The ‘Scaling and strengthening ECD initiatives through South-South Cooperation’ webinar occurred on 23 August 2018.  The webinar aimed to present Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiatives in the Global South, focusing on three South-South Cooperation (SSC) experiences:

  • Cooperation between Brazil and São Tomé and Príncipe to improve quality and access to preschool education;
  • Cuba’s bilateral cooperation with Bolivia and Honduras on Integrated ECD approaches; and
  • Turkmenistan’s cooperation on multi-sectoral early childhood interventions.

The webinar was made possible by the combined efforts of the United Nations Children's Fund, (UNICEF), the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

The event was moderated by Martha Santos (Programme Manager, South-South/Horizontal Cooperation, UNICEF NYHQ), who was joined by speakers Mariavittoria Ballotta (Deputy Representative, UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe), María de los Ángeles Gallo (National Director of Early Childhood, Ministry of Education, Cuba), and Sachly Duman (Health Officer, UNICEF Turkmenistan).


1.       Promoting universal access to quality early childhood education in São Tomé and Príncipe through South-South cooperation with Brazil

São Tomé and Principe is an African island nation, located off the west coast of the continent, close to the equator. In comparison to other countries in the region, it presents relatively good rates of access to pre-school education, covering over 70% of the country’s children. Despite these positive figures, UNICEF is striving to provide equitable access to Early Childhood Education (ECE) in the country. 

South-South Cooperation with Brazil presented an ideal solution for reaching this goal – the Brazilian partner institution involved in the project, the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC), proved to have experience in the development of quality ECE.


Results of this partnership include:

  • Development of a new national curriculum for ECE, focusing on learning and development skills of children from 4-5 years of age.
  • 90 trainers equipped for cascade training for national coverage, including coordinators and supervisors.
  • Production of new pedagogical material to support teaching and learning with a play-based focus.
  • Development of pedagogical content, which helped teachers to value local assets and materials.



South-South Cooperation in the implementation of the programme

South-South Cooperation was fundamental to the development of the programme, being present throughout its implementation. The institutions involved in the process were São Tomé and Príncipe’s Ministry of Education and Culture, pre-school teachers and their trainers, UNICEF STP, UNICEF Brazil, the World Bank, the Department of Art and Design of PUC-Rio, and the Laboratório Interdisciplinar de Design Educação. 


The programme was composed of:

  1. Joint development of the pedagogical project, building on the existing curriculum in 2013.
  2. Development and increasing of the sample for the pilot project between 2014 and 2016; following evaluation of the first pilot phase.
  3. Planning and realisation of missions by PUC to train the local team between 2014 and 2016.
  4. Planning and realisation of distance training to strengthen teachers’ capacities in the use of the curriculum (2014-2016).
  5. Planning and realisation of two learning visits in Brazil by 50 local teachers and the support workforce (2015-2016).
  6. Generalisation of the curriculum at national level (2017).

The cooperation between institutions from Brazil and São Tomé and Príncipe was central to the development of the project, especially because the two countries share historical and socioeconomic similarities. This proximity lead to a more accurate adaptation of the programme’s approach, which was further eased by the fact that the administrators shared a common language. Furthermore, the exchange visits strongly motivated the Sao Tomean team to engage with the initiative by seeing similar conditions and potential solutions in Brazil.


2.       Cuba´s experience in bringing to scale and sustaining ECD initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

ECD is a priority of the Cuban government, with a budget that amounts to approximately 25% of the country’s expenses. The Cuban ECD model is entirely financed by the State’s national education budget, and is established on three essential elements: family, community and inter-sectoral approach.

Services are provided by the national education and health systems. All these elements are crucial to the success of the Cuban ECD model, allowing for the country to provide a reference model for SSC in other countries of the region. In Cuba, quality, free education services are accessible to all children between 0 and six years of age, with coverage of 99,5%.


The model is based on two ECD modalities:

  • Institutional modality: carried out in ‘Círculos Infantiles’ (18,3% coverage) and preschool grade in primary schools (13,2% coverage).
  • Non-institutional modality: through the community-based ‘Educate your Child’ social programme (68% coverage).


