In 2013, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) performed a formative study of the preprimary education sectors in one peri-urban area in each of four cities: Accra (Ghana), Johannesburg (South Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), and Nairobi (Kenya). This study, launched and sponsored by the UBS Optimus Foundation, aimed to present descriptive details on access to and the quality of preschools in these areas. The preprimary education sector in peri-urban areas was found to be largely dominated by the private sector. While preschool enrollment rates are quite high, overall age-appropriateness and quality of instruction need to be addressed. 
 
Note: This is not an impact evaluation, but a scoping study in four African cities designed to support future research. You can find a summary of findings and report for each city on the city pages linked above/below and, the full 4-city report here.
 
The four study sites - Ashaiman in Accra, Soweto in Johannesburg, Agege in Lagos, and Mukuru in Nairobi - were chosen for their large size and their relative diversity. In each, the data collected is representative of the specific study area. However, they can provide broad insights on what the situation may be across other poor peri-urban neighborhoods.
 
Data was collected in each study site through three instruments: household surveys, preschool headmaster surveys and classroom observations. The same instruments were used across study sites, except for minor context-specific adaptations for each city. In total, between May and October 2013, 870 households were surveyed -totaling 645 children aged between 3 and 6 years old-, 107 preschool headmasters or owners were interviewed, and 97 preschool classroom observations were conducted.
 

Findings

 
High participation rates, large number of preschools
School participation rates for children aged 3-6 are surprisingly high – between 80-90% - in Ashaiman (Accra), Agege (Lagos), and Mukuru (Nairobi).The slightly lower rate in Soweto (71%) is mainly driven by relatively low participation rates for children aged 3 or 4 (just below 60%). 
 
No significant gender gap on participation was found in any of the study sites. While participation rates were generally found to be positively correlated with income levels, participation rates remain fairly large even for the poorest quintile: 77% in Mukuru (Nairobi), 52% in Soweto (Johannesburg), 73% in Agege (Lagos), and 84% in Ashaiman (Accra).
Caregivers of preschool aged children have many options to choose from: they know on average around 3 preschools within walking distance (and almost 5 in Mukuru, Nairobi). In addition, very few headmasters state that their school is at full capacity. This suggests high levels of supply and competition among preprimary education providers.
 
A dominant private sector
The private sector is the main provider of preschool education in the four study sites: 94% of preschool children in Mukuru (Nairobi) are attending a private center, 91% in Ashaiman (Accra), 83% in Agege (Lagos), and 56% in the study areas of Soweto (Johannesburg). This further documents the explosion of low cost private schools in poor peri-urban areas of Sub-saharan Africa. 
 
In Agege, Ashaiman and Mukuru, the typical preschool is attached to a primary school. In these three study sites, among children going to private preschool, more than 95% are going to a preschool which is attached to a primary school.
 
Parents value preprimary education and are devoting substantial resources to it
Across all study sites, educational benefits were the main reason mentioned by caregivers for sending their children to preschool (53% in the study areas of Soweto, and around 80% in other study sites). There is very little sign that parents see preschools as daycare centers; only small portions stated that children are being sent to preschool because parents or relatives are too busy to watch the child.
 
Preschool-related expenditures for the average child are particularly high everywhere (e.g. $32 PPP in Mukuru, $93 PPP in Soweto study areas). Nominal fees in preschool related expenses typically represent only around half of total preschool related expenses. Food and school feeding expenses also represent a substantial portion everywhere.
 
School selection is driven by multiple factors
Caregiver priorities in terms of school choice vary by location and no uniform trend emerges. Proximity and convenience, fees, teacher qualifications and motivation, and quality of curriculum, are all mentioned as important criteria taken into account when choosing a specific preschool.
 
Infrastructures and health services
Basic infrastructures, such as latrines, playground, enclosure around the school, and electricity, are largely available. Teacher-student ratio and class size are generally acceptable (around 20 to 30).
 
Preschool-based provision of health services is particularly rare in Mukuru and should be a source of concern. The situation is better in other study sites.
 
Teaching: strong academic focus in Mukuru and Ashaiman, more diversity in Soweto
Classroom observations provide insights on the quality of instruction. While most preschools in all study sites had basic materials such as textbooks, materials allowing for more diverse and age-appropriate teaching methods, such as art materials or toys were a norm only in Soweto.
 
This goes hand to hand with the findings from the classroom observations: they clearly indicate that the teaching approach and content in classrooms of Ashaiman (Accra) and Mukuru (Nairobi) are focused on literacy and numeracy and closely mimicked after traditional primary school settings. Most of classroom time in Ashaiman and Mukuru is spent with desks and rows facing front, focusing on literacy and numeracy lessons. Children spend most of the time listening to the teacher, repeating or writing.
 
In contrast, there is more variety in the activities observed in the classrooms of Soweto (Johannesburg), where students spend most of their time sitting in small groups, and literacy and numeracy only accounted for a quarter of classroom time.
In terms of languages, English is widely used in Mukuru (Nairobi) and in Ashaiman (Accra). In both places, beyond translations of words, local languages are used by only in a minority of classrooms as a medium of instruction, and almost never as a subject. Given that English is very rarely the mother tongue in these areas, this is certainly an important finding. In Soweto (Johannesburg), while English remains the main subject language, local language is used in a large proportion of classes, most often as the medium of instruction.
 

Conclusion

The preprimary education sector is thriving in all peri-urban areas included in this study. The explosion of low-cost private schools in peri-urban areas is at least as strong at the pre-primary level as it is at the primary level. Very high proportion of children aged between 3 and 6 years old are being sent to preschools, most of which are private.
Parents are putting real value to preprimary education and are ready to spend substantial proportion of their income to send their child to preschool.
 
Quality of instruction, however, remains a concern. Age-appropriateness of content and pedagogical approach is often questionable. Interventions on the supply side (e.g. teacher trainings or coaching) as well as on the demand side (e.g. increasing parental awareness on internationally-recognized best practices in the sector) could be explored to ensure that all dimensions of child development are at the center of the preschool experience.
 
IPA is eager to identify cost-effective programs successful at improving access and quality of preschool services with both public and private sector partners. For questions on IPA’s work in the early education sector, please contact Loïc Watine (lwatine@poverty-action.org).