International Consultancy – Early Childhood Development Specialist, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, Nairobi.

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. To save their lives. To defend their rights. To help them fulfill their potential. 

Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, every day, to build a better world for everyone. 

And we never give up. 

                                                                         TERMS OF REFERENCE

Background and Justification

Early childhood education is the foundation for quality basic education. An organized early learning programme supports the development of basic cognitive and language skills and social and emotional competency and prepares children for learning in a school setting.

A range of ECE programmes is in place in the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, from community-based centres to day-care centres, kindergartens, and preschools, but both models and quality vary substantially. ECE benefits not just children, but also caregivers, and society at large. High-quality ECE programmes support children’s social and emotional development and literacy and numeracy skills, with positive effects that continue into primary and secondary school years. Participation in ECE programmes correlates with higher earnings, less dependence on welfare, lower rates of adolescent pregnancy, and reduced likelihood of imprisonment in adulthood. When effectively linked with other services, early childhood services can support maternal employment, reduce poverty, improve parenting skills, and enhance family and community cohesion. Available evidence places the cost-benefit ratio of early childhood education at between 1:2 to 1:17, depending on the quality of the programme. The benefits of ECE are strongest for children from poor households and from families with low levels of caregiver education.

Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.2 explicitly mentions preprimary education: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education. The corresponding SDG indicator (4.2.2) measures children’s participation in organized learning one year before the official primary entry age. Across Eastern and Southern Africa, only half of children (51 per cent) are exposed to organized learning in the year before entering primary school. There is extensive variation across the region: while around 3 in 4 children participate in organized learning programmes the year before starting school in Namibia, only around half of the children in Burundi and Kenya do, and only around 1 in 5 in Eswatini and South Sudan. Economic and social inequality appears to be a significant barrier to ECE attendance – children from the poorest quintile are 1.7 to 31 times less likely to attend ECE compared with their peers from the wealthiest quintile.

The critical bottlenecks that are preventing scaling up of ECE services in ESA are related to policy, financing, and availability of qualified workforces. Only 5 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have policies to make pre-primary education compulsory, and 11 countries offer pre-primary education free of charge.

Domestic public financing for ECE remains critically low: Most countries spend less than 2 per cent of their education budget on ECE – far below the global and regional target of 10 per cent. A shortage of qualified ECE teachers in the region also remains a critical bottleneck. The 2023 40-to-1 pupil–teacher ratio is already much higher than the recommended maximum 25-to-1 ratio necessary to meet basic quality standards. ECE educators experience lower remuneration, higher turnover, worse working conditions, lower prestige, and less support than their primary school counterparts. Many countries lack ECE learning and teaching standards, and curricula and pedagogical approaches are largely outdated.

In the last couple of years UNICEF ESARO prioritized actions to address the learning crisis in the region. Multiple actions were taken by the ECD and Education section, with the technical assistance of the ECE contractor, to revise ECE policies (South Sudan, Malawi, Mozambique, Eritrea), finalize the Early Learning and Development Standards (Botswana), develop funding proposal to scale up ECE (Ethiopia), improve capacity of the government officials to plan/implement ECE (Lesotho). Several countries received support to complete the ECE diagnostics, and develop ECE country briefs. Moreover, the Regional Workshop on Accelerating Early Childhood Education in Eastern and Southern Africa brought together participants from all 21 countries of the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa region – this workshop enabled key stakeholders, including national government representatives, to assess the current situation in early childhood education and formulate a plan to systematically scale up quality, equitable early childhood education provision within their respective countries. Additionally, a mapping of ECE services was completed and a report was drafted, currently undergoing its second round of editing.

 UNICEF ESARO is in consortium with UNESCO/IICBA and AUC within the KIX Africa-19 Hub funded by GPE and IDRC. The hub addresses challenges faced by 19 GPE anglophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of achieving quality, inclusive, and equitable education for social transformation and development.

KIX Africa-19 uses systemic approach that includes:

  • Engaging country partners to strengthen national education systems through participation in the hub.
  • Setting a regionally specific knowledge and innovation agenda that informs knowledge generation and sharing activities, analysis, and use of data and evidence in policy.
  • Strengthening the capacity of country partners to generate information and research, translate policies into practice, and develop innovative strategies to accelerate education progress.
  • Strengthening strategies and implementing activities to address gender and equity in the region

Within the consortium, UNICEF ESARO leads particularly on ECE and has planned for KIX 2.0 to bring technical assistance to reinforce national capacities, helping with the development of ECE-related national diagnosis and analysis, building national plan and strategy, and supporting efforts to at-scale programming.

Building on the above, the present consultancy will support the organizational priority to address the learning crisis and improve foundational literacy and numeracy skills in the region, focusing on urgent actions required to accelerate results on ECE. Within this framework, the selected consultant will assist UNICEF in fulfilling its responsibilities related to KIX and provide technical support to 19 countries, including some in West and Central Africa. Specifically and administrative-wide, the consultancy will contribute to the achievement of ESARO ECD Output: 240R/A0/11/801/005 establishing and strengthening regional partnership on ECD, including with WHO.   

