Earlier this month Hillary Clinton spoke to a group of education specialists, policymakers and practitioners at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) seminar, “Transforming the Future Starts in Childhood: Innovation and Development in Early Education.” This is a subject near and dear to the former US secretary of state’s heart, both as a longtime children’s advocate and as a grandmother-to-be. She, together with other guests, emphasized that children who receive cognitive and social stimulation prior to kindergarten do better in school and in life, but lamented that too few kids in Latin America have access to quality early childhood development programs.
However, recent progress is promising, as is the potential to build upon it as we learn more about what works. Emiliana Vegas, chief of the IDB Education Division, pointed out that less than 1 in 3 children in Latin America attended preschool in 1990. Now, more than 2 out of 3 children do, and most countries in the region are in the process of opening access to early education. But experts were quick to clarify that these interventions should start as early as possible, well before the age of 4 when most children start preschool. They shared these evidence-based solutions to help kids build bigger brains during those first crucial years of life:
TALKING IS TEACHING: Simply hearing words can build children’s vocabulary. Parents, grandparents and other caregivers can prepare children for school by talking, reading and singing to them.
MONEY MATTERS: Norbert Schady, Principal Economic Advisor for the Social Sector at the IDB, presented studies that demonstrate the influence that money, families and teachers can have on early childhood development. He pointed to a randomized experiment in Nicaragua in which conditional cash transfers increased children’s cognitive development because their families were able to spend more on nutritious food, educational toys and health care.
FAMILIES MATTER: In Jamaica, mothers who were taught parenting skills by trained health workers saw big returns for their kids. Twenty years after the program, their children’s earnings in adulthood were 42% greater than those of children who did not participate.
TEACHERS MATTER: Research has shown that a mother’s level of education is strongly tied to her child’s likelihood to succeed in school. But a recent study shows that good teachers may be able to help close this learning gap. In Ecuador they reduced the achievement gap between children of mothers with low levels of education and children of educated mothers by 25%. This demonstrates that when parents lack the resources or training to prepare their children for school, good teachers can help make up for lost time.
Even though there is still a lot of work to be done to give all children access to quality early childhood education, there are many things that we all can do to help the kids in our lives prepare for school and to raise awareness of the importance of early learning. And although research shows that the earlier we start, the better, we must remember that it is never too late to make a difference. With the appropriate support, even students who have given up on school can be helped. We know you’ve got ideas. Share them with us by participating in Contest 8.
Originally published on the Graduate XXI website: http://www.graduatexxi.org/en/english-this-hillary-clintons-grandchild-build-bigger-brain/#more-4793