Early childhood development in Africa: interrogating constraints of prevailing knowledge bases

Document Type



Institute for Human Development


The past two decades have been characterized by renewed attention to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) policies and services in the world's richest and most industrialized countries. During the same period, we have witnessed unprecedented efforts to place ECD policies on the national development planning agenda of the economically less advantaged countries of the Majority World. This paper is premised on the concern that the purposes that have led bilateral and multilateral international agencies to promote and support ECD services in Africa may also be paving the way for uncritical adoption of program and service delivery models grounded in value systems and knowledge bases that may not be appropriate for the continent. We present two critiques to highlight the dangers of ignoring the sociocultural contexts of the knowledge bases that inform ECD policies and practices. We describe one capacity-building effort, under the auspices of the Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU), to promote culturally relevant knowledge and prepare leadership personnel for Africa's emerging ECD movement. Finally, based on an exercise designed for an ECDVU cohort to engage and reflect on critiques of mainstream research and theorizing on child development, we share insights that are suggestive of the ways in which African perspectives can contribute to and enrich a global knowledge base on child development.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


International Journal of Psychology