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Capacity building for ECD in Africa: introduction to special issue.

This special issue of the International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice provides a look inside an unusual initiative designed to support early childhood care and development (ECD) (1) policy, research, and practice in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU) brought together early childhood professionals from 10 African countries (2) to address child well-being through ECD capacity building, leadership development, and enhanced networking within and across countries. Over the space of three years (August 2001 through August 2004) the first ECDVU cohort of learners had the opportunity to engage with each other and with African and international ECD specialists to learn together and to address a wide range of ECD challenges at the local, country, and continental levels.

The culminating work of this unique cohort is featured in this special issue. Of the 30 students who commenced the program in 2001, 27 completed in 2004--a completion rate of 90%, with less than 7% leaving their country of origin. Each of these 27 participants who completed the full set of courses produced a major project (n=25) or a thesis (n=2) under the supervision of a three- to four-member international faculty committee, including at least one in-country advisor/member. (3) Each student also benefited from a project support team at the ECDVU central office in Victoria, B. C., Canada.

These projects typically took from nine to 12 months to complete, and some built on earlier or ongoing areas of interest. Each was designed to bring together individual interests with local or country-level development needs. All the candidates presented and defended their final work in a formal, audio-taped session. The topics addressed include developing ECD policies, designing programs, initiating training activities, collecting and analyzing original data and promoting community development across rural and urban settings. The full texts of all thesis and project write-ups are available at

The proposal to publish a synthesized set of papers from this historical body of work in a special issue of an international journal was driven by several considerations and objectives. First, the relative absence of a well-developed and current ECD literature base in Africa was one of the needs addressed through the ECDVU initiative. The thesis and project requirements of the program and the approach to preparing and guiding the students through the processes of developing, implementing, and writing up their projects were part of a deliberate effort to meet the need for relevant literature to inform ECD policy and practice on the continent. The successful attainment of the program's knowledge production objective makes it imperative that the rich insights emerging from the students' work regarding ECD capacity building be shared widely within Africa and with the rest of the international community. Second, the work provides a unique opportunity to stimulate international dialogue about the central role that indigenously produced and contextually relevant knowledge plays in the advancement of ECD and other programs in the Majority World. (4) Finally, the dissemination of this body of work appropriately positions the ECDVU's pioneering initiative to serve as both a catalyst and a model for the capacity building momentum it is possible to attain through appropriate resource mobilization and focused programming for leadership development.

As editors, we believe that the work synthesized in this special issue provides a unique insight into the challenges, advances, disappointments, and successes being experienced by those with a central concern for children's well-being across a wide cross-section of contemporary Anglophone Africa. For a continent that much of the Minority World knows only through troubling headlines highlighting wars, famine, disease, and political instability, this collection presents a different view, one based on the experiences of professionals working daily, in situ, to improve life conditions for children and families. The images presented are not always positive--there are troubles as well as triumphs. However, we believe that what emerges is a more balanced and more broadly representative view of Africa's realities and prospects for the 21st century--a view that highlights childhood in Africa and the professionals who are committed to enhancing those young lives.

Background to the African ECD Leadership and Capacity Building Initiative

In certain respects the origins of the ECDVU are not in Africa, but in Aboriginal communities in Canada. In 1989 a large Tribal Council of nine Cree and Dene communities in northern Saskatchewan asked the lead editor to support their efforts to develop a culturally responsive and community supportive education program to train members of their communities to create and staff early childhood education and care programs. The result was a culturally supportive approach to training pedagogy that came to be called the 'generative curriculum model' (Pence, Kuehne, Greenwood-Church, & Opekokew, 1993; Pence & McCallum, 1994).

The generative curriculum is based, in part, on a co-constructed approach to education wherein Western and local sources of knowledge interact; through that respectful interaction new perspectives, ideas, and possibilities are generated which are contextually situated. Evaluations of the generative approach (Ball, 1999; Jette, 1993; Riggan, 1994) indicate significantly higher post-secondary completion rates than other Aboriginal two-year diploma programs (76% vs. less than 40%, as reported nationally), virtually no 'brain drain' away from the communities, and high employment and supplemental education activities following completion of the program. Those knowledgeable regarding Aboriginal post-secondary education in Canada found the results remarkable.

Successes with the generative approach in communities, and a second initiative underway at the time involving two- to three-week 'summer institutes' (residential seminars held at the University of Victoria since 1988) designed to stimulate and reenergize mid-career ECD professionals, attracted the attention of UNICEF. In 1995 UNICEF supported the first of a series of two- and three-week international seminars specifically designed to promote ECD as a key component of social and economic development. Over time the seminars focused primarily on Africa.

