives. Examples of these programmes include day care centers; play groups, kindergartens/nursery schools, pre-primary schools etc.  These programmes provide a range of services including custodial care, early learning or opportunities for peer socialization. Access to early learning in Africa is the lowest in the world. According to a recent report by UNESCO (2017), the coverage of currently stands at 12%. In recognition of the need to enhance equitable access to quality early learning programmes, and as part of its global Agenda 2063, the African Union has developed and adopted the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) that calls for special attention to ECED in CESA 16 -25.

In pursuit of the foregoing, the African Union Commission is therefore establishing the ECED Cluster to support the implementation of CESA 16 -25 objectives related to the early years. This document sets out proposed working arrangements for the ECED cluster to guide engagement of all key stakeholders and partners.

Conceptualization of ECED

The ECED Cluster defines early childhood as the developmental period between conception until 8 years of age and ECED programming as policies and programmes targeting all aspects of a child’s development including physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

component of nurturing care

The Cluster recognizes that effective programming supports children’s holistic development and hence seeks to provide for children’s health, nutrition, safety, security, early learning and development. Further to this, that sustainable programming targets the entire environment in which children grow including families, service providers, communities, national governments and the global community. Special attention will be placed on the role of parents, as they are the primary caregivers. It is therefore critical that ECED programmes target parents, caregivers and other family members who are closest to the child.

The ECED cluster acknowledges that development in each one of the early learning domains plays a central role in ensuring success in life. These domains include cognition; language and literacy; perceptual, motor, and physical development; and approaches to learning that promotes independence, curiosity and self-management. In supporting development of each of these domains, the cluster recognizes that they are i) interdependent and interrelated hence should all receive due attention as what happrns in one domain influences development in other domains, ii) Development in each domain is progressive and cumulative.  The skills and knowledge developed early in life lays the foundation for more advanced skills and knowledge and iii) While the child’s age is related to the developmental stage, it is important to note each child develops at his or her own rate.

Further to this, the cluster recognizes that to provide high quality early learning services, there is need to ensure that learning environments provide opportunities for communication and language-rich conversations, exploration and discovery through play, on-going motivation, supportive feedback and guidance through out the process of learning.

As children grow, they need a range of services that address their right to parental love and care, health, nutrition, protection and early learning. This calls for partnership and collaboration across various stakeholders. While the ECED cluster will focus much more on the pre-primary school age children, the cluster will establish and strengthen collaboration with other clusters to ensure all children receive comprehensive support across the continuum of care and development.

Guiding Principles

1.  The earliest years form the foundation upon which later interventions and services are able to build. Essential later investments such as quality day care and pre-school education will have greater gains if they build upon early investments. 

2.  Development spans the life-course and brain development continues throughout life. Investments in the early years must be consolidated and expanded by complementary investments in pre-school and up to and throughout schooling and adolescence. 

3.  Family members are the primary care providers for young children. It is essential to place families at the centre of all child development programmes. 

4.  An enabling environment of policies, information, and services is critical in assisting parents and caregivers to support the development of their children

5.  Caring for children is a human rights issue, which is enshrined in the African Charter for the Rights and Welfare of Children (ACRWC). Core in this regard is ensuring that poor, vulnerable and marginalized children as well as children with disabilities, minorities and young children in humanitarian settings are not left behind.

6.  Integrated programming is critical in ensuring holistic and comprehensive support to child development. This calls for collaboration across the various sectors including health, education, social welfare, finance, water and sanitation, and child protections.

ECED Cluster Objectives

In the CESA 16-25, pre-primary education is identified as one of the neglected sub-sectors that deserves special attention. CESA 16-25 clearly states that ECED is ‘the pillar’ for future learning and identifies it as ‘the next frontier if Africa is to realize sustained quality education and training’. This cluster will therefore make ECED specific contributions to support the achievements of all key Strategic Objectives. Specific objectives and action areas will include:

1.0: Enhance Policy, Advocacy and Communication

This objective contributes towards achievement of the following CESA 16-25 Strategic Objectives

CESA 16-25 SO 1: Revitalize the teaching profession to ensure quality and relevance at all levels

CESA 16-25 SO 6: launch comprehensive and effective literacy campaigns across the continent to eradicate illiteracy

iCESA 16-25 SO 10: Promote peace education and conflict prevention and resolution at all levels of education for all age groups

The ECED cluster will collaborate with key stakeholders to:

1.1:  Increase advocacy to strengthen political will and financing for policy development and sustainable implementation of strategies

  1. Undertake a regional study to understand hurdles to policy implementation
  2. Support the development of regional and national advocacy and communication strategies
  3. Support implementation capacity of regional and national actors on advocacy
  4. Conduct national ECED campaigns targeting increased government resource allocation and expenditure on ECED, advocate for raised profile and status of the ECED workforce by promoting good working and living conditions.
  5. Revisit and expand ongoing and upcoming campaigns to address critical gaps to strengthen advocacy and sensitization on the importance of the early years.
  6. Promote provision of and free access to play and early learning spaces

1.2: Enhance Policy Development

  1. Undertake stock taking of existing national policies and their implementation status
  2. Support development and implementation of multi-sectoral and comprehensive policies that include equitable access to quality services, infrastructure support, workforce issues, school health, peace education and conflict prevention, governance and accountability, integration of ICT as well as research and dissemination.
  3. Design and support national implementation of a policy to enhance smooth transitions from home – early learning center – pre-school – primary school. 

2.0: Intensify action to improve equitable access to quality ECED programmes and services.

This objective contributes towards the achievement of:

  1. CESA 16-25 SO 2: Build, rehabilitate, preserve education infrastructure and develop policies that ensure a permanent, healthy and conducive learning environment in all sub-sectors and for all, so as to expand access to quality education
  2. CESA 16 -25 SO 5: Accelerate processes leading to gender parity and equity

The ECED cluster will collaborate with key stakeholders to:

2.1 Enhance advocacy for equitable access to quality services

  1. Support regional and national landscape analysis and mapping of various early learning programmes (face to face, community based, virtual etc) and document regional and national access to services
  2. Develop regional and national advocacy strategy for equitable access to quality services
  3. Promote integration of ECED facilities into rural and urban planning
  4. Advocate for expanded and consolidated infrastructure and training facilities especially in rural and other underserved areas

Improve early learning infrastructure

  1. Develop and support implementation of guidelines, norms and standards for infrastructure to support conducive learning environments for all children including water, sanitation and special needs
  2. Build, rehabilitate, preserve early learning infrastructure

2.3: Increase ECED programmes and services

  1. Develop guidelines to support development of national comprehensive and holistic programmes
  2. Expand and consolidate ECED centers and pre-primary classrooms especially in rural and other underserved areas
  3. Design and implement programmes to enhance access by children marginalized through poverty, lifestyle, culture and location among others.
  4. Develop administrative and legislative mechanisms to ensure the preservation and the protection of ECED centres and pre-primary infrastructure;
  5. Design and implement innovative programmes including ICT driven programmes, IRI, toy libraries, mobile ECD centres

3.0: Improve Quality of ECED systems, programmes and services

This objective contributes towards the achievement of:

  1. CESA 16-25 SO 1: Revitalize the teaching profession to ensure quality and relevance at all levels of education
  2. CESA 16-25 SO 3: Harness the capacity of ICT to improve access, quality and management of education and training systems
  • iii. CESA 16 -25 SO 4: Ensure acquisition of requisite knowledge and skills as well as improved completion rates at all levels and groups through harmonization processes across all levels for national and regional integration
  1. CESA 16 -25 SO 7: Strengthen the science and the math curricula an disseminate scientific knowledge and the culture of science in the African Society
  2. CESA 16 -25 SO 5: Accelerate processes leading to gender parity and equity

In partnership with the Teacher Development Cluster, and in collaboration with other appropriate agencies the ECED cluster will:

