In a newly published World Bank Study preschool programs are described as a promising policy option for improving the school readiness and later success of poor and disadvantaged children in rural Africa.
Tonight at 9pm EST World Moms Blog will join Save The Children and Multicultural Kid Blogs at #Moms4MDGs to discuss the importance of early education, and as a specific example, the success of the Save The Children preschool program in Mozambique. Ajla Grozdanic of Save The Children recently returned from a site visit to Mozambique and the early education programs there. She shared her insight in an interview with World Moms Blog as a lead up to tonights Twitter party:
World Moms Blog: In a Chicken & Egg sense, are early education programs only able to be initiated in areas where some basic infrastructure is already in place, i.e. access to clean water, healthcare & nutrition, or are they catalysts for communities to begin to pull out of extreme poverty?
AG: We are able to initiate education programs in communities at any level. In other words, having a basic infrastructure in place is not a pre-requisite for education programs, which can range from in-home daycare to in-school programs.
In fact, early childhood education can bring catalytic change for communities. Early childhood development centers and programs provide an opportunity to reach young children with basic services like healthcare and nutrition, which can be more difficult to deliver if we depended on parents to seek out these services on their own. Early childhood development centers also facilitate community mobilization, bringing parents and other community members together for projects, such as digging wells or cleaning stagnant water that hosts malaria.
Young children naturally learn from and imitate what’s in their environment–good or bad. For this reason, educating young children is key and it fosters the kinds of attitudes and behavior that can improve community well-being over the long term, such as developing good hygiene and healthy eating habits and sharing this knowledge with siblings and neighborhood children.
WMB: Could you explain a bit why Mozambique was a good fit for this program? What is the success rate for other similar early education programs Save the Children runs in other countries?
AG: Mozambique had very low coverage for preschool or early childhood development programs, so the need and demand was high. It’s also important to note that the local communities demonstrated an openness and eagerness to engage in these issues. Communities saw the potential and agreed to invest in their young children. Once they saw the results, which were very good, the word spread and the demand grew.
The World Bank Study, which is the first such evaluation of early childhood development programs in Africa, showed that children in rural Mozambique, who attended Save the Children’s preschool programs, were 24 percent more likely to enroll in primary school and were significantly better equipped to learn than children not covered by the program. While we haven’t had the funding to conduct similar studies in other countries where we offer such programs, our own results monitoring shows a similar success rate across the board.
WMB: Do you see the benefits in terms of kids who have had these early intervention programs staying in school longer, and particularly for girls, marrying later or are these programs too new to tell yet?
AG: Children enrolled in preschool have a greater chance of going to school, going to school at the right age, and staying in school longer. They have higher graduation rates and are less likely to drop out of school or end up imprisoned. What’s more, staying in school is a mechanism to protect girls from early marriage. While it’s still too early to prove long-term benefits of preschool, such as that it results in girls marrying later in life, we hope to conduct such longitudinal studies in the future.
WMB: Are the children given meals through the program as an incentive for parents to send them or are the community members generally open and willing participants?
AG: It is usually not sustainable to provide meals to all children who are enrolled in preschool. Taking this into account, in most communities preschool lasts for half the school day so children can come home for meals. In some communities, parents might pool their resources in order to provide meals at preschools. In addition, preschools provide an opportunity to educate parents on how to improve nutrition for their child.
The willingness of parents to enroll their children in preschool varies from parent to parent and from community to community. Oftentimes, we’ll have a group of early adopters who are eager to enroll their children and whose success, in turn, inspires a wave of other parents–who prefer a stand-back, wait-and-see approach–to sign up their little ones.
WMB: Had you been to Mozambique before?
AG: No, this was my first time.
WMB: What is the best way people reading could support the Save the Children preschool programs in the developing world?
AG: Your readers could become a sponsor to support early childhood programs in developing countries. They could also advocate to the U.S. government to include preschool and early childhood development in its international aid programs. To learn more, visit www.savethechildren.org.
WMB: How have the mothers responded to these programs? (ie. gives them the opportunity to go to work or tend to smaller children)
AG: We encourage the participation of both mothers and fathers in their children’s education. Sending their children to preschool allows parents to tend to their daily chores, work in the field or otherwise provide for their family while knowing that their children are in good hands and are learning, to boot. In traditional societies, where childcare falls on women, preschools certainly offer an opportunity for women to engage in more productive labor and earn an additional income for their family. And we know from experience that when women earn more income for their families, they tend to invested in their children.
This is an original interview and post for World Moms Blog.