African participants in the ECD seminar series found the seminars stimulating and useful. They also felt that more was required to adequately address network building in the region in support of country-level capacity building for ECD advancement. Participants asked if such an extended program might carry graduate-level university accreditation.

The request by participants was developed as a draft proposal for discussion with UNICEF, the World Bank, and other potential donors active in Africa. In September of 1999, at the First African International ECD Conference (held in Kampala, Uganda), the World Bank representative indicated his support for program development costs to be covered by the World Bank, with participation of other donors to be sought for the delivery. His voice of support marked the beginning of the ECDVU.


The announcement that the World Bank would support the development of the ECDVU arrived in time at the 1999 Conference to enable a quick survey of how many attendees would be interested in registering in such a program. Out of approximately 80 participants from Uganda attending the Conference, over 40 indicated that they would like to apply. It was clear that while the program would face many challenges in becoming a reality, attracting participant interest would not be among them.

As serious planning commenced, a strategic approach began to take form. It was clear that one educational program with an enrollment of 30 participants and focused solely on individual student advancement would have little impact at a country, let alone a continental, level. However, significant impacts that would go well beyond individual learning and personal academic advancement were deemed possible if countries were to:

1. develop strategic, prioritized objectives based on their history and current situation;

2. determine the intersectoral and multiorganizational dynamics that could help move that agenda forward;

3. identify key experienced and respected individuals within those diverse sectors and organizations who embodied the ideals sought; and

4. propose participating individuals who would be willing to work together to ensure that cascading and ripple effects would flow broadly into the country through their participation.

Further, it was anticipated that advances transcending country-wide impact to include continental gains could become imaginable if these country-nominated individuals were situated in a cohort of like-minded and similarly capable individuals from across the continent with access to the leading specialists in Africa and around the world through Web and face-to-face interactions.

From the early stages of its development the ECDVU program focused on a broad, multifaceted vision of ECD capacity building, leadership promotion, and network enhancement within and across participating countries and extending, ultimately, continent-wide. While the numbers of participants would be small, the envisioned impact was large. The key was to incorporate structures and processes that pressed for outputs far beyond the program or the participants themselves. The program would not be deemed successful unless those 'ripple effects' were realized.

Development of the program commenced in early 2000, with a meeting of international ECD specialists in April. Visits to specific countries in Africa and meetings with in-country committees followed in May and August of 2000. Decisions regarding Web platforms, course structures, computer hardware and software requirements, content specialists and instructors took place from the base in Victoria, while country committees developed their goals and commenced candidate identification and selection processes.

Requests were made to nominees' employers seeking their support in the form of computer access, computer support, and travel and accommodation for seminars; in some cases employing organizations were able to assist and in others, they were not. Strong on commitments while weak on actual funds received, financing to support the core costs of program delivery through a 'consortium' of donors was an ongoing challenge throughout 2000 and for the first six months of 2001. A decision was made in June 2001 that the launch could not be further postponed, and a delivery start date was set for mid-August 2001.

The launch could more accurately be described as a 'leap of faith'--faith in technology not fully tested, faith in commitments made but funds not yet received, faith in a recently developed curriculum, and faith in the ability of a small group of 'virtual students,' and those who would support them, to make a difference across an immense and challenging geography.

For all of the students and most of the professors, learning on-line was a new experience. By the time the first seminar took place in late November 2001 in Johannesburg, both students and professors had begun to break through their 'virtual barriers' and interaction time and space were growing. The Johannesburg seminar was the first time students encountered each other--and the first time they met their professors. Expressions of wonderment and surprise greeted each person as she or he transformed from a virtual to a physical presence.

Over time the program grew and strengthened. On-line interaction broadened and deepened. An ECDVU 'family' formed and was further strengthened at the second seminar in Tanzania and the third in Ghana. By the end of the program's second year, students began to focus on their final work: a major project or a thesis. Throughout the program the emphasis had been on application of learning; the final projects and theses were no different. Each project flows from the commitments and the communities that guide the ongoing work of this remarkable group of learners. It is this work, the final projects, that forms the primary substance of this special issue.

