RESEARCH WITH IMPACT

Promoting Early Childhood Development

UNICEF named a study by University researchers as one of the 10 most noteworthy recent child-focused studies it has funded.

Two decades of early childhood development research have shown that the first few years of life play an extraordinarily important role in determining a person’s future prospects. With the launch of its Institute​ for Human Development in Nairobi, AKU is poised to make a significant contribution to this burgeoning field, whose ability to deliver high-impact interventions at low cost makes it a priority for the developing world.

“Early childhood development has the potential to transform countless lives and communities,” Institute Director Kofi Marfo said. “But 90 per cent of what we know comes from the 10 per cent of the world’s population that lives in wealthy countries. There is a huge need to develop research and capacity relevant to the majority of humanity.”Early childhood development (ECD) considers the effect of health, nutrition, play and social interaction on cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills.

AKU has already demonstrated leadership in the field. UNICEF named a major study by Dr Aisha Yousafzai and four University colleagues as one of its 10 most important child-focused studies. Involving nearly 1,500 children in Sindh province, the three-year randomized control study found that using government Lady Health Workers (LHWs) to teach parents to engage in developmentally appropriate play with their children yielded substantial benefits at low cost. Because the LHW programme reaches 60 per cent of the population, that means Pakistan could enhance the lives of millions of children through an existing government programme with few changes.

“It made a real difference in the capacity of young children to learn, develop social skills and solve everyday problems,” Dr Yousafzai said.

With the financial support of the Government of Canada and Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the Institute is pursuing a number of ECD studies as part of a partnership with Canadian universities. The early childhood education landscape in Tanzania, child care for working parents in Kenya and early literacy and school readiness in Pakistan are among the subjects researchers are exploring.

“This is an exciting time in early childhood development, and there’s no better place to work toward fulfilling its promise than AKU,” Marfo said.