24th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development

July 10-14, 2016 | Vilnius, Lithuania

Nirmala Rao

"Promoting Early Child Development in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: What works and why?"

It has been estimated that 250 million children around the world either fail to complete the first three years of primary school or fail to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills by the end of primary school. This lack of fundamental knowledge has far-reaching implications for economic development in low- and middle-income countries. A large body of knowledge has documented the positive effects of interventions implemented in early childhood on child outcomes in developed countries, and evidence regarding the effectiveness of such interventions in low- and middle-income countries is slowly accumulating. Against this background, the paper reports on two efforts, a meta-analysis and a large multinational study, to identify the influence of educational interventions on children in low- and middle-income countries.

A comprehensive search identified 145 studies conducted in developing countries in which the effects of interventions for children younger than 8 years on cognitive or non-cognitive outcomes were evaluated. After screening for quality, 48 studies comprising 70 interventions published from 1997 to 2014 were included in a meta-analysis. These studies were classified as involving early learning or stimulation (28 studies), early parenting (16 studies), or integrated (five studies) programmes. Across all of the interventions, the effect sizes were the greatest for the cognitive outcomes (0.49), followed by motor (0.17) and psychosocial (0.13) outcomes. Integrated interventions had the greatest overall weighted average effect sizes for both cognitive (0.93) and non-cognitive outcomes (0.41). The findings suggest that an integrated approach (i.e., one that is both parent- and child-focused) may be the most beneficial for young children.

The second study examined associations between participation in early childhood education (ECE) programmes and child development in Cambodia, China, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu using data from the validation sample of the East Asia–Pacific Early Child Development Scales. The sample in each country was stratified by age, gender, and location, and the total sample included 7634 children (1922 rural girls, 1927 rural boys, 1914 urban girls, and 1871 urban boys) ranging in age from 3 to 5 years. ECE attendance varied from 2.8% to 50% in five countries. After controlling for age, gender, maternal education, family assets and urbanicity, participation in ECE was associated with significantly better holistic child development. Children who participated in ECE scored 6.52 percentage points higher than other children. The programme intensity and quality was also positively associated with child outcomes.

Taken together, these results make the case for integrated programmes and preschool education in low- and middle-income countries.