Preschool can provide a boost, but the gains can fade surprisingly fast
What children typically learn are skills they would pick up anyway.
States and the federal government spend more than $15 billion a year on preschool education. With that hefty price tag, we want early-childhood programs to work. And to reduce long-standing educational inequalities, we need them to work. So it’s encouraging when studies show that these types of interventions can give children a boost by the time they enter kindergarten.
Unfortunately, our investments in many early-childhood programs may be based on an inflated sense of their promise. Even our best efforts often produce only ephemeral gains.
Children spend much of their early years learning about the world. They practice walking, talking and socialising with others, continuously observing their surroundings and trying to make sense of everything they experience. There are many ways in which children learn about their environments, but arguably the most effective is play.
Ensuring your young girls and boys attend a quality early childhood development (ECD) centre will help them get the best possible start in life. Across Uganda, teachers and caregivers are creating resource-rich environments where young children can learn through play, laying the foundation for them to develop into happy and healthy adults. This effort is part of the Aga Khan Foundation’s Madrasa Early Childhood Programme (MECP), in which ECD centres are giving children of all faiths aged 3-6 time and materials to play to boost their cognitive development. MECP has benefitted more than 20,000 children since its launch in Uganda in 1993, by establishing 90 ECD centres and supporting 63 existing pre-primary schools.
By the time you finish reading this sentence, a newborn baby’s brain will form thousands of new neural connections. This newborn’s mind and those of the next generation are crucial to the future of our planet, shaping and building what comes next for the global community.
With the right support in the early years of life, girls and boys can grow to reach their full developmental potential – learning, innovating, and accomplishing their goals. Studies indicate that every dollar invested in quality early childhood care generates a return of eight dollars over a lifetime. Yet, an estimated 250 million children younger than five in low and middle income countries are at risk of falling short of their potential. This not only has long-term effects on individuals, but also contributes to the cycle of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion that affects all countries.
On Monday, May 1, 2017 Aga Khan Foundation Canada and the Alliance for Human Development explored how tested approaches to early childhood development can be integrated into global development programming and policy. Growing gains – Advancing Early Childhood Development presented findings from the recent Lancet series on early childhood development, and illuminated how Canada contributes to advancing this field nationally and globally.
Join several authors of the Lancet series, other experts, and policymakers for a series of interactive sessions, engaging talks, and stimulating discussion.
AKF - The Impact of Investing in Early Childhood Development in Afghanistan
In order to better understand the impact of our programming in early childhood education, the Aga Khan Foundation partnered with Dr. Frances Aboud from McGill University in Canada. As a leading educational psychologist in her field, Dr. Aboud conducted an independent, evaluative study about the impact of ECD on students’ levels of school readiness and learning in Bamyan and Baghlan provinces at the end of 2014 –the first research of its kind in Afghanistan.
Early childhood education can be an invaluable opportunity for learning social and emotional skills. But when teachers repeatedly punish young children, their efforts can cause lifelong harm. Unfortunately, Matt’s story is not exceptional. Nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers is suspended or expelled for behavior problems. Their infractions — generally hitting, throwing things or swearing — need to be addressed, but educators are recognizing that removing 3- and 4-year-olds from classrooms is not the answer. It doesn’t teach children how to behave differently, and it often makes matters worse.
Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it. Early suspension predicts disengagement from school and dropping-out. And the fact that African-American preschoolers are far more likely than white children to be suspended raises serious issues of equity and access to educational opportunity. As states like Illinois and Connecticut pass legislation prohibiting or restricting expulsion from state-funded preschools, teachers desperately need better options for handling misbehavior.
Across the country, school reformers are pushing for the expansion of publicly funded early education. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who won the Democratic mayoral primary on Sept. 12, ran on a platform in 2013 centered on the expansion of prekindergarten education to all 4-year-olds; now, in a proposal he is calling “3-K for All,” he plans to reach 3-year-olds, as well. The science is clear: Quality early education has long-term benefits. Still, not everyone is on the same page about what young learners really need. Below, one writer examines the landscape of prekindergarten education across the country, another instructs adults on how to understand young children, and a third will be a resource for parents in the process of selecting a school for their child.
By funding such projects adequately, every child would have a fair chance at attaining growth and healthy development, according to the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, Dr Ave Maria Semakafu.
The government, civil society organisations, businesses and individuals have been exhorted to support early childhood development programmes.
Early childhood education expert: I saw a brilliant way to teach kids. Unfortunately it wasn’t in the United States.
I just visited with early childhood professionals in Nova Scotia, Canada. They showed me their new Early Learning Framework for the education of young children. It is a stellar example of what early childhood education could be if a country did it right, and a painful example for someone coming from a country where we do it so wrong.
