KATE ANDERSON (Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution)

Case Study 9

The benefits of high-quality early childhood programmes are well-known, but too often the quality of early learning environments and children’s developmental and learning outcomes are unknown. While there are many tools available to measure early development and learning outcomes and environmental quality, few are intended for population-level decision-making in low-income countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), better data can help reduce inequity in education, including early childhood education, in multiple ways, including:1

  1. Identifying and providing systematic help to children at risk of not meeting academic and social goals;
  2. Directing resources to the schools, students and teachers with the greatest needs;
  3. Setting concrete targets for more equity in education, not only in access but also in quality and learning outcomes.

The Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes (MELQO) initiative was convened in 2014 to bring together experts and agencies working on early learning measurement, in order to build consensus on core domains and items for measurement and design tools with and for low-income countries. The goal of the initiative is to make rigorous measurement tools more accessible and equitable for all countries to help guide national policy and practice. This case study describes the process that took place in 2015, following early pilot experiences, to adapt and field-test the tools in the Tanzanian context in preparation for the first national-level application of the MELQO tools in 2016.

Background and Context


In support of Tanzania’s national development vision to become a middle-income country and achieve higher levels of human development by 2025, the Government of Tanzania released the Education and Training Policy (ETP) in early 2015, a significant education reform effort to improve the quality of education at all levels. Among other provisions, the policy shifts the official primary-school entry age from age 7 to 6, and provides for pre-primary education beginning from age 3, with compulsory enrolment for one year prior to primary school. The ETP also emphasizes quality pre-primary education through adequate teaching and learning methods and materials, relevant curriculum and teacher training, and strengthened quality control and assurance.

Tanzania faces many challenges in fulfilling the aims of the new policy. Malnutrition is prevalent, with 35% of children younger than 5 considered stunted.2 Net enrolment in early childhood education is actually declining, with a net enrolment of 33.4% in 2014, a decline of 29% since 2012.3 While gross enrolment ratios are nearly identical for girls and boys, they range from 77% in Arusha to 16% in Dar es Salaam. Furthermore, children who are attending are not necessarily getting a quality pre-primary experience. The average teacher-to-child ratio in pre-primary classrooms is estimated at 1:77, more than three times the national standard of 1:25. This ratio ranges widely from 1:90 in government schools to 1:21 in non-government schools. Other quality issues include poorly trained teachers (more than 50% of all pre-primary teachers are unqualified) and weak quality assurance mechanisms . in 2014, only 22% of public pre-primary classes were inspected.

While plans to develop a full implementation strategy are underway, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) developed and is implementing a Short-Term Plan of Action for Pre-Primary Education for 2015/16, with active participation and contributions from national and local government agencies and international partners, including the World Bank, UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Dubai Cares, Children in Crossfire, the Aga Khan Foundation, Aga Khan University, and the Education Quality Improvement Programme for Tanzania (EQUIP-Tanzania) funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The Plan of Action for 2015/16 developed by this government-led consortium includes seven priority action areas:

After the meeting, the Permanent Secretary of the MoEVT appointed a MELQO Task Force to coordinate MELQO in Tanzania. The Task Force, with support from early childhood development (ECD) leads from the UNICEF and World Bank country offices, carried the work forward in Tanzania, while continuing to communicate and coordinate with the international MELQO team. An adaptation workshop in August 2015 conducted a thorough review of both sets of MELQO tools and produced feedback on how to adapt them to the Tanzanian context. In advance of the adaptation workshop, an alignment analysis was conducted of the MELQO core constructs and key Tanzanian curriculum and quality assurance frameworks. This was an important step in clarifying how the MELQO tools would help the government assess what they had already planned to teach, rather than adding in a new initiative.

Field-testing was then conducted with the locally adapted tools for child development and learning, and quality of early learning environments. To facilitate this research, the international technical firm RTI International trained data collectors from DataVision International, a research consultancy firm based in Tanzania. Because collecting data on young children is a relatively new process in Tanzania, there are few experienced data collectors with knowledge of ECD. Hence one key component of the training was a ‘crash course’ on ECD.

The tool for quality in early learning environments was also piloted in Zanzibar through a project supported by the Aga Khan Foundation. Plans to conduct a large-scale, nationally representative study using the MELQO tools are underway for 2016. While the technical results of these field tests will be available later in 2016, the findings related to the process are discussed below.

Key Findings and Lessons Learned

The MELQO adaptation process in Tanzania revealed several key findings which should be considered for future MELQO adaptations as well as other ECD measurement initiatives, in order to ensure measurement efforts provide information that enables more equitable policies and practices for young children.