Organization of Content

The projects have been organized for this special issue around five broad themes, with the preparation of each thematic paper led by an ECDVU-affiliated scholar working with related reports prepared by the graduates, who serve as co-authors:

* ECD Policy Development and Implementation (Alan Pence)

* Children, Families, Communities and Professionals: Preparation for Competence and Collaboration in ECD Programs (Kofi Marfo)

* Exploring and Promoting the Value of Indigenous Knowledge in ECD (Jessica Schafer)

* ECD and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic (Lynette Jackson & Chloe O'Gara)

* Capacity Building in ECD (Judith Evans)

Each paper provides an initial overview of related literature and activities. Given the diversity of students' work within themes, the central body of each paper is handled in different ways. For example, in the policy paper the central organizing structure focuses on country profiles and activities within countries. For indigenous knowledge, the work of individual students serves as the structure, while the paper on capacity building is organized around facets of and processes involved in addressing that complex term. In the paper on children, families, communities and professionals, tabular summaries and prose descriptions of the students' provide the backdrop for analytic discussions of central issues emerging from the projects. It is our hope that the partial or summarized information on the individual projects contained in each paper will serve as a useful guide for those who wish to access the full reports online at


Four international leaders who wrote the foreword to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) document proclaimed the 21st century as "the era of implementation" (Konare, Amoako, Nkuhlu, & Bellamy, 2003, p. 2). The research, policy, and program development and implementation activities undertaken by the first cohort of African ECD leaders completing the ECDVU program are a vivid manifestation of concrete progress in moving from a tradition of slogan-driven formulation and rhetoric adoption of national plans and policies toward actual implementation of practical steps through systemic capacity building. The leaders and international faculty of ECDVU wish to thank the University of Victoria and the various donor agencies without whose infrastructural and/or funding support the progress reflected in this special issue would not have been possible: the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, British Columbia Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), and the local employers of participants, many of whom provided substantial assistance for students' travel and accommodation for the three seminars that took place in southern, East, and West Africa.

As editors of this special issue, we wish to express our sincere appreciation to the journal's Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Kathy Borman, for embracing our proposal to use the journal as a vehicle for disseminating aspects of this important work to the international community. Needless to say, her excitement about the idea of publishing a special issue focusing on developments in ECD policy, practice, and research on the African continent and her strong support of our editorial work throughout the process reflect her own deep lifelong commitment to the field of policy studies. We are pleased and privileged to have found in her such a strong ally and advocate in our efforts to showcase aspects of the many exhilarating advances taking place in the Africa ECD arena.

We are equally thankful to the journal's publisher, Alan H. Jones, for supporting our dissemination efforts by offering a much-needed discount on the unit price of the journal. His goodwill gesture made it possible to secure copies of the publication for distribution to participants at the 2005 Third African International ECD Conference in Accra, Ghana.


(1) Various acronyms are used to refer to the holistic intent embraced by early childhood care, education and development. Other terms include: Early Childhood Care and Education/ECCE (UNESCO), Early Childhood Education and Care/ECEC (OECD), Early Childhood Care for Development/ECCD (Consultative Group), and Early Childhood Development/ECD (World Bank).

(2) Eritrea, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

(3) 22 of the participants had recognized Bachelor's degrees and completed ECDVU course work towards a Master's; five of the participants had more than four years of post-secondary education but did not have a recognized Bachelor's and this course work contributed towards completion of their Bachelor's degrees.

(4) This term is used to replace 'developing countries' in recognition of the potential for widely differing definitions of development and in acknowledgement that these countries contain the majority of the world's population.


Ball, J. (1999). Evaluation of the first seven First Nations Partnership Program projects. Unpublished report. University of Victoria.

Jette, D. (1993). Meadow Lake Tribal Council Indian child care program evaluation. Unpublished report. Meadow Lake Tribal Council.

Konare, A.O., Amoako, K.Y., Nkuhlu, W., & Bellamy, C. (2003, September). Foreword: The young face of NEPAD: Children and young people in the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Jointly published report. Commission of the Africa Union (AU), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), NEPAD Steering Committee, & UNICEF.

Pence, A. R., Kuehne, V., Greenwood-Church, M., & Opekokew, M. R. (1993). Generative curriculum: A model of university and First Nations cooperative, post-secondary education. International Journal of Educational Development, 13(4), pp. 339-349.

Pence. A. R., & McCallum, M. (1994). Developing cross-cultural partnerships: Implications for child care quality research and practice. In P. Moss & A. Pence (Eds.), Valuing quality in early childhood services. London and New York: Paul Chapman Publishing and Teachers College Press.

Riggan, R. (1994). The Cowichan Tribes early childhood education child and youth care career ladder project. Unpublished report, Malaspina University-College.

Alan R. Pence

University of Victoria

Kofi Marfo

University of South Florida

Address all correspondence to: Alan R. Pence, School of Child & Youth Care, University of Victoria, Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W 2Y2. E-mail:
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Author:Pence, Alan R.; Marfo, Kofi
Publication:International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Previous Article:Editorial preface.
Next Article:ECD policy development and implementation in Africa.

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