The ECED cluster will collaborate with key stakeholders to:

3.1: Strengthen the capacity of the ECED workforce

  1. Conduct a landscape analysis of the ECED workforce across the region
  2. Develop regional workforce development strategy (including career path, continuous development, good working and living conditions)
  3. Develop a framework for implementation of a strategy for continuous professional development
  4. Recruit, train, and deploy well qualified teachers as well as promote their continuous professional development with emphasis on instilling core values, results and accountability to learner’s skills and competencies as well as mobility across the sub-sector. This includes strengthening the capacity of ECED workforce in early identification of development delays, formative assessments and its utilization for early intervention
  5. Capitalize on existing and successful ICT-driven initiatives that enhance access to training including the Pan-African E-University
  6. Develop quality and relevant teaching, play and learning materials and resources
  7. Create mobile and online education and training platforms and accessibility to all students regardless of their circumstances
  8. Identify and reward dedicated and innovative ECED teachers

3.2: Support relevant and comprehensive regional and national curricula

  1. Design and support adoption of a regional ECED curriculum framework that includes emerging issues such as peace education, conflict resolution and HIV
  2. Develop guidelines to strengthen national implementation of ECED curricula
  3. Strengthen national curricula including gender sensitive ECED training curricula, to provide the foundation for development of life skills, creativity and other key competencies.
  4. Develop and support the national adaptation and institutionalization of a regional framework for assessment of school readiness

3.3: Enhance quality assurance and assessment mechanisms

  1. Develop and implement a national quality improvement framework and roadmap
  2. Set up national qualification frameworks (NFQs) and regional qualification frameworks (RFQs) to facilitate the creation of multiple pathways for professional development
  3. Establish and strengthen quality assurance mechanisms to support systems strengthening and improved child outcomes
  4. Provide implementation support to ensure ongoing monitoring, learning, evaluation and improved programming

4.0: Governance and Accountability

This objective contributes towards the achievement of:

  1. CESA 16-25 SO 1: Revitalize the teaching profession to ensure quality and relevance at all levels of education
  2. CESA 16-25 SO 3: Harness the capacity of ICT to improve access, quality and management of education and training systems
  • iii. CESA 16 -25 SO 4: Ensure acquisition of requisite knowledge and skills as well as improved completion rates at all levels and groups through harmonization processes across all levels for national and regional integration

The ECED cluster will collaborate with key stakeholders to:

4.1: Enhanced accountability

  1. Conduct a landscape analysis of existing governance and accountability mechanisms
  2. Develop and support the adoption of a regional framework for enhanced management and accountability of national ECED programmes
  3. Establish an annual reporting mechanism for Member States and CSO’s

4.2: Improved governance and management

  1. Strengthen capacity for results-based management
  2. Build capacities of education managers and administrators on use of ICT in the planning, implementation, monitoring strategies, program supervision and monitoring
  3. Mobilize communities to become partners in ensuring that girls (and boys as appropriate) enroll, stay and achieve in schools
  4. Build and enhance capacity for data collection, management, analysis, communication, and improve the management of the education system as well statistic tools, through capacity building for data collection, management, analysis, communication, and usage
  5. Support the integration of ECED indicators into existing regional and continental Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) and education observatories
  6. Identify and provide support to educational think tanks for enhanced evidence generation and programme improvement
  7. Development of the ECED index

5.0: Enhance Research Generation, Documentation and Dissemination

This objective contributes towards the achievement of:

  1. CESA 16-25 S09: Revitalize and expand tertiary education, research and innovation to address continental challenges and promote global competitiveness
  2. CESA 16-25 S011: Build and enhance capacity for data collection, management, analysis, communication, and improve the management of education system as well as the statistic tool, through capacity building for data collection, management, analysis, communication, and usage.

