Somaliland's Early Childhood Education Programme: Pharo Foundation’s Policy and Research Contributions

Pharo Foundation’s Somaliland Early Childhood Education (ECE) Programme has been a transformative force in shaping Somaliland’s education landscape, well beyond the mere provision of its teaching, into ECE policy and research. Pharo Foundation started the first-ever ECE centres in Somaliland public schools in 2016, allowing children from poor and middle-income families to access quality ECE. We now run 18 ECEs across the country, which cater to more than 1,000 children. Yet from a policy standpoint, we have also co-created the Somaliland National ECE Curriculum with the Ministry of Education, ensuring that all ECE centres follow the same standards and guidelines. From a global research point of view, we are also contributing to the production of global knowledge on ECEs, through the data we collect, as we have conducted the first study in Somaliland that provides evidence of the positive impact of ECE on Somaliland children.

Somaliland is a region that faces poverty and a lack of early childhood education opportunities for many children. Private kindergartens are too expensive for most families, and public schools do not have enough ECE centres. Our Early Childhood Education Programme aims to address this gap by partnering with public schools and establishing ECE centres within them. However, the national diffusion of this approach to early years learning was always the ultimate aspiration for us. Hence as part of our mission to support early childhood education (ECE) in Somaliland, we have been working closely with the Ministry of Education and Sciences (Mo&ES) to develop a national ECE curriculum. Our collaboration started in 2015 when we funded the Horn Youth Services Foundation to create a provisional ECE curriculum. Pharo Foundation also trained the first cohort of 28 ECE teachers, who were ready to educate and nurture young Somali children. In 2022, we partnered with the Mo&ES to finalize the national ECE curriculum, which was written in English and made available for all ECE providers. In 2023, we translated the curriculum into Somali. We have been on the front lines of providing early childhood education to children across Somaliland as it is essential for their development and academic success.

Meanwhile, existing research has shown that ECEs can have a lasting impact on children’s educational and social outcomes, particularly children who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. One such study is the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study.  This study is a “scientific experiment that has identified both the short- and long-term effects of a high-quality preschool education program for young children living in poverty.”

The High/Scope study followed 123 low-income African American children from ages 3 to 40. Half of the children received early education which was based on the High/Scope curriculum while the other half did not receive any preschool education.

Following the children, until they were 40, the study collected data on the effects early education had on their lives outcomes such as educational status, income, health and even on their behaviours.

The study found that “The program group significantly outperformed the non-program group on highest level of schooling completed,” and that more program groups were economically performing better.

The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study provides strong evidence on the importance of early education and its everlasting impact. The study concludes that “high-quality preschool programs for young children living in poverty contribute to their intellectual and social development in childhood and their school success, [and] economic performance.”

However, there has been no evidence of the importance of early education in Somaliland. Hence Pharo Foundation decided to carry out a quasi-experimental study to measure the impact and effectiveness of our Early Childhood Education Programme in Berbera, Somaliland. The study used the International Development Educational Learning Assessment (IDELA), a standardized tool that measures the outcomes of a child’s learning and development in the areas of emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, social-emotional development, and executive functions.

In this experiment, 85 students in a control group were compared with 80 students in the treatment group, measuring their IDELA scores at the beginning and end of the program. The results showed that the treatment group had scored higher in tests. Relative to the comparison group, enrolled children demonstrated a 15 p.p. increase in average scores (equivalent to a standard deviation), with the largest gains occurring along the emergent literacy dimension. Although this effect is derived from a small sample in a single school (in its first year of operation), its magnitude is larger than those documented in much of the education research literature. We expect to release a detailed summary of findings in 2024.