The Quality of Learning and Care at Community-Based Early Childhood Development Centers in Malawi


  • Sadaf Shallwani Firelight Foundation, USA
  • Amina Abubakar Pwani University
  • Moses Kachama KEMRI / Wellcome Trust


Community-Based Organizations, Early Childhood Development, Early Childhood Education, Quality in Early Childhood Education, Malawi


This exploratory study examined the strengths and weaknesses in the quality of early childhood care and learning at selected community-based childcare centers (CBCCs) in Malawi, and aimed to understand underlying challenges and opportunities that may be addressed to improve quality and ultimately children’s outcomes. Classroom environments and interactions were systematically observed at 12 CBCCs. Early childhood caregivers were surveyed, and in-depth interviews were conducted with key informants from the community. Areas of relative strength at the CBCCs included the physical environment, adultchild interactions, and inclusiveness. However, the CBCCs struggled substantially with the quality of learning and play opportunities; the availability of play and learning materials; and the quality of instruction for literacy, numeracy, and science. Underlying challenges that emerged from surveys and interviews included the CBCCs’ reliance on unskilled and volunteer caregivers, lack of materials, lack of food for children, and lack of interest from parents in the CBCCs. A fundamental strength was that in almost all the communities, key stakeholders were aware of the challenges, were motivated and committed to improving quality at their CBCCs, and had already taken actions to address specific problems. CBCCs in Malawi hold tremendous potential to provide early childhood services to the most vulnerable children; however, communities need to be supported to improve the quality of learning and care at these centers to maximize the benefits for children’s development and long-term outcomes.

Author Biographies

Sadaf Shallwani, Firelight Foundation, USA

Sadaf Shallwani, PhD, currently serves as Director of Learning and Evaluation at Firelight Foundation.  Sadaf’s background and experience are in child development, social work, and early education, and she has worked in various Majority world contexts, including Pakistan and East Africa. Sadaf’s interests and expertise lie at the intersections of early childhood development and wellbeing, contextuallygrounded and socially-conscious research, and community-driven learning and action.

Amina Abubakar, Pwani University

Amina Abubakar, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Psychology and Public Health at Pwani University, Kenya and a Research Scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Wellcome Trust Research Programme.She is also an honorary fellow at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK. Her main interests are in the study of developmental delays and impairments among children exposed to various health problems such as HIV, malnutrition and malaria. A focus in her work is the development of culturally appropriate strategies for identifying, monitoring, and rehabilitating at-risk children.

Moses Kachama, KEMRI / Wellcome Trust

Moses Kachama Nyongesa, MSc, is based at the Centre for Geographic Medicine Research (Coast), Kilifi, Kenya. He is mainly interested in studying the co-morbidity of HIV and mental disorders in children and young people, and the impact this has on their quality of life and scholastic achievements.