Target 4.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls on countries to ensure by 2030 that ‘all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’.1 The financing of early childhood care and education (ECCE) services in centre-based and home-based settings, through the establishment and expansion of day care, pre-primary education and parenting support programmes, is critical to reaching this target in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The CARICOM Costing and Financing Research Project, launched in 2003, provides government authorities and other key decision-makers in the Caribbean region with data and information on costs related to the provision of ECCE services, to inform decisions about the development of those services within their respective countries. This case study describes the work of the project in the period from 2008 to 2012, during which ECCE costing studies were completed in two Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The project aids efforts to achieve greater equity in early childhood through the development of tools used to identify costs and financing options for expanding access to ECCE services, particularly for children from poor and vulnerable groups.

Background and Context

The Caribbean Community is a diverse grouping of 20 countries2 that straddle the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. They cover approximately 3200 kilometres (2000 miles): from Suriname and Guyana on the South American mainland; northwards to Bermuda, off the east coast of the United States; and westwards to Belize on the Central American mainland. All 20 countries are former colonies of European powers . Dutch, English, French and Spanish. CARICOM has a population of 16.1 million people, of whom 9 million live in Haiti, 2.8 million live in Jamaica and 1.3 million live in Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) economic review and outlook for 2015 identified lingering development challenges in the region, compounded by natural hazards and climate-change impacts, low economic growth (2.3%) and high levels of inequality within countries.3 Despite relatively high rankings on the Human Development Index, countries face a number of socio-economic challenges that adversely impact the population, including HIV/AIDS, crime and violence, and financial strain on family structure.


ECCE in the Caribbean has been affected by the decline of support systems within families and communities to help with child care while parents and grandparents work, compounded by inadequate transportation systems and the low availability and high cost of child care outside the home. In 2010, UNESCO conducted a regional assessment of ECCE services in CARICOM.4 Survey responses from 16 countries5 reported that only 19% were publically funded by the government; 22% were privately owned and operated, and the remaining 58% were run by community organizations, religious organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The vast majority (81%) of services were for children from age 3 to the age of primary-school entry (which varies by country), with less than one-fifth of services (19%) catering to children from birth to age 3. Participation rates in ECCE – based on usable data from 7 reporting countries – ranged between 17% and 41% for children from birth to age 3, and from 65% to 100% for the pre-primary cohort. The reasons advanced for low participation included the inability to pay the fees and the lack of government assistance to facilitate access for poor and vulnerable children. Other constraints to access were insufficient facilities (as evidenced by overcrowding in existing facilities), logistical challenges in multi-island states and in rural communities, and limited human capacity to support expansion.


The development of young children has been recognized as a core strategy for poverty reduction. Yet this is not possible without adequate financing for ECCE services, which is a prerequisite for significant progress on access, quality and equity issues. In CARICOM, the lack of progress on financing has been constrained in part by the lack of costing information and in part by the lack of innovative financing mechanisms that do not place sizable additional burdens on the public sector, parents or private providers.

At the outset of the Costing and Financing Research Project in 2003, existing costing information in CARICOM countries was insufficient to determine the amount of financing required by the early childhood sector.6 Studies were hampered by the lack of a costing model to fit the Caribbean ECCE context. A model had to be designed, together with approaches that would generate the appropriate information, in a process requiring significant experimentation in conceptual approach and methodology. The project’s development and ongoing improvement of this model is considered a ‘work in progress’.

In 2008, CARICOM governments adopted Minimum Service Standards for early childhood services, and in 2010 they agreed to the development of national strategic plans to provide children from birth to primary-school entry with access to ECCE. The work of the Costing and Financing Research Project from 2008 to 2012 was designed to help CARICOM governments in meeting these goals. Funded by the CDB and UNICEF’s Eastern Caribbean Office during this time period, the project provides governments with useful tools for determining the costs of current services and the projected costs of services when improved to meet the Minimum Service Standard, in the context of the development of national strategic plans to promote the inclusion of poor and vulnerable children in ECCE.

The Costing and Financing Research Project, 2008.2012


During the period from 2008 to 2012, a computer-based version of the project’s costing model, referred to as the Early Childhood Development Costing and Financing Software, was successfully developed. This software package was used to conduct national assessments of the cost of providing ECCE services in two countries . Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis . between 2009 and 2011. Both countries had adopted early childhood development policies in the preceding three years and, between 2010 and 2011, were in the process of preparing strategies to increase access to ECCE services, particularly for vulnerable children. The majority of ECCE services in both countries were provided by the private sector (75% in Saint Kitts and Nevis, and over 90% in Antigua and Barbuda).

To conduct the research, indicators from the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) and the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS)7 . which have been used in national surveys of the quality of early learning environments in over 50 countries . were combined in a monitoring checklist. The checklist was administered to a 30% sample of ECCE services in each country to determine how many services achieved a rating of minimum quality, and how many needed to make improvements (thus incurring costs).

The two studies generated information on investment costs, operational costs, revenues generated, sources of revenue and the financial viability of early childhood service provisions, including the adequacy of the current fee structure. The software package contained the functionality to assess costs required to upgrade services and facilities, as well as to conduct sensitivity analyses on investment and operational costs under a range of scenarios, including for universal access. Data were analysed under existing operating scenarios (i.e. the cost of actual current salaries, programme content and learning resources; and the conditions of infrastructure and equipment), as well as scenarios that assumed that services were being provided at the recommended Minimum Service Standard (i.e. improvements in staff qualifications, programme development, infrastructure and equipment).


