Early Childhood Development

Ensuring girls and boys have a good start in life by influencing the contexts and environments in which they are growing

The brain develops most rapidly in the first five years of a child’s life. Yet, worldwide, 250 million children are not reaching their potential during these years. In 2015, an estimated six million children died before reaching age five, mostly as a result of diseases which are readily and affordably preventable and treatable. In developing countries, hundreds of millions of children do not have access to pre-school; they live in areas affected by armed conflict and climate-related disasters; and their growth is stunted, which harms their brain development.

The Aga Khan Foundation works to ensure that girls and boys have a good start in life by influencing the environments in which they are growing. Globally, our Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiatives provide 750,000 children ages 0-8 years with nurturing, relevant and quality learning opportunities at costs that are affordable for governments, families and communities.

The Foundation’s work in ECD dates back to the early 1980s when the Madrassa Early Childhood Programme was established in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. What started as a pilot project at the request of the Muslim community in Mombasa, Kenya, went on to help establish over 200 community pre-schools and teach tens of thousands of children. Learn more.

“We sometimes give too little attention to the schools which prepare young children for life itself –in all of its holistic dimensions. And yet the evidence accumulates steadily showing that an investment made in the earliest, pre-school years can bring enormous dividends as a child proceeds from one level of education to another.”

His Highness the Aga Khan

Our ECD programmes work towards these UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Our goals


Improved access to quality services

Making it easier for families to access the best care, backed by the latest research


Enhanced family and community support

Strengthening existing networks to ensure children and communities are well resourced and supported


Strengthened human resources and institutions

Building child-friendly infrastructure and ensuring up-to-date training for educators and carers

Our impact

children (0-6) who benefitted from AKF’s Early Childhood Development programmes
teachers, health workers and facilitators who have benefitted from AKF’s ECD programmes
improved performance in early grade reading and maths from children in Tajikistan who attended AKF-supported ECD programmes (when compared to their peers)

Programme spotlights


Responding to COVID-19 in Kenya

With a generation of very young children at risk of having their development and education disrupted, AKF's affiliate – the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme – worked to mitigate the challenges.


Responding to COVID-19 in Tanzania

In Zanzibar, the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme has been supporting pre-primary and primary schools for many years – when the pandemic hit, they pivoted programmes to prevent as many disruptions as possible.

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