“Take your child to preschool” is an innovation identified in the Knowledge Hub on Early Childhood Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Visit it to discover more innovations and resources for Early Childhood Development in the region.
Frequent attendance to a quality preschool in the early years is essential for boys and girls to develop cognitive, emotional and motor skills. However, this is usually low compared to attendance at primary education. Many factors can influence preschool attendance, let’s meet Camila and Carlos’ context to understand what is behind their attendance patterns:
María and Pedro, are Camila’s parents. They consider it is important for her to attend preschool and share with her classmates, learn to interact with other adults and develop skills that maybe she could not develop at home where they don’t have a structured schedule. However, Camila’s preschool is an hour away by bus from her house and when it rains, the paths are filled with mud, making it difficult to reach the bus stop on time to avoid missing the route that would take them to the school. Therefore, during the rainy months Camila is constantly absent and cannot receive the benefits of going to preschool.
Verónica and Juan are the parents of Carlos, a 4-year-old who also attends preschool. Verónica and Juan enrolled Carlos because he reached compulsory education age, but they do not think that at preschool their son learns different things from those he can learn at home. They even consider that it can be dangerous for Carlos to be exposed to other children because he could get sick. The school is not far from their house, it is at a reasonable distance, but Carlos is constantly absent because his parents prefer him to stay at home, they coordinate visits to the doctor during school hours or schedule trips during the school year.
These examples help us understand the two most common reasons children in Latin America and the Caribbean miss preschool days. On the one hand, we find structural reasons, associated with the context of the child (e.g. income, infrastructure, transportation, factors related to the community, among others); this is the case of Camila. On the other hand, we find reasons associated with behavioral biases, where the parents’ beliefs play a decisive role in whether or not the student goes to preschool; this is Carlos’s case. These reasons are not mutually exclusive, but separating them helps us to better understand structural and behavioral barriers.
Verónica, Juan and Carlos’ family situation motivated us to seek solutions to these barriers, and we found in behavioral sciences an ally to do so at low cost. For the first time in Latin America, we explored the effectiveness of behavioral tools to improve preschool attendance in Uruguay, a country that has made great efforts to increase the coverage of initial education, but where 30% of children aged 3-5 who attend public preschools have insufficient attendance.
With the help of the Council of Initial and Primary Education (CEIP) and Innovations for Poverty Actions (IPA) we developed “Take your child to preschool”, an initiative that sent short and personalized messages (known as nudges) to parents and mothers of students in 97 public preschools nationwide. The messages were sent over a period of two and a half months through the institutional app GURÍ families, that parents use on their cell phones. Nudges made use of behavioral science tools such as reminders to help with family planning and address behavioral biases.
The nudges increased students’ attendance in the middle of the attendance distribution between 0.32 and 0.68 days, but had no effect on the extremes of the distribution. That is, it did not impact those who previously attended preschool the least or those who attended the most. This suggests that it is in the middle of the distribution where biases interfere to a greater extent with regular attendance, creating more space to influence with behavioral tools. The messages also increased preschool attendance by 1.5 days in the northeastern regions of the country, areas less populated and with lower performance in indicators such as infrastructure, economic activity, health, education and poverty. Finding effects in these regions indicates the potential of behavioral tools to reduce geographic differences at a low cost.
What is the result of boys and girls attending more to preschool?
Using the Child Development Inventory (INDI), we found that this program positively impacts boys and girls’ language assessments, with more intense impacts in areas in the country’s northeast where this intervention also improved cognitive outcomes and learning readiness. The impacts we found are comparable to those achieved with programs that are highly intensive in human labor, such as home visits. This highlights the potential of behavioral tools to reduce inequality in access and learning from the early years. Although this intervention was carried out in 2019, in a world that was unaware of the effects of COVID, its learnings are now more relevant than ever. Having evidence of the efficiency of behavioral tools to improve educational results in children at an early age should promote an agenda where they are used to a greater extent now that we all spend more time at home.
This project was financed by the Child Development Innovation Fund, an alliance between the IDB, the FEMSA Foundation, Open Society Foundations, the Maria Cecilia Soto Vidigal Foundation, and Porticus. If you want to know more about this intervention and updates about it, visit the innovation profile in the Child Development Hub, and if you want to know other programs that use behavioral sciences visit the Behavioral Evidence Hub and discover how behavioral sciences are an ally to implement cost effective public policies.
Do you think that this type of programs based on behavioral sciences would work to reduce the absence of initial education in your country? Leave us your opinions and comments in the section below or on Twitter mentioning @BIDeducación #EnfoqueEducacion.
 Ehrlich, Stacy B., Julia A. Gwynne, Amber Stitziel Pareja, and Elaine M. Allensworth. 2014. Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationship with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences: Research Summary. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
Kalil, A., Mayer, S. E., & Gallegos, S. (2019). Using behavioral insights to increase attendance at subsidized preschool programs: The Show Up to Grow Up intervention. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.