Eswatini’s National Education and Training policy 2018 emphasises the need to ensure all children in Eswatini aged 0 to 8 years have equal opportunity to access quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) services. However, in 2018, the Eswatini Household Income and Expenditure Survey (EHIES) reported that only 21.4% of Grade 1 pupils participated in organised learning the year before their official entry into primary school. This means that a majority of children in Eswatini are unable to attend pre-school.

Global evidence shows that ECCE is critical in laying the foundation for success in school and in life, and has been proven to be an effective way to break the cycle of poverty and inequality amongst disadvantaged children. ECCE not only has economic but social benefits yet millions of children continue to miss out on the chance of a great pre-primary education.  ECCE is lauded for early stimulation, proper socialisation and education of children to help them cope and function better in their adulthood.

Consequently, children who experience quality early childhood care and education which encompasses good nutrition, health promotion, and early learning stand a better chance of social and economic success as adults. Nonetheless, the 2017 Population and Housing Census of Eswatini posits that 8% more children in urban areas attend ECCE compared to their rural counterparts at only 20%. A well designed and implemented preschool programme can compensate for the lack of good social, emotional and cognitive experiences at home.

ECCE is known to positively shape young learners’ minds and attitudes and quality ECCE leads to the development of a leaners’ physical, cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional abilities, which prepare them for the next phase of their lives. With the Government of Eswatini investing in the piloting of Grade 0 in 80 schools in Eswatini, it is important that the country accesses the level of progress towards the achievement of the country’s development objectives. This will also identify the gaps and opportunities for implementing a nationwide ECCE policy and programme.

It is against this background that the Self Help Action to Mitigate the Burden of AIDS (SHAMBA) with support from the European Union (EU) commissioned the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) to conduct a study to measure the current provision of ECCE in Eswatini. The study makes recommendations on how Eswatini can further improve the delivery and quality of ECCE in the country. Preliminary findings of the study were presented to the Ministry of Education and Training ECCE department, and will soon be finalised.

The study also provides insights on the following issues:

  • the magnitude of the gap between current provision of ECCE and policy goals.
  • the structure of ECCE provision and the relative importance of the different types of ECCE provision existing currently.
  • the quality of ECCE being delivered by all providers.
  • the extent of the work that remains to bridge the gap in access to ECCE in Eswatini