The programmes’ results are positive:

  • According to monitoring conducted in 2014, 98,8% of Cuban children met all the development indicators evaluated.
  • In 2014’s Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS 2014), Cuba’s ECE development indicator reached 89%, while the learning indicators reached 96,2%.
  • Since 1992, the number of students with unachieved learning objectives decreased from 8,3% to 3,9%.
  • The number of students repeating second grade decreased from 7,5% to 1,6%.

When it comes to South-South Cooperation, Cuba offered contextualisation and advisory services on its non-institutional ECD model, Educate your Child, to seven LAC countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The process is conducted by both Cuban specialists and advisors, as well as relevant personnel from the country in question, allowing for programme administrators to become familiarised with the educational scenario of the country.


Cuba’s joint participative methodology with partners for SSC follows six steps:

1.       Initial diagnosis:

  • Understanding the characteristics of educational attention: needs and interests.
  • Research and analysis of early childhood legislation.

2.       Intersectoral team building designation.

3.       Knowledge sharing about the ECD programme modalities in Cuba, its characteristics and implementation methodology.

4.       Design of a cooperation strategy.

5.       Identification and selection of Cuban specialists and advisors.

6.       In-country implementation:

a) Sensitisation actions

b) Capacity-building actions

c) Fieldwork:

  • Sensitisation, capacity-building, diagnosis, material development, programmes, guidelines, etc.
  • Strengthening of the existing modalities or organisation of new modalities.
  • Monitoring and evaluation actions.
  • Capacity-building of specialists.


Partner results

Amongst the results for the partners, it was highlighted that the programme resulted in:

  • Increased sensitisation and comprehension around the importance of early childhood, as an opportunity for holistic development.  
  • The process enhanced the understanding about the need to formulate and implement holistic ECD policies, mobilising and engaging state sectors as well as civil society.  
  • A methodological compendium was also created, with basic documents for the implementation of new modalities or the strengthening of the existing ones.  
  • There was an extension of coverage for ECE and elevation of the development levels of children, as well as the level of preparation of families and community participation.
  • Finally, a substantial increase in the recognition and satisfaction of families and communities was perceived.


3. Horizontal cooperation in ECD – Turkmenistan’s experience

One of Turkmenistan’s priorities is to guarantee mother and child health, hence explaining the country’s growing interest in early intervention and identification services. Even though UNICEF is the only international agency supporting ECD in the country, recent developments have led to the creation of a draft of a National ECD Framework, which envisions inter-sectoral work to enable scaling up of family-support services.

The project was made possible thanks to collaboration between UNICEF country offices of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, along with Ankara University, and technical support through the Early Intervention Institute of Saint-Petersburg.


Programme implementation

The country is now home to four ECD centers, two of which are under the coordination of the Ministry of Health, and two under the Ministry of Education. The centers function under the Ministry of Health, providing basic services. They have also started to function as training hubs for specialists in ECD. The two remaining centers initiate multi-disciplinary support for young children with disabilities and their families, focusing on supporting children’s transition to mainstream education and social inclusion of their families.



Currently, over 3000 children have accessed the services and have gone through the identification process. This monitoring process, with the assistance of the Guide for Monitoring of Child Development (GMCD) tool has resulted in valuable data:



There are four SSC modalities employed by Turkmenistan:

  1. Study visits: Efforts started with the introduction of key-decision makers to the models of early intervention services in Turkey, Lithuania, Belarus, Russian Federation and the UK, aside from a study visit to Belarus.
  2. Policy dialogue: Cooperation with the ARABKIR Institute of Child and Adolescent Health helped to boost evidence-informed policy dialogue and develop a National Framework for the Introduction of Developmental Pediatrics and Early Intervention and Action Plan for 2016-2020.
  3. Technical assistance: Collaborations were established with Ankara University, which developed into the formation of a situational analysis; Human Resource Development Road map; an intensive capacity building programme; new services in two districts; and three regional level facilities in three regions of the country.
  4. Knowledge exchange: The exchange of knowledge and good practices between ECD specialists of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, supported by both countries’ Country Offices, establishing a network of ECD specialists in the region.


This blog post is part of the CoP-SSC4C Webinar Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by UNICEF, IPC-IG and UNOSSC on the topic. Please join the Community of Practice on SSC for Children (CoP-SSC4C) if you are interested in following the most recent discussions on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!