Last week in London, University College London (UCL), 3ie (International Initiative for Impact Evaluation), the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and EDePo (Evaluation of Development Policy) convened a group of more than a hundred researchers and public policymakers on the topic of child development. The “Promises for Preschoolers: Early Childhood Development and Human Capital Accumulation” conference offered a very rich set of presentations focusing primarily on the impact and cost-effectiveness of early childhood interventions in various countries around the world.  In future posts, we will invite the authors of some of these projects to tell us more about them.

Three studies from Jamaica were presented at the conference. Two were follow-up investigations involving individuals who had participated in the now-famous early stimulation and nutrition pilot led by Sally Grantham-McGregor and her team. That project followed a group of children between 9 and 24 months of age and suffering from chronic malnutrition, for a period of two years, using one of three randomly assigned interventions. One subgroup received weekly home visits in which staff instructed mothers on ways to stimulate their children. The second subgroup received a nutrition package (infant formula and food); and the third subgroup received both interventions. There was also a control group.

Arianna Zanolini (one of the authors of the study, along with Paul Gertler, Rodrigo Pinto, James Heckman, Susan Walker, Susan Chang, Christel Vermeersch and Sally Grantham-McGregor) presented the results of this long-term research. The new study followed the individuals from the sample, now 22 years of age, as they ventured into the labor market. The experiences of the groups that as children, had received early stimulation (with or without a nutrition package), were compared with those of the control group, who had only received the nutritional intervention. The results showed that receiving an early stimulation intervention via home visits during childhood had a positive impact on employment earnings at the age of 22. In addition, the participants who had received the early stimulation intervention seem to have “caught up to” their peers who had not suffered from chronic malnutrition in early childhood. This research confirms the potential of investments in child development to promote equity and level the playing field for children who experience significant disadvantages at a very young age. In an article on LACEA in this blog, we include a link to an earlier version of this presentation for those who are interested.

Susan Walker (in collaboration with Susan Chang, Sally Grantham-McGregor, Clive Osmond and Florencia Lopez-Boo) presented additional research on the same individuals. In this second study (which Florencia described in a post on January 31), the authors sought to determine if the early childhood interventions affected child-rearing practices, once the original participants had children of their own. They found evidence suggesting that fathers and mothers who as children had benefitted from early interventions, provided more stimulating environments to their own children. Interestingly, boys seem to receive greater benefits than girls from the interventions (in the context of this study, boys experienced comparatively more disadvantages than girls). The next phase of this research seeks to better understand the channels that bring about these results (for example, how much of a role do the grandmothers and mothers–who were the direct beneficiaries of the original early stimulation pilot—have in raising these children?).

I also want to share the results of a study presented by Helen Baker-Henningham (co-authored with Stephen Scott and Susan Walker). This research assessed the impact of training pre-school teachers in Jamaica how to help children (ages 3-6) to develop better socio-emotional skills. The early results of this research identified improvements in teaching practices and child behavior after the teachers participated in an eight-day workshop and received follow-up and mentoring sessions. The improvements continued to be observed a year after the program ended.

On Thursday, July 5, I’ll tell you about some of the other presentations and study results that were revealed at the conference. Thanks and stay tuned!

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