At the moment, there is no ESARO staff in the ECD or education section with the job description to focus on ECE. Therefore, an ECE consultant is urgently needed to bridge the gap in human resources in the section, support the strategic efforts of two sections to scale up ECE, and provide technical support to country offices required within the KIX 2.0.


Scope of Work

  1. Goal and objective: Under the supervision of the ECD Regional Adviser, and in close collaboration with the Education section in ESARO and WCARO, the consultant will provide technical assistance to UNICEF ESAR Country Offices and KIX Africa-19 COs located in WCAR to strengthen policies and improve the quality of early childhood education in Eastern and Southern Africa. More specifically, the objective of the consultancy is:
  • To provide guidance and technical inputs to ESAR and KIX-19 countries to deploy accelerated and effective bridging and remedial ECE programmes, and
  • To support policy and system measures to scale up sustainable ECE. This will include technical support to the ECE policy development (e.g., mainstreaming into Sector Plans) and enforcement, financing and costing of ECE services, effective coordination, monitoring, and evaluation; development and implementation of effective and inclusive ECE services; supporting ECE teachers; community engagement to deliver ECE services, etc.
  • Strengthen the capacity of education officials to develop a robust national early childhood education system, in terms of planning, implementation, and monitoring.
  • Support quality ECE provision through appropriate curricula; teacher training and mentoring; teaching and learning materials; and quality assurance mechanisms.
  • Explore, identify, document and disseminate (within ESA countries) innovative solutions to provide ECE opportunities that can go to scale, with a focus on the most disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities and those affected by conflict and other emergencies.    
  • Support countries that request it to hold policy dialogues on ECE, foster community of practices among the KIX Africa-19 Hub countries, encourage country-to-country support and support online and in-person learning events.
  • Support UNICEF efforts to mobilize partnerships with key stakeholders (UNESCO, AfECN, WB and others) to expand access and deliver quality ECE services.

For more details see activities and tasks.

  1. Provide details/reference to AWP areas covered: Explain briefly how this assignment links to AWP/IR number.

The consultancy is directly related to ECD Output 2 (DE): Enhanced capacity of ESARO supported COs to integrate high-impact ECD interventions into existing health, nutrition, HIV and education systems, delivery mechanisms and services, and two related indicators: (i) number of COs supported to integrate nurturing care into PHC services; and (ii) number of regional public goods developed and disseminated.

3. Activities and Tasks

To support UNICEF ESARO the consultant will undertake the following tasks/activities:

  • Complete diagnostics (mapping) of ECE in ESAR.
  • Development of ECE scalability framework
  • Coordination and organization of CoP and evidence generation
  • Support advocacy and resource mobilization efforts to increase investment in ECE.
  • Document and disseminate cost effective and impactful practices in scaling up ECE in the region
  • Develop and maintain the ECE database, and disaggregated country profiling with key outcomes, budget and service delivery.
  • Provide inputs to UNICEF reports related to ECE, prepare presentations, participate in regional and global ECE events, and provide other support to ECE as per emerging needs.
  • Support responding to requests from KIX Africa-19 countries on ECE-related policy dialogues and learning visits.

Technical support to country offices

The deliverables at country level outlined below is based on the latest request for technical support by country offices. To be noted that the required support might change as per emerging requests from country offices:

  • Burundi: support on the ECE scale-up plan
  • Eritrea: support to develop an action plan to scale up ECE
  • Ethiopia: support to develop a plan to scale up ECE
  • Malawi: support to develop scale-up plan and roadmap for accelerating access to ECE
  • Mozambique: support in developing ECE strategy
  • Lesotho: support the development of the ECE scale-up plan
  • Madagascar: support the development of ECE policy and strategy
  • South Sudan: support scaling up of ECE.

4. Work relationships: The consultant will be supervised by the ECD regional advisor, and work very closely with the ESARO Education section, including the ECE and the KIX focal points as well as WCARO/ Education colleagues. Interactions with partners like WB, AfECN and others is expected.


5. Outputs/Deliverables


Deliverables (SMART)


(Estimated # of days)



Schedule of payment

ECE Mapping Report

20 days

05 Sept


ECE scalability framework

20 days

 2nd Oct


Advocacy and resource mobilization paper

20 days

3rd Dec


Three (country-specific) ECE scale-up plans developed

40 days

10th Feb 2025


Three cost effective practices documented and disseminated to CoP

25 days

15th March 25)


Four (country-specific) ECE scale-up plans developed

40 days

20th May  25


Three cost effective practices documented and disseminated to CoP

25 days

25th June 25


ECE database with critical indicators, budget, expenditure and service delivery such as workforce, implementation of ELDS for all 21 countries in the region

20 days

1 April 2025

(31 July 25)


Payment Schedule

The payment schedule is linked with deliverables listed above. The payment should be processed upon the quality check of the supervisor and processed within seven days upon satisfactory completion of deliverables.

The final remuneration will be negotiated by HR.


