The early childhood development (ECD) community is celebrating! The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently launched a new package of measures, the Global Scales for Early Development (GSED), version 1.0, to measure, evaluate and monitor the development of young children in the critical first three years of life for use across the globe.
Despite growing interest in ECD globally, internationally validated measures to assess the development of very young children in a feasible manner in large samples remain scarce. Existing measures were either designed to monitor the development of children after 24 months of age or lacked sufficient consideration for the diversity of contexts in which children are raised. Other measures required extensive resources to be implemented.
WHO leads the GSED project, which has brought together global multidisciplinary experts to create culturally neutral, open-access measures to assess the cognitive, socioemotional, language and motor development of children up to 36 months. The measures are comprehensive, user-friendly and understandable for caregivers and children worldwide.
Different tools for different purposes…
To date, the GSED consists of two measures with comparable psychometric properties:
- A caregiver-reported Short Form (SF)
- A directly administered Long Form (LF)
Both measures can be used for population monitoring or programmatic evaluation, depending on feasibility and capacity; and can be combined for increased precision and sensitivity to potential changes following interventions.
In the near future, the GSED package will also include measures that are currently being tested (and can be made available on demand):
- A caregiver-reported Household Form (HF), designed to be integrated into large-scale and national-level multipurpose household surveys for ECD monitoring.
- A caregiver-reported Psychosocial Form (PF), to measure children’s psychosocial skills and behaviors.
The development of these measures was based on a solid empirical foundation: statistical methods were applied to a rich and harmonized database with 2275 child development items from up to 18 different instruments on over 65,000 children in 51 cohorts in 32 countries.
… but one common metric for the entire world…
The GSED SF, LF and HF use a single underlying interval scale that produces one score of children’s overall development, the D-score or Developmental score. It is like using centimeters to measure height. The D-score can also be used to create a curve that shows how children typically develop over time. Hence, for the first time, the D-score will allow us to provide an overall picture of the developmental levels of children which is comparable and can be tracked over time.
“Just like children are measured for height and weight to check that they are growing as best they can physically, the GSED will now allow for children’s development to be measured holistically,” said Dr. Dévora Kestel, WHO Director of Mental Health and Substance Use, during the webinar to launch the GSED. “These new measures will help us ensure that no child is left behind, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.”
… to invest in children and their families
The GSED will provide comparable data for children worldwide, informing policymakers and enabling more effective targeting of resources towards children at risk. Local, national and global organizations, programs and researchers can use the data for comparisons, trend analysis, to better target funding allocations and to improve program design and enhancement.
Implementing the GSED
The GSED package is open access, therefore, no fees apply. The GSED forms are easy to use with minimal adaptation required beyond rigorous translation. They are relevant across different contexts, including in emergency situations as well as in large-scale data collection efforts and impact evaluations of programs and interventions. Training for administration is available remotely or in person depending on trainers’ availabilities and will soon be available as online fully self-paced or hybrid, depending on the form.
The development of the GSED measures included rigorous field testing to evaluate and establish their functioning. To date, the GSED measures have been validated in Bangladesh, Pakistan and United Republic of Tanzania (Round I countries, 1248 children per country) and data collection for further validation is ongoing in Brazil, China, Côte d’Ivoire and the Netherlands (Round II).
The current GSED 1.0 includes the measures (short and long forms), user manuals, item guides, translation and adaptation guide, scoring guide and a technical report summarizing the methodology and validation results. An electronic data capture system, the GSED App, is also available. All materials will be updated after validation activities in Round II countries by the end of 2023. An expanded version with global norms and standards to identify well-developing vs. at-risk children will be released after more data is collected.
Join us in celebrating this important milestone for children worldwide and stay tuned for more updates on the progress of the GSED work!