by Claudia Cappa.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child signed 25 years ago states that a child has the right to develop to “the maximum extent possible” (Article 6) and that “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development” (Article 27).
In order to monitor the practice of these rights, UNICEF, the organization where I work, monitors and reports on a variety of domains of child development and well-being. For example, we have been working with countries to develop specific indicators in three vital areas: quality of care; access to early childhood care and education; and overall developmental status of children.
Data in these three areas are being collected through the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), which is a cost-effective household sample survey program that produces statistically sound, internationally comparable estimates of socioeconomic and health indicators. Since its initiation in 1995, more than 200 surveys have been implemented in more than 130 low- and middle-income countries through four rounds of surveys.
Beginning with the fourth round, the early childhood development indicators were consolidated into a single early childhood development module. The module is administered to mothers or primary caregivers of children under the age of 5. Comparable data collected are currently available for around 60 low-and middle-income countries.
The organization is now in the process of conducting the fifth round that will be completed this year. Along with existing evidence about the developing brain, data from MICS provide a compelling case for more effective, better resourced and targeted interventions in early childhood development.
Some of the questions included in MICS capture the conditions of care within a child’s home environment, including the availability and variety of learning materials in the home, adult and paternal support for learning and school readiness, and non-adult care.
To measure child development, the standard questionnaire asks 10 questions organized around four different domains. The four domains are defined as follows:
- Literacy-numeracy: Children are identified as being developmentally on track if they can do at least two of the following: identify/name at least 10 letters of the alphabet; read at least 4 simple, popular words; and/or know the name and recognize the symbols of all numbers from 1 to 10.
- Physical: If the child can pick up a small object with two fingers, like a stick or rock from the ground, and/or the mother/primary caregiver does not indicate that the child is sometimes too sick to play, then the child is regarded as being developmentally on track in the physical domain.
- Social-emotional: The child is considered developmentally on track if two of the following are true: The child gets along well with other children; the child does not kick, bite or hit other children; and the child does not get distracted easily.
- Learning: If the child follows simple directions on how to do something correctly and/or when given something to do, and is able to do it independently, then the child is considered to be developmentally on track in the learning domain. Response categories for all questions included in the ECDI are: yes, no and don’t know.
Finally, the standard questionnaire asks about other important aspects of child wellbeing, including exposure to violence by parents and other caregivers. Such questions are part of a dedicate module on child discipline.
Our work on early childhood development data collection is disseminated in a variety of ways including through the organization’s flagship publication, The State of the World’s Children, and in thematic data-driven publications, such as the 2012 booklet Inequities in Early Childhood Development: What the data say. All of the publications, global databases and other resources for ECD statistics can be found on the Early Childhood Development pages of UNICEF’s dedicated statistical website.
What other aspects do you think need to be measured? Let us know in the comments section below or in Twitter.
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Claudia Cappa is a Statistics Specialist at the Data and Analytics Section of the Division of Data, Research and Policy at UNICEF.