Here are some basic facts about the Nova Scotia Early Learning Framework, and then I’ll contrast these facts with how we do things in early childhood education in the United States.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) is an important priority area for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in East Africa. AKF’s ECD programme focuses on igniting the child’s potential for lifelong adaptability, innovation and communication skills, in addition to developing their problem-solving capacity and imparting in them the values of responsible citizenship and respect for diversity.
World Children’s Day 2018: A new perspective on early childhood development
Many barriers, however, stand in the way. Access to important screenings during pregnancy and the first years of life is sparse, nutrition is not always balanced, and parents often do not have the tools or the time to help their young children develop language or social skills. Early education is critically important, and in 2006, pre-primary school was made compulsory Zanzibar in an attempt to minimize the gaps in pre-school education that result in high dropout rates later in primary school. Nonetheless, preschools remain sparse and in rural areas with no transport available, especially difficult to get to.
Committed to changing the odds, since the early nineties, MECP has supported 81 communities across Zanzibar (31 in Pemba) to establish and sustain their own community preschools. This has been achieved by:
Providing teacher professional development
Developing a contextually relevant, age-appropriate, play-based curriculum
Supporting teachers to develop inclusive and conducive classrooms, particularly with low-cost teaching and learning materials
Providing school management with the knowledge and skills to manage their preschools effectively
Ensuring community and parental ownership and active engagement
Bringing the Science of Early Learning to Parents Globally: Aleem Walji
With 95 percent of all children living in “the majority world in developing countries” – but with only 5 percent of the early learning research coming from these locations – Aleem Walji, CEO of Aga Khan Foundation USA, is focused on “the science of early childhood” and bringing knowledge on what it takes to develop a child’s brain to parents, policy makers, teachers, doctors, nurses and front-line caregivers around the world.
Interviews captured at the Early Learning Nation Studio at the Ready Nation 2018 Global Business Summit on Early Childhood, November 2, 2018, Grand Hyatt, NYC.
Our ECD classrooms in Khorog are teaching us that toddlers hold the key to promoting pluralism.
When the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) opened up two Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Khorog, Tajikistan, the largest township in the region, it was delighted to hear up to half a dozen languages being spoken in a single classroom.
Besides being a fertile environment for children to learn multiple languages and experience various cultural backgrounds, the region provides a unique laboratory to observe how children perceive and approach differences in a classroom.
Soon after the ECD centres launched, AKES also started an ECD Resource Centre which sought to learn more about early childhood education best practices in order to continue to improve the programme -- and perhaps the scope of ECD education altogether.
Since the ECD Resource Centre opened in February 2018, it has fostered partnerships with Queens University of Belfast and UNICEF to explore concepts about child development. How does exclusion and inclusion impact children of multiple ethnicities or children with special needs? What are the factors that influence children’s behaviour towards those of different backgrounds than their own? In addition to these topics, the Resource Centre also hosts other programmes including training teachers in the broader community.
By providing resources to facilitate learning through play, and an environment where children can grow and develop holistically, the ECD centres have been promoting peace and positivity in a region that has had a troubled history since the fall of the Soviet Union. “He used to play with toy weapons, fighting and so on. But now he tries to go out to the yard, or build things with available resources,” says the parent of a six-year-old enrolled in AKES’ ECD programmes in Khorog.
More than half of the world’s 25.4 million refugees are children. They often spend years, if not their entire childhoods, displaced.
What does this mean for early childhood development? How are they affected by lack of access to education or psychological help? And how does toxic stress impact the rest of their lives?
Joining this discussion are Lynne Jones, writer, aid worker and visiting scientist at FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and Sweta Shah, global lead of early child development for the Aga Khan Foundation.
ECD Centres secure long-term future for Jamat of Tanzania
ECDC began with a simple concept - working with parents to support their young childrens’ educational and socio-emotional development. The model transitioned from offering parent-only sessions to joint parent and children activities.
In 2005 the Jamat in Tanzania embarked on an Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative at Darkhana Jamat Khana in Dar es Salaam. Over time, as interest in community based early learning gained momentum, the Early Childhood Development Centre (ECDC) has gradually expanded. Today, ECDC activities take place in Zanzibar, Iringa, Mwanza, Arusha, Mbeya, Morogoro, Dodoma, and Zambia.
Modern science tells us there is a rapid increase in the number of connections formed between neurones in the brain in early infancy. As part of this process, connections that are not used are eliminated. The time period during which these connections are formed and pruned is called the “critical” period of learning.
Children at the ECD Centre learn about the importance of basic subjects such as dental hygiene.
Children at the ECD Centre learn about the importance of basic subjects such as dental hygiene.
