Early Childhood Programs Help Children Thrive and Learn More in Rural Africa

Universal education has long been regarded as the cornerstone for development. However, not many people are aware that early childhood programs are perhaps most important for children in low-income countries across Africa to give them the tools to improve their future. (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/education.shtml)

Many children in developing countries are not able to develop to their full potential because of serious deficits in health, nutrition, and proper cognitive and non-cognitive stimulation. The effects of the delayed development in the early years can be deleterious and long lasting, reinforcing the cycle of poverty.

Over the past decade, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have made progress in expanding primary education. In Mozambique, net primary school enrollment rates increased from 45% in 1998 to 95.5% by 2010 (The World Bank, 2011). Despite these gains, children frequently experience delayed entry to school and present severe developmental delays, especially in poor rural communities. According to Grantham-McGregor et al (2007), 61% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa fail to meet their development potential because of poverty. Inadequate health and nutrition, cultural practices that limit communication between parents and children, and home environments with few books, toys, and other learning opportunities may all contribute towards inadequate physical and cognitive growth. This particularly important in the early periods of physical and mental development. As a result, children arrive at school ill-prepared for a new learning and social environment.

Moreover, low levels of child development are associated with lower levels of school participation and performance, higher rates of criminality, increased reliance on the health care system, and lower future attainment. To address this situation, a number of Early Childhood Development (ECD) interventions have been proposed, including nutrition programs, parenting programs, and pre-school.

The World Bank study is the first such evaluation of ECD programs in Africa, where entrenched poverty means that 61 % of children under the age of five years do not grow and learn to their full potential.  This randomized study shows that children going to preschool are much more likely to show interest in mathematics and writing, recognize shapes, and show respect for other children. Preschool can benefit the whole family: parents of enrolled children are 26% more likely to work, while some older siblings are able to go to school themselves. Small investments ($2.50 a month per child) have a very powerful long term impact!

To see the full evaluation go to: