By Aimee Verdisco. 

If anyone ever doubted the power of comparison to move policy, consider these results from standardized tests applied to third and sixth graders in math, language and science in 16 countries across the Region (SERCE, 2008):

  • One out of every three children in third grade does not understand the phrase “once upon a time”.
  • Roughly half of all third graders cannot solve a math problem involving halves and quarters.
  • About 44% of all sixth graders are unable to identify the physical state of substances.

Today’s knowledge economy demands mastery of basic skills in reading, math, and science. Education systems across the Region clearly are not equipping kids with the basics they need to succeed in school and life. SERCE provided empirical and comparative evidence of this. Tests were needed to provide this evidence.

But the tests were the least of SERCE’s contributions. Through SERCE, an intense south-south dialogue and region wide exchange of knowledge from which meaningful action for improving the quality of education has emerged. Quality is front and center on education agendas across the Region and growing tides of pressure from across societies will ensure that the focus remains.

Early childhood development (ECD) is poised to be the next frontier. What if countries knew that their children were at risk for not developing the basic skills and competencies they need to be successful in school and throughout life? Would more attention be paid to issues of quality ECD?

The Regional Program of Child Development Indicators (Programa Regional de Indicadores de Desarrollo Infantil), known as PRIDI for its acronym in Spanish, is betting the answer will be yes.

PRIDI seeks to provide high quality, policy-relevant, and regionally comparative data on the situation of young children and their families. It is the first initiative of its kind, anywhere. Participating countries include Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Paraguay.

PRIDI is based on two fundamental pillars: (i) children develop in an integral manner and the data used to capture their development should be as well, and (ii) children should be able to achieve basic developmental milestones and competencies before entering school, independent of their race, gender, socioeconomic background, origin, language, or any other discriminator.

True to these intentions, PRIDI collects data along five dimensions of child development: cognition, language, motor skills, socio-emotional development, and emergent academic skills.  Its instruments, including development scales for evaluating children 24 to 59 months and surveys applied to the mother/primary caregiver to capture associated factors, have been translated and adapted in Quechua (Cusco variant) in Peru, Guarani in Paraguay, and Miskito in Nicaragua. All instruments are applied in the home. In this way, PRIDI considers all children in its age range, and not just those in organized child care centers or schools.

The PRIDI instruments are currently being validated in the field. All data will be analyzed together, in order to ensure item validity and that each item captures the same competency in each country and each population within each country. Based on these results, the instruments will be adjusted and applied in nationally representative samples (n = 2,000) in each participating country. Final results should be available in about a year. And, from here, the bet is on that debate, dialogue and concrete actions to improve the quality of life and lifelong chances for children across the Region will follow.

Aimee Verdisco is an education lead specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. She is the author of a number of technical reports and papers on education and sector reform, early childhood, and workforce development in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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