This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 9
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Title: Inclusive early childhood development and education in emergencies
Author: Moore, K, Varghese, D, Sethi, K, Al-Soleiti, M, Tenjiwe Kabwe, A, Hein, S and Ponguta, A
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2020

We carried out a review of open-source literature from organisations working in early childhood development and education in emergencies (ECDEiE) as part of a larger Dubai Cares funded research project conducted by Yale University. In this article, we focus on 30 publications to explore how inclusion in ECDEiE is reflected and what these observations tell us about future areas of focus.

The documents came from UNICEF and:

  • four networks (Child Protection in Crisis Learning Network, Child Protection Cluster, the Early Childhood Development Action Network, and Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies);
  • two think tanks (Brookings Institute, TheirWorld);
  • three funders (Bernard Van Leer Foundation, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Education Cannot Wait);
  • six NGOs (Arab Resource Collective, BRAC, Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, Plan International, Save the Children).

Emerging lessons from the literature

  1. Inclusive targeting

Most organisations agree it is important that services target vulnerable groups during crises. These comprised ECDEiE-specific services aligned with World Health Organization’s Nurturing Care Framework or the provision of inclusive sector-services (e.g., protection, health, education) which also target young children.

  1. Broad framing of inclusion

Many organisations frame inclusion broadly, focusing on all learners. Some funding and implementing organisations focus on a specific marginalised group. For example, Plan International’s literature suggests it prioritises gender equity and girls’ needs. ECHO’s literature emphasises the importance of language of instruction for promoting equitable school readiness of linguistic minorities.

  1. Variety of inclusive ECDEiE interventions

Interventions included:

  • adapting ECDE materials for children and caregivers to ensure cultural relevance;
  • adapting programmes to meet linguistic minorities’ needs in host communities;
  • emphasising how to support children with disabilities in parenting support programmes;
  • instilling values related to positively promoting inclusion and diversity;
  • providing equitable access to pre-primary education for marginalised learners.

Not all organisations implementing ECDEiE work broadly on inclusion. Some only appeared to focus on cultural adaptation of play-based materials. The information was limited with regards to how interventions met broader inclusion targets.

  1. Limited focus on inclusive ECDEiE implementation

Some organisations highlighted publicly available guidance on how to implement inclusive programmes, yet there was limited information on specific inclusive programme models and/or intervention examples, case studies, or outcome and evaluation data.

Such information is necessary to understand how existing inclusive ECDEiE approaches have been implemented in crisis settings and whether they can be adapted elsewhere or scaled up. For example, how have learners benefitted from these interventions, services and approaches? Which interventions or combinations of interventions are most effective? Are interventions integrated as part of comprehensive ECDE interventions, sector-specific interventions, or part of systems responses?

Some documents reviewed did not specifically mention inclusive ECDEiE interventions, despite recognising the importance of inclusion generally. Others focused on alternative provision for learners, such as specific services for children with disabilities, but lacked information on how they were later included in regular classrooms and the wider education system.

 Areas for practitioners to consider

  1. Examine how broad definitions of inclusion are reflected across the humanitarian programme cycle.

A broader definition of inclusion helps us ask questions during humanitarian needs assessments that take account of the voices and urgent needs of marginalised young children and their caregivers. This may reveal information crucial for designing inclusive ECDEiE interventions and strategies that respond better to their needs, for upholding accountability to the most marginalised, and evaluating the relevance, effectiveness, quality and impact of inclusive services.

  1. Consider how to make inclusive ECDEiE programme information, tools and guidance, and research more accessible.

There is much publicly available guidance on inclusion and humanitarian action,1 and our review highlighted some ECDEiE guidance which touches on inclusion. However, the 30 items we reviewed suggest a lack of publicly available research and guidance on holistic and inclusive approaches as part of humanitarian responses. Such information would help us assess impact and inform future investment in national ECDE interventions and across the ECDEiE sector. In particular, we need to understand the costs and immediate and longer-term benefits of different inclusive interventions.