Desired competencies, technical background and experience

  • An advanced university degree in one of the following fields: education, public administration, public health, economics, psychology, sociology, human development, child development, family studies, or another relevant technical field.
  • Experience in and knowledge of UNICEF’s activities at the country and regional levels, or relevant experience in a UN system agency or organization.
  • A minimum of eight years of relevant professional work experience at national and international levels in the social development field, and specifically in early learning, including early childhood education and preschool. Experience in and knowledge of early learning policies and programmes in East and Southern Africa.
  • Must exhibit the UNICEF Core Values of:
  1. Care
  2. Respect
  3. Integrity
  4. Trust
  5. Accountability
  6. Sustainability

To view our competency framework, please visit  here

  • Fluency in English, including excellent analytical, communication, and writing skills in the English language. French or Portuguese will be an asset.

 Administrative Issues

The ECD Regional Adviser will be the main contact point for the consultant and will facilitate contact with other UNICEF staff and partners. The consultant will participate in the weekly meetings to review the progress and agree on weekly priorities. The consultant should be working remotely, on flexible working hours, ensuring her/his availability during core office hours (from 10 am to 3 pm Nairobi time).


The consultant is expected to work from home and use her/his equipment (computer, phone, etc.) to produce deliverables. 

The consultant might travel to up to 8 countries in ESAR and possibility in WCAR, depending on UNICEF CO needs in 2024-2025. The consultant would require to at least 8 missions to the countries specified above with travel for 40 days to provide technical support to countries. Tentative travel details are as below:

  • Burundi- Bujumbura 5 days to support on the ECE scale-up plan
  • Eritrea- Asmara 5 days to  support to develop an action plan to scale up ECE
  • Ethiopia- Addis 5 days to  support to develop a plan to scale up ECE
  • Malawi- Lilongwe 5 days to support to develop scale-up plan and roadmap for accelerating access to ECE
  • Mozambique- Maputo 5 days to support in developing ECE strategy
  • Lesotho: Maseru 5 days support the development of the ECE scale-up plan
  • Madagascar-Antananarivo 5 days to  support the development of ECE policy and strategy
  • South Sudan- Juba 5 days to support scaling up of ECE

The travel cost will be reimbursed as the estimated cost submitted along with the financial proposal. All travel undertaken by the consultant to fulfil her/his contract will be by the most economical fare and reimbursement will be as per UNICEF policy.

As per UNICEF DFAM policy, payment is made against approved deliverables. No advance payment is allowed unless in exceptional circumstances against bank guarantee, subject to a maximum of 30 percent of the total contract value in cases where advance purchases, for example for supplies or travel, may be necessary.

Individuals engaged in a consultancy will not be considered “staff members” under the Staff Regulations and Rules of the United Nations and UNICEF’s policies and procedures and will not be entitled to benefits provided therein. Their conditions of service will be governed by their contract and the General Conditions of Contracts for the Services of Consultants and Individual Contractors. Consultants and individual contractors are responsible for determining their tax liabilities and for the payment of any taxes and/or duties, following local or other applicable laws.


Risks include an inability to receive and respond to CO requests for technical assistance on time and potential delays in the finalization of key documents. The UNICEF supervisor will take every measure to facilitate the work of the consultant and in particular her/his relations with the COs as key stakeholders of this consultancy.

  • Objectives in the ToR are not met. This risk will be mitigated by weekly meetings and identification of potential risks and attending to issues.
  • Deliverables not completed. This risk will be mitigated by monthly review meetings and identification of potential risks and attending to issues.
  • Inadequate support from COs. This will be mitigated by early communication with countries and regular communication.
  • Not delivering quality timely technical support to countries. This will be mitigated by close supervision, sharing exemplary materials and timely guidance.
  • Activities are delayed due to reasons beyond the control of UNICEF and the consultant. Continuous risk assessment will be carried out and adjustment will be carried out accordingly.

How to Apply

Qualified candidates are requested to submit a cover letter, CV and their technical proposals to the online recruitment portal (Talent Management System).

Interested candidates to indicate their ability, availability, and rate (daily rate) expressed in US$ to undertake the terms of reference.

Applications submitted without a fee/ rate will not be considered.

Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted and advance to the next stage of the selection process.

UNICEF is here to serve the world’s most disadvantaged children and our global workforce must reflect the diversity of those children. The UNICEF family is committed to include everyone, irrespective of their race/ethnicity, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, socio-economic background, or any other personal characteristic.

UNICEF offers reasonable accommodation for consultants/individual contractors with disabilities. This may include, for example, accessible software, travel assistance for missions or personal attendants. We encourage you to disclose your disability during your application in case you need reasonable accommodation during the selection process and afterwards in your assignment. 

UNICEF has a zero-tolerance policy on conduct that is incompatible with the aims and objectives of the United Nations and UNICEF, including sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, abuse of authority and discrimination. UNICEF also adheres to strict child safeguarding principles. All selected candidates will be expected to adhere to these standards and principles and will therefore undergo rigorous reference and background checks. Background checks will include the verification of academic credential(s) and employment history. Selected candidates may be required to provide additional information to conduct a background check. 


Advertised: 02 Jul 2024 E. Africa Standard Time
Deadline: 15 Jul 2024 E. Africa Standard Time

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