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  • Writer's pictureMonash CDES Blog

Beyond the Village Sky: Expanding Children’s Worlds Through Education

“When I was a little kid, less than eight years old, my universe was limited to the earth and sky of my village. While I did start going to school shortly after, I couldn't help but wonder how life would be different had I started school much earlier. Back then, the concept of 'preschool' was alien to me and my family, or anyone in the village for that matter. It wasn't until I grew older that I realized how very late I was at discovering the world and its ways. There came a day when I stood on the outskirts, trying to observe the world as far as my eyes could see, and it struck me that I had only begun to grasp this world's intricacies far too late.
Now, as I witness my own children gazing at the world with wonder in their eyes, I see a future different from my own past. I realized that changes needed to occur. I wouldn't let them stand by idly as life swept past them, wouldn't let them spiral into 'what ifs', much like I do now. So I made it my mission to provide them with early education that I had missed, to sow the seeds of learning from an early age, and by the time they reached school age, they would be fully prepared to thrive, to take on the world headfirst.”

In a world with disparities and challenges, education has long stood as the beacon of hope and change. Central to this is the foundation laid during the early childhood years, a period that plays a pivotal role in shaping a child's intellectual and social-emotional development. Recognizing its significance, the United Nations has made it a sustainable development goal to ensure that all boys and girls have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education by 2030.

Taking Bangladesh as example, according to Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2016-17, only 30% of 5-year-olds from the poorest families were enrolled in preschool. Children from rural areas are also less likely to be enrolled in pre-primary classes. This raises the question: How can we effectively implement early childhood education sessions in regions with scarce resources?

Insights from a study by Monash University's Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES), in collaboration with the local NGO Global Development Research Initiative (GDRI), shed light on this dilemma. Conducted across 222 villages in rural Bangladesh, the research evaluated the causal impact of two early childhood education programs on children's developmental outcomes. One program provided direct childcare support in a formal pre-school setting, while the other aimed to improve parenting practices through weekly home visits.

They find that both interventions lead to substantial improvements in children's cognitive and non-cognitive development. Interestingly, the magnitude of these two program’s impacts is nearly the same, emphasizing that multiple pathways can lead to similar positive child outcomes. In villages where selected children directly benefited from the interventions, the researchers also observed positive effects on children from families that did not receive any treatment. These “untreated” families gained indirect benefits through simple, everyday interactions with 'treated' families. For instance, children could share what they had learned during their sessions while playing together. Similarly, parents might exchange tips on child-rearing during casual conversations. This natural dissemination of early childhood education knowledge served to magnify the impact of the programs.

Many parents struggle to figure out the most effective child-rearing strategies, often influenced by societal expectations and driven by an innate wish to give their children the best possible start in life. Researchers find that home visits effectively assist parents to nurture their children. Post-intervention, there’s a notable enhancement in parents’ grasp of nutritional diets, emotional closeness, and patient parenting, allowing children a voice in decisions, while maintaining strong parental support.

In a nutshell, where formal pre-primary education sessions are impractical or economically burdensome, alternative approaches can be sought. Utilizing technology, for example, to host online sessions with parents could offer a feasible solution. These digital engagements ensure a consistent exchange of information and support, offering parents access to guidance on childcare in a more cost-effective way.

Keyu Guo

4 November 2023


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