Children’s social and cognitive readiness for school is crucial for later success. In Malawi, the government seeks to improve child development outcomes through better preschools. Researchers will study the effects of teacher incentives and training, parental education, and learning materials for children on their physical, emotional, and cognitive development and their readiness for primary school.
Preschool programs are a route for low-income children to get the physical, cognitive and socio-emotional skills they need to be ready for school. Poor countries often struggle to provide access to early childhood programs, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as orphans and the disabled. The programs that do exist often don’t have sufficient trained staff or play and learning materials. This evaluation of an early childhood program in Malawi aims to provide evidence on the effectiveness of different interventions to improve children’s development and school readiness by improving the quality of the centers and giving parents information on how to support their children’s development.
Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health
Evaluation Sample: 199 child community centers
Intervention: Incentives, training, parental involvement
Researchers: Lia C. H. Fernald, University of California, Berkeley; Patricia Kariger, University of California, Berkeley; Christin McConnell, World Bank; Michelle Neuman, University of Pennsylvania; Berk Özler, World Bank
Malawi is struggling to meet the development needs of its children. About half the children under five years old are stunted and almost 20 percent are underweight. In addition, almost one in five children is an orphan, in many cases because parents have died from HIV/AIDS. High food and fuel prices, a devastating earthquake in 2009 and localized droughts exasperate the difficulties faced by poor families.
The government, with donor assistance, established Community-Based Childcare Centers in the 1990s to promote children’s development. These centers now enroll about a third of the country’s children aged three to five. The quality of the centers, however, is mixed. Most caregivers are young, part-time volunteers without any formal training in early childhood development and turnover is high.
As part of Malawi’s Protecting Early Child Development Project, which is supported by the World Bank and the Rapid Social Response Multi-Donor Trust Fund, the Government of Malawi is testing four different low-cost approaches for improving the quality of the childcare centers. The results will help inform plans for a scale up.