The costing studies revealed the following findings:

  • Investment costs require significant capital outlay, with over 90% needed to meet infrastructural costs. This underscores the strategic importance of services being able to access one-off grants.
  • Teacher/caregiver costs constitute approximately 67% of recurrent costs.
  • The main source of income for programmes is from user fees (tuition and other fees) for expenditures on items such as care, meals and transport. User fees were used to cover 63% of costs in one country and 72% in the other.
  • Many private sector providers do not generate sufficient revenue from user fees to cover current operational expenditures.
  • Most private sector operators will be challenged to cover operating costs under a Minimum Service Standard regime, assuming the current revenue base. Service providers will have to increase revenue to pay for qualified practitioners, which means either increasing user fees or accessing support through government subsidies.

The studies highlighted the challenges faced by predominantly privately operated services in both countries in providing affordable, quality services while at the same time sustaining financial viability. It was determined that without a consistent source of public financial assistance, the current services would not be able to provide access to poor and vulnerable children. In addition, it was determined that services could not be expanded without access to one-off sources of funds for infrastructure and set-up costs.

In both countries, publically funded services are small-scale but do provide access to children from poor and vulnerable groups. In Antigua and Barbuda assistance is provided to a limited number of pre-schools. In Saint Kitts and Nevis, the ‘Reaching the Unreached’ programme monitors and supports quality in home-based services for children from birth to age 3, and for older children who do not have access to centre-based services.

The research also identified regional and international innovations in financing and assessed the potential for their use in the CARICOM region. Viable mechanisms for increasing access for poor and vulnerable children included: cash transfers, fiscal incentives, concessions and soft loans for capital facilities, subventions for operators serving vulnerable communities, and subsidies and vouchers for poor and vulnerable families to access ECCE services.

Impact and Lessons Learned


The results from these studies were presented to senior education officers in both countries in 2012. The officials noted that this was the first time they had accurate data available on the cost of providing early childhood services, and indicated that they would use the information to guide national decision-making.

In April 2012, the Minister of Education and Information in Saint Kitts and Nevis stated that the provision of high-quality early childhood environments is seen in his country as a ‘good investment and not as an expenditure’.8 He cited the government’s 2009 White Paper on Education Development and Policy 2009.2019, which named as a central objective enhancing the quality of learning environments and supporting active participatory learning. In addition, the Ministry was in the process of developing a strategy for 2012 to 2016 to increase access to services for vulnerable children through a detailed mapping of demand and supply in the areas most in need. A package of financial strategies was planned for the early childhood sector, including financial incentives for the private sector to increase the number of facilities available to poor and vulnerable children.

In Antigua and Barbuda, access to pre-primary education was expanded from 79.4% in 2010/11 to 96.5% in 2012/13, as a result of the government’s access to funding from a philanthropic organization to create 75 facilities. The government’s policy is to provide access to pre-primary education for all children from age 3 to age 5. To increase ECCE access for children below the age of 3, policy has focused on expanding support for parenting and early stimulation through health clinics. Two pilots are currently being undertaken in this area: one that uses the Care for Child Development package,9 developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), in one-to-one sessions with parents and health workers; and one that uses the Reach Up Early Childhood Parenting Programme,10 based on the successful Jamaica Home Visit Programme, in group sessions for parents.


Although the data on access to pre-primary education are encouraging in both countries, 5% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 are not accounted for and may represent those in the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society. For children from birth to age 3, access to services in day care and home-visiting programmes ranged from approximately 10% in Antigua and Barbuda to 38% in Saint Kitts and Nevis,11 indicating a continuing lack of investment in support for services for poor and vulnerable children in this age group.

The project plans to undertake costing reports in other countries in the region, so that all governments would have access to accurate data with which to plan the development of their early childhood services. Further studies will assist the project in refining model design and research approaches, and in validating the work undertaken to date.


Efforts to achieve ECCE equity in CARICOM focus on access to quality services and reflect regional commitments to expand access and improve quality in a range of settings, and to reduce the impacts of poverty and vulnerability on the population as a whole.

Whether providing opportunities for equitable access through constructing pre-school facilities in poor areas where the private sector will not invest; ensuring consistent quality throughout the public and private system through support for teacher education, monitoring and supervision; or prioritizing support for home-based ECCE services . governments need information on what such options will cost. The strength of ECCE costing studies in the region is that they provide governments with a clear foundation for addressing equity as a specific policy objective, by making explicit the financial and investment trade-offs that are needed to deliver on equity objectives.

  1. UN, n.d.
  2. CARICOM comprises fifteen Member States – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago – and five Associate Member States . Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
  3. CDB, 2014.
  4. UNESCO, 2010.
  5. No data were reported by Belize, Haiti, Suriname or Trinidad and Tobago.
  6. For more background on the project and a description of its work from 2003 to 2007, see the CG’s Coordinator’s Notebook, No. 30, 2008 (CGECCD, 2008).
  7. Harms et al., 1998, 2006. Items include Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines, Language.Reasoning.Talking.Listening, Activities, Interaction, Programme Structure, and Parents and Staff. Each item is expressed as a 7-point scale with descriptors for 1 (inadequate), 3 (minimal), 5 (good) and 7 (excellent).
  8. Carty, 2012.
  9. UNICEF and WHO, 2012.
  10. Reach Up and Learn, 2015.
  11. Population data were not available by age group for children from birth to age 3, so figures are approximated. Information was obtained from interviews with the Early Childhood Coordinators in each country, November 2014.


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