This is linked to the development of abilities in a human being - and is perhaps the only time when the brain can learn new skills from stimulating learning environments. If children are deprived of stimulating environments during the critical period, significant learning opportunities may be lost. This is what the ECDC aims to address.
ECDC began with a simple concept - working with parents to support their young childrens’ educational and socio-emotional development. The model transitioned from offering parent-only sessions to joint parent and children activities. The first children to have attended these early sessions are now teenagers. “I remember learning in the most creative way and participating in different activities with my parents. It gave an opportunity for our parents to spend more time with us and to show their talents too,” said Shazia Kassam, one of the Centre's first participants.
As more knowledge and expertise became available, ECDC extended its services to parents of newborn children as well as expecting parents. Shamez Sunderji, a father of three, started attending ECDC as an expecting parent. “For me, ECDC is imperative. Modern day science tells that the human brain develops at a rapid speed right from the womb, throughout the early years of life. I look forward to bringing them here regularly, as many happy memories and friendships are created that we cherish. My children thoroughly enjoy these classes - we dance, sing and laugh together.”
Modern science tells us there is a rapid increase in the number of connections formed between neurones in the brain in early infancy.
Modern science tells us there is a rapid increase in the number of connections formed between neurones in the brain in early infancy.
“ECDC also has some of the most beautiful, positive, vibrant, colourful, and educational books that parents can read to their children at home. The Centre is essential for our children grow and form part of a healthy, emotionally stable, happy, and successful Jamat,” continued Shamez.
Shazia Kassam tends to agree: “ECDC is really important because it shapes us for the future. These are the baby steps that we need to grow. They help us become open minded and calculated risk-takers from an early age. The Centre has played a large role in who I am right now - it helps us to socialise and be confident”
Another of the first participants, Tawfik Mawani, offers his reflections on the relevance of ECDC. “Considering the pace at which the world is changing, I believe that ECDC is still and will always be an important programme for our Jamat. From my personal experience, ECDC has not only taught me about the world around us, but how and why we should work in a group.”
Community based initiatives such as this depend heavily on volunteers. ECDC volunteers regularly participate in centre-based training and workshops conducted by the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED). Some have also visited the Madrasa Early Childhood Development Programme in a quest to learn more about community based early learning. This continuing training and mentoring helps to keep the Centre relevant as science and society changes.
Zaileen Jamal has been a volunteer at ECDC for 6 years. “ECDC has enabled me to explore my potential and has made clear to me that this a career path I would like to follow. ECDC has provided me with a platform to practice my theoretical knowledge and exposed me to new and improved methods of learning.”
How much good does a preschool experience offer children born in poverty? Enough to make their later lives much better, and they pass a heritage of opportunity on to their own children.
In 1962, 58 African-American 3- and 4-year-olds, all from poor families and likely candidates for failure in school, enrolled in Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich. This was a novel venture, and parents clamored to sign their children up. Louise Derman-Sparks, who taught there, told me she “fell in love with the kids. They were so excited, so intelligent, so curious.” Because the demand could not be satisfied, 65 applicants were turned away. They became the control group in an experiment that confirmed the importance of a child’s first years.
Researchers who tracked these children say this experience shaped their lives. Those in preschool were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. As adults, more have held down jobs, and owned a home and a car. Fewer smoke, drink, use drugs, receive welfare or have gone to prison.
The significance of these findings is striking. Early education used to be equated with babysitting, and a child-care center was considered just a cozy nest where working parents could safely drop off their children. Perry became exhibit No. 1 in the argument for high-quality preschool.
Attending a good preschool is not the only early-in-life experience that reverberates for decades. Studies show that whether their mother had prenatal care and whether they had well-baby checkups and had enough to eat can change children’s lives — whether they stayed healthy, went to high school, graduated from college, earned a decent wage or ran afoul of the law.
Parwaaz ECD programme in Afghanistan supports the right start to life
Scientific research has shown that 90 percent of brain growth happens before a child begins school. During this time, the foundation is laid for health and wellbeing throughout life. As such, investing in the early years of a child’s life is one of the smartest investments a parent or community can make. The Parwaaz Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme in Afghanistan aims to ensure that every child has the right start to life.
The sounds of young children’s songs echo among the clear mountain air of Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan. Simultaneously, in the nation’s capital Kabul, the voices of children playing is mixed with cars, market vendors, and urban bustle. Today, across Afghanistan, the Parwaaz ECD initiative of the Aga Khan Education Board runs 109 ECD centres across the various landscapes of the country, supported by 161 female volunteer facilitators, and benefitting more than 5,000 children under three years of age.
Investing in ECD can help to ensure that each young person can eventually reach their fullest potential. Its purpose is to help children discover their cognitive abilities, develop emotional resilience, and strengthen their life prospects. It can act as a precursor to the learning environment they will be exposed to in school, and helps to develop a lifelong love for learning.
