A Tale Between Two Countries: Early Childhood Development in Malawi and Zambia

A girl in a bue dress and pink jacket draws on a sheet of paper outdoorsIn countries with constrained resources, Early Childhood Development (ECD) is often a low priority without a formalized approach, curriculum, or significant governmental support. Education resources are typically funneled to primary school-aged children rather than children who have not yet reached school-going ages. Though many resource-constrained countries struggle to support ECD programs, Malawi and Zambia offer a different example. These two countries have each developed unique strategies to address ECD from the ground up. It looks a little different between the countries mostly due to government involvement.


Malawi has become a shining example for ECD programming in southern Africa. Nowhere else have we seen such a large and pervasive groundswell in support of ECD. This came about through a community movement to address the lack of care for young children. Communities took action and began establishing Community-Based Childcare Centers (CBCCs). CBCCs are now present in over 5,000 communities, reaching 20% of children under the age of 5. CBCCs have been established in almost every community in which Firelight works.

Though the government has insufficient resources to provide ECD services throughout Malawi, they are supporting community-initiated CBCCs by developing curriculum and training programs and creating a conducive operating environment. Many community-based organizations serve to link CBCCs up to government provided health and social services at the district level. This means that children at the CBCC and their families have easier access to the services they need – an impressive improvement for vulnerable children and families.


The concept of ECD in Zambia is still relatively new, and until last year it remained without any formal governmental structures to support it. As the country ushered in a new government in 2011 it also ushered in a new commitment to children. The national framework and curriculum for ECD is now in draft form. The government transition has provided an exciting opportunity for Firelight partners, such as Mulumbo Early Childhood Care and Development Foundation (MECCDF), to contribute to the national discussion on developing formal ECD curriculum.

There are fewer ECD centers in Zambia than in Malawi. The absence of government support for ECD has resulted in the establishment of centers that are entirely driven and supported by the community. By and large, these centers are able to provide basic resources for the center from community support, and have cultivated funds for larger projects such as playgrounds or center expansion to serve more children.

Firelight has worked for many years in both Malawi and Zambia. It’s been clear to us that the prevalence and strength of ECD programs is greatly influenced by government involvement and support.

Community-based organizations (CBOs) are well practiced in finding entry points to link the needs in the community to government provided services. Where there are gaps, CBOs are able  to mobilize communities to take action on behalf of the most vulnerable children. That's certainly been the case for early childhood development in both these countries.

Two boys sitting at a desk with coloring pages in front of them. One boys is smiling into the camera and the other is smiling while looking at something to the right.