Skip to main content

© GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

Section 1

Section 3

Establish an ECE Subsector Vision to Inform Planning

Jump to the tools


Following the Education Sector Analysis (ESA) (see Section 2), the work on developing the Education Sector Plan (ESP) begins. Section 3 focuses on establishing the vision for the ECE subsector for the Education Sector Plan (ESP) (more specifically, phases 2-4 of Figure 1). The tools in this section are based on and give practical supports for the guidance provided in the IIEP-UNESCO and Guidelines for Education Sector Plan Preparation (pages 17-22) and MOOC Module 4.

Figure 1. Phases of Education Sector Planning (ESP) preparation (phases 2-4 highlighted)
Figure 1. Phases of Education Sector Planning (ESP) preparation (phases 2-4 highlighted) Source: MOOC Module 4

The tools in Section 3 support the development and/or strengthening of the ECE components that will inform and feed into the Education Sector Planning (ESP). In working on this section, your goal is to articulate a vision for the ECE subsector. You will do this by formulating ECE strategies, activities, indicators and targets. Examples of ECE simulation models are also provided to help you understand how to estimate costs of the ECE strategies and activities.

Refresher on the Education Sector Plan

As this toolkit emphasizes, your ECE content is one part – a crucially important part – of the overall Education Sector Plan (ESP).  The Education Sector Plan (ESP) is a strategic document that offers a vision for the whole education system and identifies the ways to achieve the vision. It provides a long-term vision, with medium-/long-term policy priorities (set as overarching goals) and related strategies (developed into programmes) that include the activities (that operationalize the strategies). The expected results (outcomes/outputs) are measured through indicators against targets that are set – these are summed up in the results framework. Figure 2 provides a visual of the overall architecture and different levels and components of the Education Sector Plan (ESP).

Figure 2. Overall architecture of the Education Sector Plan (ESP)
Figure 2. Overall architecture of the Education Sector Plan (ESP) Source: GPE and IIEP-UNESCO, Guidelines for Education Sector Plan Preparation, IIEP-UNESCO, Paris, 2015

There is no prescribed way to structure the Education Sector Plan (ESP), but it may be advisable to structure it by subsectors (pre-primary, primary or basic, secondary, vocational, adult, tertiary). For each subsector, the challenges that the ESP will address can then be categorized into thematic areas (access, quality, etc.).

Whatever the structure of the Education Sector Plan (ESP) (either by subsector or by theme), this Section 3 focuses on the development of the key ECE strategies, activities and their associated targets and indicators, all of which can be integrated or translated into the Education Sector Plan (ESP) structure. This focus is coupled with a related focus on how to simulate costs for the ECE components, so as to test their financial feasibility. Note that we assume that ECE policy priorities will have already been set, as they are often influenced by national development priorities and international commitments – for ECE, such policy priorities should be aligned with:

  • national and subnational education and policies and plans and public statements of intent, as well as other cross-sectoral national policies or plans for early childhood development that include policy intent for ECE; and
  • global and international development frameworks, such as the SDGs and Education 2030, with particular attention to SDG 4.2, which sets forth a target of at least one year of quality pre-primary education for all children.


Section 3 Objectives

The overall objective of Section 3 is to set the ECE vision for the ESP. To achieve this, you will need to formulate robust strategies, activities, indicators and their associated targets in response to the ECE subsector’s underlying challenges. These components will then be integrated into the Education Sector Plan (ESP) (which can be structured either by subsector or by themes).

To achieve this objective, the following actions should take place:

This action supports the selection and prioritization of ECE strategies that address the underlying challenges of the ECE subsector. The ECE strategies are then translated into activities that will be set out in the operational plan.

This action supports specifying the indicators and targets that will be used to measure progress towards achieving expected results (outcomes/outputs). The indicators and targets are then translated into a results framework.

This action supports understanding the initial, proposed costs of different ECE strategies. Such understanding will be essential for determining trade-offs and readjusting strategies and their targets as needed.

Section 3 Tools

The tools featured in this section will support ECE TWG stakeholders establish the vision for the ECE subsector for the Education Sector Plan (ESP).

Cross-cutting considerations for Section 3

Your work on developing and/or strengthening the ECE strategies, activities, indicators and targets should be guided by a strong and comprehensive vision for the ECE subsector. This vision is not just about young children sitting on chairs in a classroom, but rather about setting the foundations of learning and development right – which means it is about quality and inclusive ECE.

This phase of the plan preparation process is an opportunity for you to advocate for and articulate your country’s aspirations for young children’s optimal learning and development. Consider the following when planning for and costing quality ECE:

  • Curriculum: A developmentally appropriate, pedagogically sound and gender-responsive curriculum with an inclusive and holistic approach to learning helps enable children to reach their full potential. In particular, a play-based learning approach empowers children’s active and hands-on exploration of the world around them. 
  • Teachers:Teachers are vital to provide young children with quality early learning experiences. It is therefore crucial that they are valued and well supported. This entails developing robust strategies for growing and supporting the pre-primary workforce (including strategies for achieving more a more gender balanced workforce). In the short term, greater numbers of teachers with lower initial qualifications can be hired to grow the cadre of teachers, compensating with investments in intensive continuous professional development and on-the-job mentoring. This should be coupled with a longer-term strategy for gradually upgrading teacher qualifications and retaining quality teachers. Furthermore, it is important that ECE teachers are qualified and trained in gender-responsive curriculum and pedagogy, as well as in universal design for learning principles.
  • Family engagement: Parents/caregivers are children’s “first educators” and have a key role as advocates for and supporters of quality ECE.  Caregivers are a child’s core educator alongside ECE provision. Family engagement should therefore be prioritized in the Education Sector Plan (ESP). There should be a clear strategy for engaging and empowering families (including particularly engaging and empowering fathers/male family members and caregivers) as active participants in their children’s development and education – both at home and in the ECE settings. 
  • Quality standards: Clear quality standards for the ECE subsector should be in place, with a functional framework for regular monitoring of ECE programmes across both public and non-state/private providers. A key quality goal should be to lower the pupil-teacher-ratio to no more than 20 children per teacher. 
  • Budgeting: To ensure quality, it is recommended to dedicate at least 25% of recurrent pre-primary budgets to non-salary expenditures, so that key quality investments, such as teacher training, curriculum development, teaching and learning materials and quality assurance mechanisms can be prioritized.  Advocacy for prioritizing financing and budgeting for the ECE subsector is crucial, with attention to budgets that prioritize the most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged children and families.
  • Equity: The provision of quality ECE recognizes the disparities and inequalities that exist within a country (gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, refugee status, disability status, etc.) and how these factors affect a child’s early education (in both access to ECE and quality of ECE). The strategies for the ECE subsector should respond to the particular needs of different groups and address disparities. Prioritizing the most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged children should be the starting point.
  • Diverse models of ECE: The ECE landscape is complex, with multiple delivery mechanisms (state, non-state, religious, community-based, etc.). The length and frequency of ECE programmes also vary greatly. This complexity provides the opportunity to foster the development of flexible and innovative approaches and programmes that can complement mainstream public provision. This helps support the children who are most vulnerable to exclusion from traditional public or private programmes.
  • Transition to early primary grades: The transition from ECE to primary school is a big step for all children. A seamless and stress-free experience at this stage can influence children’s next steps in their educational and personal growth journeys. Quality transitions help ensure that that the positive impacts of early education are carried over and last through primary school and beyond. Quality transitions are those that are well-prepared and child-centered; guided by trained ECE and primary staff collaborating with one another; anchored in appropriate and aligned curricula and available assessment of child development; and connected to family and community engagement.
  • Communicate Cross-Cutting Priorities such as Crisis, Gender and Inclusion When Providing Inputs for Simulation Models: Unless simulation models are really detailed, they do not always provide gender disaggregation (unless it's an explicit target built into the model), may miss out additional considerations for marginalized groups such as children with disabilities, and tend to be focused at the national level.  If the ECE TWG has specific policy priorities and related strategies and activities to address the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable – including young children affected by crisis, gender equity issues, and ensuring inclusion – cost and financing data to address these groups will need to be provided to costers and planners.  Where data is unavailable, these priorities may be communicated so that they are considered when developing the model and considering the resulting scenarios, to the extent possible.

During the planning process, is important to ensure ECE strategies and activities are crisis-sensitive.  This means that the ECE strategies and activities identified and included in plans and programmes are able to “reduce risks and strengthen preparedness and response capacities at individual [including parents and caregivers], school, community, national and sub-national MoE and government levels” (for the source of this information and further reading, refer to UNESCO’s 2020 Crisis-Sensitive Educational Planning).

Consider the following questions to ensure Education Sector Plans (ESP), including the ECE components (i.e. ECE strategies, activities, their indicators, targets and costs), are crisis-sensitive:

Has risk reduction, management and preparedness been identified as a need?

  • Specifically, as part of risk reduction, management and preparedness activities, have related to the identified ECE strategies and activities been developed at all levels (for example, the Preschool Directorate of the Ministry of Education, the regional and district education offices, etc.) – national to early childhood education service provider level?
  • Do contingency plans and risk reduction and management strategies take into account ECE subsector?

If crisis-sensitive strategies and activities on risk reduction, management and developing and being able to transition to implement contingency plans have not been developed for the education sector, or if they have but they do not account for ECE, consider:

  • including ECE preparedness, contingency planning, and risk reduction and management as part of a sector-wide risk preparedness, reduction, and management strategy in the Education Sector Plan (ESP) or programme design or
  • considering an ECE-specific strategy on preparedness, risk reduction and management and contingency planning - with related activities. 


Have families, community leaders, and ECE service providers been actively engaged in risk reduction, management, and, preparedness efforts, including contingency planning?

Families, community leaders, and ECE service providers at the local level should be actively engaged in designing and/or validating risk mitigation and contingency plans. 

Family, community and ECE service provider engagement is important to ensure the plans are responsive to needs such as parents’ safety concerns for sending young children to school or dangers faced by ECE service providers in a geographic area prone to armed attacks. 

Family, community and ECE service provider involvement is needed to ensure plans and strategies do not perpetuate inequalities, such as the following illustrative examples: early learning activities in the home disproportionately being the responsibility of older girl siblings and/or keeping older girl and boy siblings from continuing their education. 


If “no” to any of the above, consider the human technical capacity and financial resources available and needed to ensure risk mitigation and management efforts - including contingency planning - is part of the Education Sector Plan (ESP) or programme response or design.  The Education Sector Plan (ESP) or ECE components of the plan may need to be revisited and revised.

Refer to GPE, UNGEI and UNICEF’s (2017) Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans (ESP) (Module 7: Selecting Strategies and Interventions to Address Gender Disparities), which includes a table with a series of evidence-based strategies and interventions for advancing gender equity in education. This table, adapted below as questions for ECE stakeholders to consider, may support ensuring that prioritized ECE strategies are consistent with emerging, promising best practices for advancing gender equity in education.

Strategy – Reduce Costs Paid by the Family or Opportunity Costs

  • Do any activities include the provision of bursaries, stipends, scholarships and cash transfers to ensure young girls and boys have access to ECE? Are such incentives available to ensure that women and men have access to ECE pre-service training and continuing professional development opportunities?
  • Have school fees and other costs for textbooks, uniforms and transport been eliminated or provided free-of-charge ECE access to both young girls and boys?
  • Are there monitoring and accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that there are not hidden, voluntary or school administrative charges that may limit the participation of young girls and boys – particularly the most disadvantaged and marginalized - in ECE?
  • Has the provision of school meals for both young girls and boys been considered free-of-charge for all young girls and boys, or need-based criteria developed and disseminated to identify young girls and boys that should qualify for meals at preschool?


Strategy – Ensure ECE is Accessible to Young Girls and Boys

  • Has ECE site (i.e. schools, community centers, classrooms affixed to primary schools) been assessed for how close the location is to homes of both girl and boy students?
  • If ECE sites are not located near homes and communities of young girls and boys, are there safe transportation options available that do not exacerbate gendered barriers and inequalities (i.e. older girl or boy siblings unable to attend school to care and support transporting young children to access ECE, or female caregivers unable to work due to ensuring secure transport of young children to ECE).
  • Are there flexible and varying service provision modalities to account for differentiated needs of girls and boys, particularly the most marginalized, including community-based models, weekly or daily shifts with flexible timetables, and options for home-visits or remote programs?
  • Have female and male ECE teachers been employed, particularly deployed to the most remote areas?


Strategy – Enhancing ECE Quality with a Gender-Responsiveness Lens

  • Have female and male teachers been trained in gender-responsive ECE pedagogy as part of pre-service or continuing professional development?
  • Has the curriculum been reviewed from a “gender lens” to identify gender bias and stereotypes in the curricula and related teaching and learning materials?
  • Has the classroom environment and way that the teaching and learning environment arranged considered gendered needs of young girls and boys?
  • Have “add-on services” offered in ECE sites such as protection services (e.g. psychosocial support or birth registration), health services (e.g. growth monitoring, vaccination), and parenting support programming for parents/caregivers been offered to both young girls and boys and/or male and female caregivers?

The Education Sector Analysis (ESA) Volume 3, Chapter 11 includes Learning and Quality Supply-Side considerations and example questionnaires which may be adapted for ECE to assess systems’ capacity for implementing inclusive interventions which will help develop robust, inclusive strategies and activities for young children as well as identify the costs.

Additional Resources