  1. A consultative approach is worth the extra time. While it could take less time for one organization to develop a tool, collect the data and analyse the results, the process of engaging in multiple levels of feedback from multiple stakeholders at both the national and international levels is key to cultivating buy-in and making sure that the tools are 1) based on the best available research, and 2) relevant to policy, system and data needs in the specific national context. Coordination and technical support roles at every level are critical to facilitate this consultative process and must be factored into MELQO planning processes.
  2. Clear guidance on the language of administration is needed. In Tanzania, Kiswahili is the official language of instruction in government pre-primary schools. However, many teachers informally use the mother tongue to facilitate the integration of children who do not speak Kiswahili at home, and many private schools teach in English, which poses complications for the administration of MELQO assessments. During field-testing in private schools, for example, in some cases children did not understand the questions in English, and the enumerators had to switch languages and ask again in Kiswahili. This situation illustrates the need for clear guidance on which language or languages are used for the MELQO assessments. In the case of Tanzania, RTI recommended that the direct assessment be administered in the language of instruction of the classroom, the teacher survey be given to the teachers in the language in which they teach, and the caregiver survey to be given to caregivers in the language they prefer. Careful attention is needed to ensure enumerators are consistent in their approach and understand the reason why this consistency is important. The field tests were only conducted in urban areas and did not capture data in mother-tongue languages other than Kiswahili, so additional analysis will be required to use the tools with children who speak minimal or no Kiswahili or English. Additional field-testing is currently underway in rural areas.
  3. The process of administering the tools is impacted by the culture. Many of the questions on the teacher and caregiver surveys led respondents to engage in a dialogue about the skills and behaviours being assessed, asking questions such as ‘What do you mean?’ and ‘Can you give me an example?’ Logistically this led to longer administration times. It also points to the fact that the MELQO survey may be the first time a parent or teacher has ever been asked about or even made aware of the importance of certain behaviours and skills related to school readiness. It was also noted during the field tests that children were not accustomed to expressing emotions and feelings, even when they knew how to name them. This sociocultural factor can influence scores on some of the social and emotional development items. The MELQO initiative will need to explore ways to overcome these challenges, potentially by adapting the items more significantly in each country, or by changing the guidances for enumerators. An approach that sensitizes teachers, caregivers and communities to the tools and the types of questions they may raise could also be helpful as use of the MELQO tools is scaled up in Tanzania.
  4. A long-term process for aligning the tools with parent demand is needed. In Tanzania, the national curriculum documents for pre-primary education are moving towards encompassing a broad range of domains consistent with what are typically considered core development and learning outcomes . linguistic, cognitive, physical and social-emotional development, as well as school readiness or ‘learning to learn’. However, at the initial MELQO meeting, several government officials and civil society representatives noted that what parents say they want from a pre-primary programme is for children to learn English and discipline (i.e. how to sit still, obey adults, etc.). This focus on obedience has also been raised in several other pre-field-testing countries, as one of the child development and learning items that measures inhibitory control requires children to do the opposite of what the enumerator asks them to do, and anecdotal evidence suggests that this is a culturally foreign concept to some children. A long-term strategy for gathering feedback from caregivers and communities and aligning expectations is needed, with all parties understanding the need to learn and change (not just the government educating the parents, for example).


With the inclusion of an ECD target in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) . SDG Target 4.2, which sets a goal for the proportion of children who are developmentally on track around the age of primary-school entry6 . the demand for rigorous, flexible and feasible measurement tools for young children is expected to increase drastically over the next five years. The MELQO initiative is one approach to meeting this demand, by blending national priorities with international good practice, in order to ensure children’s diverse learning needs are taken into account from their first exposure to the formal education system. The initiative seeks to reduce inequality in early childhood on two levels: 1) at the global level, by helping fill the data gap in low- and middle-income countries through the provision of open-source tools that are adaptable to national contexts; and 2) at the child level, by providing information on the skills and development of young children and the quality of early learning environments, which can be disaggregated to track progress towards equity and allocate resources to those most in need. The MELQO consortium has included key producers of data on education and children in its steering committee (composed of representatives from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics [UIS], UNICEF and the World Health Organization [WHO]), with the aim of informing global efforts to measure SDG Target 4.2. The adaptation, testing and use of MELQO in Tanzania is contributing valuable learning to strengthen the tools and approach for use worldwide.

  1. OECD, 2008.
  2. UNICEF et al., 2015.
  3. PMO-RALG, 2015.
  4. Brookings Institution, 2014.
  5. See Brookings, n.d. for the complete list.
  6. UN, n.d.


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