The ECED cluster will collaborate with key stakeholders to:

5.1: Knowledge generation improved

  1. Strengthen the capacity of junior researchers across the region to undertake research and publishing
  2. Create conducive environments for research and innovation through the provision of adequate infrastructure and resources and provision of competitive grants and awards and other support mechanisms to nurture young academics and accomplished researchers
  • Consolidate and expand Centers of Excellence and enhance institutional linkages in the continent
  1. Strengthen quality post-graduate and post-doctoral ECED education to cater for expanding tertiary education as well as meet demand for high level human capital

5.2: Improved dissemination of ECD knowledge and experiences

  1. Promote and disseminate research on ECD including knowledge generation, indigenous research, implementation research, evaluations, baselines
  2. Documentation and dissemination of successful ECED programmes including retention experiences for equitable access of at-risk groups (gender, poverty, conflict, language, special needs, cultural differences etc)
  3. Establish an online journal for greater publishing opportunity for African researchers

 6.0: Strengthen partnership and collaboration across all key stakeholders including state and non-state actors

This objective contributes towards achievement of

  1. CESA 16-25 SO12: Set up a coalition of stakeholders to facilitate and support activities resulting from the implementation of CESA 16-25
    1. Map out key ECED stakeholders on the basis of their comparative advantage
    2. Establish and support ECED coalitions to support national ECED programming
    3. Develop joint strategic initiatives to strengthen ECED implementation
    4. Identify and mobilize champions to leverage priority areas of the ECED programme
    5. Recognize champions and publicize their achievement.


Membership to CESA’s ECED Cluster is open to:

  1. AU Member States’ Ministries that support ECED, including but not limited to those of Education, Health and Social protection
  2. AU Member States Agencies - Departments responsible for various aspects of ECED
  • iii. Regional Economic Communities- Departments interested in supporting ECED
  1. Continental organisations, partnerships and coalitions working in relevant areas including ADEA ECD-ICQN, AfECN, FAWE, ANCEFA, Education International and PAN
  2. UN agencies
  3. Multilateral organizations, foundations, INGO’s and agencies, including
  • vii. Relevant Education, Training and Research Institutions
  • viii. Public, private and civil society institutions and individuals interested in supporting the achievement of CESA goals related to ECED

Organisation and Coordination of CESA's Early Childhood Education and Development Cluster

A core team that includes a Chair, Co-Chair and Cluster Co-ordinator team will co-ordinate the work of the ECED cluster. This team will work closely with a technical committee including regional stakeholders interested in supporting the achievement of cluster objectives. Technical Committee members will serve a maximum term of 5 years that may be renewed after one term. Their roles and responsibilities will be as follows:

5.1 Roles and Responsibilities

5.1.1  ECED Cluster Chair: The African Union Commission will be the Chair with the following roles and responsibilities:

  1. Chair ECED cluster meetings
  2. Ensure adherence to the overall strategic direction of the cluster towards achievement of the CESA 16-25 strategic objectives.
  • iii. Support alignment of ECED Cluster activities with priorities of Member States
  1. Promote ECED cluster activities continentally and globally
  2. Mobilize resources to support activities of the cluster
  3. Co-ordinate rapid response to emergencies affecting young children and their families
  • vii. Report progress made by ECED Cluster to the AUC
  • viii. Represent ECED Cluster on global platforms

5.1.2 ECED Cluster Co-Chair: The Co-Chair will be the Ministry of Mauritius and ADEA ECD ICQN Co-coordinator. The co-chair supports leadership responsibility to safeguard the cohesion, reputation and effectiveness of the ECED Cluster and will support the chair as delegated or in the absence of a chair. The co-chair will at all times ensure adherence to the overall strategic direction of the cluster towards achievement of the CESA 16-25 strategic objectives and Agenda 2063.

