In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Book Chapters
  • Research Reports, Theses, and Seminar Papers
  • Journals
  • Early Childhood Development Issues
  • Policy and Practice
  • Ethics of Justice and Care in Early Childhood
  • Partnerships and Collaboration
  • Early Childhood Pedagogy

Education Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa
Joseph Agbenyega
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0079


Economic inequalities and other forms of social deprivation in early childhood are closely linked to lower income and social disadvantage in adulthood. However, studies have shown that investing in early childhood education is a cost-effective strategy that can mitigate childhood disadvantage, producing higher rates of economic return for the individual person, community, and country. Early childhood education leads to cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and moral developmental gains that carry over into later stages of development. Neuroscience research and growing evidence from child development studies, including those that focus on economics and politics, have reinforced the argument that all countries should increase expenditure on early childhood education, paying particular attention to practical and sustainable policies and programs. In developing countries in Africa, there have been many major policy and practical initiatives toward implementing and sustaining quality early childhood education. The promotion of quality early childhood education in Africa, particularly for children who are vulnerable, faces many complex cultural, political, and economic challenges. Negative experiences, such as the exposure to the violence of war, tribal and cultural attitudes, poor quality of teachers, and political instability are some of the persisting factors inhibiting the full realization of quality early childhood education on the continent. In addition, poor environmental conditions, low family income, and chronic corruption in some African states have added to the overwhelming burden of barriers to early childhood development (ECD) and care. Generally, the majority of materials that are included in this article argue for culturally relevant ECD practices in Africa, rather than borrowing practices from elsewhere, which, in many instances, are incompatible with African culture and her peoples.

General Overviews

Early childhood education and care are on the reform agenda in many countries, including those in Africa. The aim of early childhood education and care is to provide developmental support and care for children in their formative years so that they can acquire the skills necessary for future learning and success in school. This success is expected to benefit the social and economic development of society at large. Although Africa has undergone remarkable transformations since its contact with Europeans and other foreign cultural elements, the promotion of universal access to quality early childhood education and care remains a significant challenge for educators and policymakers in Africa. Boakye-Boaten 2010 provides insights into how Africa emerged from this contact with a “bruised cultural identity” that has impacted heavily on child development in Africa. Ajayi 2000 illuminates the important role of mothers in children’s education and claims that this role is undergoing significant shifts in Africa in contemporary times. Boakye-Boaten 2010, Pence and Marfo 2008, and Pence 2011 all discuss the changing view of childhood in Africa by pointing to significant gains in the recognition of children’s rights. One major obstacle to children’s welfare and education is poverty. Commenting on this, Adebowale 2000 argues that governments must reduce poverty among households and eradicate other forms of violence against children if early childhood education is to make a meaningful impact in Africa. Pence and Shafer 2006 focuses on the use of indigenous knowledge in the development of early childhood policy and practices. Through the examination of the Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU) program, which provides distance education capacity-building programs in Africa, the authors described the generative curriculum model in which students contribute to the learning process by infusing indigenous knowledge and practices into the curriculum. Nsamenang 2010 notes that effective early childhood education should incorporate childhood contexts in light of rights-based approaches. As research productivity in early childhood in Africa is increasing, Ebrahim 2010 argues for ethical practice in research that situates young children as participants in research, rather than as objects on which research is conducted.

  • Adebowale, Akande. 2000. Effects of exposure to violence and poverty on young children: The southern African context. Early Child Development and Care 163.1: 61–78.

    DOI: 10.1080/0300443001630105

    There is a close relationship between poverty and violence, and exposure to violence may lead to more high-risk behaviors in adolescence and adulthood. Poverty contributes to children’s sense of safe and unsafe situations and warrants a psychoeducational framework for understanding the complex issues posed by the damaging effects of violence and poverty on children.

  • Ajayi, Ade C. 2000. The changing roles of mother as teacher of her pre-school child: The Nigerian Experience. International Journal of Early Childhood 38.2: 86–92.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF03168211

    Families are the first teachers of preschoolers, and African women serve as important persons in child rearing by providing home-based early childhood education. The extended family system in Africa contributes to collective nurturing of the child; hence the breakdown of such a system could have devastating effects on child development on the continent.

  • Boakye-Boaten, Agya. 2010. Changes in the concept of childhood: Implications on children in Ghana. Journal of International Social Research 3.10: 104–115.

    Africa has a complex mix of traditions and child-rearing practices. This paper discusses the changing roles of children and the perception of childhood in Ghana compared to other African countries. It includes the historical evolution of the concept of childhood.

  • Ebrahim, Hasina Banu. 2010. Situated ethics: Possibilities for young children as research participants in the South African context. Early Child Development and Care 180.3 (April): 289–298.

    DOI: 10.1080/03004430701822958

    Interfaces of situated ethics position young children as participants in research rather than as objects on which research is conducted. Acknowledging children’s unique place in research requires informed consent, minimizing power relations, and adopting techniques for listening to children.

  • Nsamenang, Bame. 2010. Issues in and challenges to professionalism in Africa’s cultural settings. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 11.1: 20–28.

    DOI: 10.2304/ciec.2010.11.1.20

    Professionalism in the context of African childhood is critical to the development of the early childhood field. This should be considered in light of rights-based approaches. The article describes childhood in African cultural settings and points to sensitive aspects of African child development that would require keen sensitivity from professionalization agendas.

  • Pence, Alan. 2011. Early childhood care and development research in Africa: Historical, conceptual, and structural challenges. Child Development Perspectives 5.2: 112–118.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00165.x

    This paper questions the ways in which African children are represented in research as objects of study, labeling this representation “bad science.” The paper argues that the voices of children in Africa should be given space in the knowledge-building process to ensure the best outcomes for future generations.

  • Pence, Alan R., and Kofi Marfo. 2008. Early childhood development in Africa: Interrogating constraints of prevailing knowledge bases. International Journal of Psychology 43.2 (April): 78–87.

    DOI: 10.1080/00207590701859143

    There is need for a critical adoption of program and service-delivery models grounded in value systems and knowledges appropriate for the African continent. Ignoring the sociocultural contexts of the knowledge bases that inform early childhood development policies and practices can present conflicting challenges and unproductive outcomes. Local and global perspectives can contribute to and enrich knowledge on child development.

  • Pence, Alan, and Jessica Shafer. 2006. Indigenous knowledge and early childhood development in Africa: The early childhood development virtual university. Journal for Education in International Development 2.3 (December): 1–17.

    This paper focuses on indigenous knowledge as a critical component in early childhood policy development and practice. It articulates the importance of the ECDVU program for implementing distance education capacity-building programs in Africa. This model is suitable for early childhood teacher education programs.

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