It is important to share information and lessons learned across contexts to understand better how to strengthen an inclusive ECDE workforce before and during crises. An inclusive workforce ensures inclusion efforts are not ‘add-ons’ but inherent within education in crisis and development contexts. Guidance and resources are needed on how to implement broad inclusive ECDE pedagogical approaches and curriculum adaptations on a larger scale before and during crises to help us:

  • support learners’ needs in formal, non-formal and home-based ECDE settings;
  • understand attitudes and behaviours towards inclusion among young children, parents, ECDE service providers, and the larger community affected by crises;
  • promote cultures of acceptance of diversity, and knowledge, skills, attitudes and practices related to broadly inclusive ECDE systems and programmes before and during crises.
  1. Map national and local organisations and ministries providing inclusion-related ECDE services pre-crisis. Identify the extent to which they are equipped to transition to providing inclusive ECDEiE services during crises.

The 30 documents did not provide information about inclusion-focused community-based organisations such as disabled persons organisations (DPOs), women’s and girls’ rights organisations, and associations of ethnic minority groups. DPOs and health centres, for example, are often responsible for providing screening intervention services and assistive devices for learners with disabilities. Such sector-specific organisations could collaborate with ECDE stakeholders working across sectors. Multiple ‘layers’ of coordination and communication between inclusion-related organisations and ECDE need to be facilitated during humanitarian crises.

Bolstering the voice of inclusion and ECDE actors in a coordinated way will help ensure existing resources and services are equitably available to all crisis-affected young children and their caregivers, particularly those from marginalised groups. Such coordination helps reveal where the most significant needs are, how to reflect them better in policies and programmes, and what resources are needed. Despite programmes and investments in inclusion generally, our review flags that more attention is needed to reach all marginalised groups equitably and with dignity during crises.

Kathryn and Divina are independent research consultants. Karishma is an ORISE fellow at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Majd is a medical doctor and a researcher. Alice is an independent ECD and disability consultant. Sascha is a professor at the Free University of Berlin. Angelica is an associate research scientist at Yale Child Study Center. Email:



Mapping of inclusion and humanitarian action

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Sources reviewed by the authors to make the conclusions described above

Action Network for Early Childhood Development. (2016). Technical Consultation Report. New York Retrieved from

Allen, S. (2019). Preventing a “Lost Generation”: How Play Fosters Resilience For Children Affected By Displacement. HundrED. Retrieved from

ARC. (2009). ARC resource pack Study material Foundation module 4 Participation and inclusion. Retrieved from

Bernard van Leer Foundation. (2018). Annual Report 2017. The Hague: Bernard van Leer Foundation. Retrieved from

Bouchane, K. (2018). Early childhood development and early learning for children in crisis and conflict. Paper commissioned for the 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report: Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls. Retrieved from

BRAC (2018). Annual Report 2017. Dhaka. Retrieved from

Brookings Institute (2018). Ahlan Simsim: A large-scale early childhood intervention for Syria’s refugees and host communities. Retrieved from:

Burde, D.,Lahmann H., King E., (2016). Editorial Note: JEiE Volume 2. JOURNAL ON EDUCATION IN EMERGENCIES. (2) 1. 5-110. 10.33682/70d6-zt3w

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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) (2018). Communication   from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises [Report]. Retrieved from:

European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) (2018). Commission Staff Working Document: Education in Emergencies in EU-funded Humanitarian Aid Options  [Report]. Retrieved from:

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Issa, G., Aoudeh, L., Maalouf, C., Hajjar, Y., (2018) Early Childhood Matters. Supporting refugee, internally displaced and marginalised host community parents in the Arab region. Retrieved from:

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Ponguta, L.A., Aragón, C.A., Varela, L.R., Moore, K., Hein, S., and Cerezo, A. (2020). Sector‐wide analysis of early childhood development and education in emergencies in Colombia and considerations to strengthen systems globally. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. 172, 103-123. DOI:

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