Since its launch in October 2016, the Parwaaz programme has had a multi-faceted impact on the Jamat in Afghanistan. It has changed the community’s thinking on nurturing children, including the use of low- to no-cost household materials as learning tools for children and development of life skills in both mothers and children.
“Attending these sessions at the Jamatkhana, has totally changed my own personality. In addition to maternal skills for me and language improvement for my child, I have become very confident in social relationships and I feel very fulfilled as a woman,” said Najaa, a 27-year-old mother of three.
The biggest shift that Parwaaz has contributed to is a new perception of child nurturing. It has encouraged people to become more sensitive towards the development of children, and perhaps most of all, the development of young children has now become a value in itself.
Today, all Parwaaz sessions are conducted by female facilitators and volunteers. For facilitators, the duty, the involvement with children, the involvement with community, and the capacity-building programmes have proven to be life changing. Professionally, they have become more competent, skillful, and they now have a stable career to depend on. Parwaaz has not only built ECD professionals, it has also given them a wider purpose; it has shown them how to grow on a personal level, and it has given them self-assessment skills to be better individuals in their respective lives.
“Parwaz definitely taught me how to raise a child properly and scientifically, but what matters to me most is that after experiencing the early childhood in my students and especially attending the capacity-building sessions I have become a better person. I can manage my emotions better, I pay attention to details of my personality, I connect my current personal traits to experiences I have had as a child, I reflect on them and try to build on them and fill my inner gaps,” said Farangiz Safari, a 21-year-old ECD facilitator in Kabul.
With the support of various agencies and community engagement, the programme aims to reach out to every eligible child in the Jamat in the coming years.
The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected
America’s public schools are still promoting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.
The parents in Overland Park, Kan., were fed up. They wanted their children off screens, but they needed strength in numbers. First, because no one wants their kid to be the lone weird one without a phone. And second, because taking the phone away from a middle schooler is actually very, very tough.
“We start the meetings by saying, ‘This is hard, we’re in a new frontier, but who is going to help us?’” said Krista Boan, who is leading a Kansas City-based program called START, which stands for Stand Together And Rethink Technology. “We can’t call our moms about this one.”
For the last six months, at night in school libraries across Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., about 150 parents have been meeting to talk about one thing: how to get their children off screens.
It wasn’t long ago that the worry was that rich students would have access to the internet earlier, gaining tech skills and creating a digital divide. Schools ask students to do homework online, while only about two-thirds of people in the U.S. have broadband internet service. But now, as Silicon Valley’s parents increasingly panic over the impact screens have on their children and move toward screen-free lifestyles, worries over a new digital divide are rising. It could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.
This is already playing out. Throwback play-based preschools are trending in affluent neighborhoods — but Utah has been rolling out a state-funded online-only preschool, now serving around 10,000 children. Organizers announced that the screen-based preschool effort would expand in 2019 with a federal grant to Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho and Montana.
Lower-income teenagers spend an average of eight hours and seven minutes a day using screens for entertainment, while higher income peers spend five hours and 42 minutes, according to research by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit media watchdog. (This study counted each screen separately, so a child texting on a phone and watching TV for one hour counted as two hours of screens being used.) Two studies that look at race have found that white children are exposed to screens significantly less than African-American and Hispanic children.
And parents say there is a growing technological divide between public and private schools even in the same community. While the private Waldorf School of the Peninsula, popular with Silicon Valley executives, eschews most screens, the nearby public Hillview Middle School advertises its 1:1 iPad program.
This is your child's brain on books: Scans show benefit of reading vs. screen time
(CNN)Taking away screens and reading to our children during the formative years of birth to age 5 boosts brain development. We all know that's true, but now science can convince us with startling images.
This is the brain of a preschooler who is often read to by a caregiver.
The red areas in this scan show a growth in organized white matter in the language and literacy areas of the child's brain, areas that will support learning in school.
The red shows the increase in organzied white matter in the language centers of the preschooler's brain.
This is the brain of a preschooler who likely spends an average of two hours a day playing on screens.
The blue in this image shows massive underdevelopment and disorganization of white matter in the same areas needed to support learning in school.
The blue shows the massive underdevelopment and disorganization of white matter in a preschooler who is using a screen (television, tablets and smartphones, etc.)
Both images are from recent studies done by the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital. They are the first studies to provide neurobiological evidence for the potential benefits of reading and the potential detriments of screen time on a preschool child's brain development.
"This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years," said lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
"Kids who have more stimulating experiences that organize the brain are at a huge advantage when they get to school," Hutton said. "And it's really harder and harder for kids to catch up if they arrive behind."
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