New World Bank Evaluation Shows Early Childhood Programs Help Children Thrive and Learn More in Rural Africa

February 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, February 14, 2012 – Children in rural Mozambique, who attended preschool programs run by the international humanitarian group, Save the Children, were 24 percent more likely to enroll in primary school and were significantly better equipped to learn than children not covered by the program.Bank evaluation of Save the Children preschool program in Mozambique shows considerable Africa-wide promise

The World Bank study is the first such evaluation of early childhood development programs in Africa, where entrenched poverty means that 61 percent of children under the age of five years do not grow and learn to their full potential.  Across the region, children’s poor health and nutrition, along with too little mental stimulation in their early years of life, frequently mean they are sick more, learn less, and start school later than children who join early education programs like Save the Children’s in Mozambique. 

“This evaluation provides us evidence of the convincing results in pre-school program thus revealing the great potential for improving the health and learning outcomes of children in Africa.  I therefore urge leaders, policy makers, communities, and parents to take advantage of such programs that help young children because they also help break the vicious cycle of dynastic poverty in families.” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa, and a former Nigerian Education Minister

Conducted by World Bank researchers Sophie Naudeau and Sebastian Martinez, the randomized study shows that children going to preschool are much more likely to show interest in mathematics and writing, recognize shapes, and show respect for other children, than those who are not.  Preschool benefits can also benefit the wider family: parents of enrolled children are 26 percent likelier to work, while some older siblings are able to go to school themselves.

“Having participated in a seminar in Maputo at which the results of this study were presented, I am amazed by the effect that simple, modest Early Children Development programs can have on children’s performance in primary schools,” said H.E. Zeferino Martins, Minister of Education, Mozambique, “The study, rare in Africa, has thrown light on the possibilities that we in developing countries can explore to give our children a much better future.” 

 Save the Children’s program in Mozambique has helped build Escolinhas or preschool centers targeting orphans and vulnerable children. It has reached about 5,000 three to six year olds and their families, and is run with the help of trained volunteers from rural communities.

The study, funded by the World Bank and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), covered 2,000 households in 76 rural communities of the Gaza province, which is close to Mozambique’s capital Maputo, and has relatively higher human development indicators compared to the rest of the country. This implies an even more urgent need for preschool programs in other parts of the country.

“Small investments can be very powerful.  For as little as about $2.50 a month per child, children and families in Mozambique reap the rewards of early education both now and in the future,”  said Carolyn Miles, president & CEO, Save the Children, “We are delighted that our early learning program in Mozambique offers a model for low-income countries across Africa.”

For its part, the World Bank has invested $1.1 billion in pre-primary education during FY09-FY11.

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