5.1.3 ECED Cluster Co-ordinator: The Cluster co-ordinator will support the implementation of the key actions as articulated in the ECED Cluster roadmap

  1. Provide administrative and technical advice and support to all Cluster operations
  2. Develop the Cluster strategy, roadmap and annual work plans
  • Engage in continuous advocacy and resource mobilization
  1. Ensure effective co-ordination and engagement with Cluster members on achievement of cluster objectives
  2. Consolidate and analyze data into reports for dissemination to all members.
  3. Support the compilation and production of CESA Journal and review briefs to highlight progress on the implementation of CESA 16-25 objectives in ECED
  • Document Cluster meetings, conferences and sessions
  • Serve as the point of contact for general enquiries and as a communication conduit between the members and coordinating team
  1. Co-ordinate communication to and from the Cluster

5.1.4 Technical Committee: The technical committee will support the co-ordination of the cluster. It will bring together Member State representatives, representatives of RECs and co-ordinators of cluster working groups. They will be responsible for ensuring the achievement of ECED cluster objectives

5.1.5 Members will be responsible for the following:

  1. Adopt the CESA 16-25 and Agenda 20163 in their own going work
  2. Attend the cluster meetings including annual review and planning meetings.
  • iii. Participate in the development of an agreed work plan that builds upon each members area of comparative advantage and included in their own work plans
  1. Report on the progress of activities for which each member is responsible according to agreed upon templates
  2. Participate in knowledge generation, sharing and dissemination activities
  3. Support cluster activities including hosting of cluster meetings, co-ordination of activities and contributing financial and human resources to enable the smooth running of the Cluster

 5.2 Meetings

5.2.1 Method and Frequency

The ECED cluster will hold face-to-face and virtual meetings. The first meeting of the ECED cluster will be held not less than three (3) months and not more than six (6) months after the launch of the ECED Cluster and at such place as the members may determine for drawing up the first annual work plan and setting of rules to guide the cluster.

Subsequent face-to-face meetings will be held annually on rotational hosting basis for the purpose of:

  1. Reviewing progress towards achievement of ECED related objectives in the CESA 15-25.
  2. Developing an annual work plan.
  • iii. Knowledge sharing and exchange. These meetings will also provide opportunities for members to share regional trends and updates, achievement, gaps and challenges as well as to build consensus about key actions that need to be taken jointly.

Specific sub-cluster meetings will be anytime during a given year as may be needed and agreed upon by the members

  • Meeting Procedures
  1. All meetings will be chaired by the chair, the co-chair or any appointed partner member
  2. Meeting quorum will be one third of the partner members. 

  • iii. Decisions will be made by consensus and in cases where consensus will not be possible, the chair of the meeting will make the final decision. 

  1. The coordinator will prepare the meeting agenda, notes or any other information 
regarding meetings.
  2. The coordinator will take minutes during the meetings and 
compile a report for approval by the Chair of the meeting 

  3. The coordinator is responsible for receiving agenda items and the distribution of the 
minutes of the within 14 days of the meeting date
  • vii. The coordinator will develop a draft agenda for approval by the chair one-month prior to the meeting
  • viii. Every partner member has the opportunity to suggest or place and item on the 
meeting’s agenda. These shall be received no later than six weeks to the next meeting. 

  • Communication and Reporting Framework
  1. All official communications will be managed through the coordinator to ensure consistency and accuracy of the information.
  2. Members are encouraged to communicate among each other on matters of interest as deemed fit.
  • iii. Partner members will report on a semi-annual basis against the agreed upon activities and indicators for each of the activities using an agreed upon standard reporting template. The reports will be sent to the coordinator who will compile and share them with the African Union Commission and to all members.

Mobilisation of Resources

All partners will actively participate in mobilizing resources for the achievement of ECED Cluster coordination activities. In addition, partner members will be responsible for mobilizing funds, for specific activities within their work plans.


These Terms of Reference will be effective from October 1, 2018 to December 31, 2025 unless revised or terminated by the partner members.

Contact Us

AU CESA ECED Cluster Secreteriat

Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN)

Nairobi, Kenya

Email: info@afecn.org

Phone: +254 (0) 20 388 2433


The AU CESA ECED Cluster was launched on the 4th Sept 2018 to champion issues of Early Childhood Education and Development in Africa; Coordinated by the Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN).