Research over the last couple of decades has continued to point to early childhood development (ECD) interventions as the most cost-effective equalizer to scaffold marginalized children in developing holistically and leading decent lives and investing in young children’s early learning, nutrition and health can lead to substantial gains in their learning outcomes and their productivity. Studies from various contexts show that early childhood education programs may lead to improved learning outcomes, and decreased grade repetition, among other long-term socioeconomic benefits. Globally, children have made many gains in health and access to ECD opportunities, with policymakers placing greater priority on expanding access to and improving the quality of nurseries. That being said, many children still face barriers to reaching their full potential cognitively and physically. Although infants - under 5 years - mortality in Egypt has declined by 73% from 1990 to 2015, stunting affects approximately one in five children and more than half of Egypt’s children are not enrolled in pre-primary education. This is why Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD) has continued to invest in early childhood education and is committed to finding the most effective ways to improve access to and quality of childcare and early childhood education in Egypt.
In addition, many researchers worldwide have been analyzing the effect of early childcare and ECD services on improving female labor force participation. Female labor force participation in Egypt has been declining despite increased access to education for women and was reported to be at 18.6% of the total labor force in 2020. One way to increase female labor force participation is through offering childcare substitutes to young mothers who may be unable to join the labor force as a result of domestic work and taking care of their young children.
In this light and under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS) and in partnership with the World Bank and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Middle East and North Africa (J-PAL MENA), SFSD held a 3-day workshop on March 14-16, with the belief that prioritizing high-quality early educational opportunities and nutrition for children under the age of five may be considered a low hanging fruit and can lead to significant improvements in the wellbeing of Egypt’s future generations, simultaneously improving female labor force participation.
This workshop featured presentations from academic researchers, SFSD, MoSS, J-PAL MENA, Save the Children International and the Egyptian Food Bank (EFB). The event highlighted what can be learned from existing global evidence in ECD and what is known about the Egyptian ECD context, followed by some examples of ECD interventions currently taking place in Egypt. The workshop ended by addressing what further studies on the ECD community in Egypt can contribute to our growing knowledge of evidence-based ECD interventions in Egypt.
Caroline Krafft, Associate Professor of Economics at St. Catherine University and Bruno Crépon, Professor of Economics at ENSAE and Scientific Director of JPAL MENA, shared insights from global evidence on early childcare interventions and their impact on improving ECD outcomes for children and improving female labor force participation, as well as evidence on shifting gender norms to improve female labor force participation. Moreover, Bruno Crépon and Abdelrahman Nagy, Learning and Strategy Director at SFSD and principal investigator, shared the results of a study that evaluated the impact of childcare subsidies and employment services on women’s labor force participation in Egypt.
Krafft also shared further findings from her study of the quality of Egypt’s nurseries based on her analysis of the Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey data collected in 2014. Although there is not enough data on the quality of Egypt’s nurseries or the developmental outcomes of children who attend the varied quality of these nurseries, her analysis shows that nurseries are not the primary form of childcare for women with younger children and nursery attendance depends on the child’s age, the governorate, and somewhat on the mother’s level of education and employment status.
She also shared data on Egypt’s female labor force participation, citing that employment rates are particularly low for women with young children, sharing that this segment of the population has the highest number of hours of domestic work. She also shared findings on gender norms in Egypt and how these norms place childcare as primarily the woman’s responsibility, affect the support for gender equality and may limit women’s mobility, acting as a barrier to employment. Therefore, increasing female labor force participation may require either changing or working within the existing gender norms.
Nivine Othman, Advisor to the Minister of Social Solidarity on governance and early childhood, highlighted the Ministry’s ECD national plan and objectives, which focuses on establishing the necessary ECD infrastructure, building the capacity of nursery facilitators, raising awareness on the importance of ECD for children, placing appropriate indicators to measure nursery quality and performance and developing ECD curricula.
Ingy Akoush, Director of Program Development and Quality introduced the Arab Women Speaking Out program, an initiative that delivers a package of services that aim to strengthen the resilience of at-risk women and girls.
Mohamed Elkaramany, Director of the EFB Growth Lab, shared the efforts of the EFB in reducing malnutrition among young children in Egypt. This is carried out through four key interventions: (1) providing a third of the daily nutritional needs of the child, (2) offering nutritional, health-related and positive parenting awareness, (3) providing basic medical check-ups and (4) establishing food and hygiene safety measures, the EFB aims to improve child health and development. The EFB is also measuring the impact of this program on outcomes such as nutritional status, cognitive abilities, awareness, and household financial burdens.
Nagy, Krafft and Crépon also presented the design of upcoming impact studies that are looking to estimate the impact of ECD interventions such as women’s empowerment, nutritional meals and improving nursery quality on female labor force participation and children’s development outcomes.
By the end of the workshop, participants held an open discussion on what potential evidence-based programs can be the focus of ECD in Egypt, as well as what rigorous research can be done to assess the impact of these programs given that there are still so many open questions. This culminated in the formation of a task force, led by SFSD, which will continue guiding these discussions to inform further research. SFSD values the importance of research in informing the impact of development programs and looks forward to the results of these critical studies that will help the Egyptian community in learning about what are the best ways to improve early childhood development outcomes and to empower and employ young mothers in Egypt.
Farida is the Learning and Innovation Manager at the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development. Previously, she worked at the J-PAL MENA, a global research center, Ashoka Arab World, a networking platform for social entrepreneurs, AmCham Egypt, and Mavericks Schools. Farida's current interests lie in impact evaluation for education programs and using research and practice to help children learn better. (Contact: email@example.com)