Finally the time has arrived where we can precisely trace future outcomes of adults with what happened in their primitive years. Building blocks start in a brain of a newly born child, neurons begin rapidly connecting (at 700 connections per second!), while connections keep on being made, , most of it is completed by age 2, this is the bases of early childhood development, which entails cognitive development, memory, IQ, linguistic development, a child's vocabulary, ability to read and write, and socio emotional development among others.
Let us go in depth about Early Childhood Development (ECD), also consider two approaches, Abecedarian and Africadarian.
Crucial to mention that for the brain, there is no such thing as too early, as 90% of human brain development occurs by age 5.
Biologically, the brain is prepared to be shaped by experiences that a young child has, it literally influences the formation of their brain circuitry. Key to their development, they need a variety of learning opportunities to explore and figure the world out as Jack Shonkoff from Harvard University observed.
Memory rest on the connections of neurons; each of the 86 billion neurons with which a baby is born will automatically connect to more than 15 000 other neurons at the point of synapses. Note that only if these automatic connections are used do they become permanent. The more they are used, the stronger and faster the connecting axon becomes. Unused connections are "pruned" and can only be restored with great difficulty through remedial education.
This "connectome" is the brain with which we think, remember and make sense of our world. Experts therefore have come to believe that in the area of neuroscience, a "use it or lose it" mentality before the age of three or four seems to come into play - confirming early childhood intervention as all important for optimally developed brain functions.
To leave a baby in front of a television hoping they will learn from various learning programs and cartoons, is not the way to develop their brain, as children at their early age, require human interaction. They need stable, warm, nurturing relationships with a relatively small numbers of adults.
A quick experiment anyone can do with a year old child, is to give them a children's book with stories, then observe their reaction. If they look at pictures, they had an early learning intervention, if they take the book into their mouth, they may not have any early literacy skills.
Inspecting the first approach, Abecedarian requires a highly skilled workforce, as it is recommended that lead teachers possess a bachelor's or master's degree in education and that teaching assistants possess at least a high school diploma.
Africadarian approach is a practical and holistic programme aimed at stimulating the minds of millions disadvantaged children under the age of four. It has a custom designed set of learning materials with academic and non-academic training methods for educarers, including parents, most of it free on the internet.
Methods used by the Abecedarian approach entails learning games, conversational reading, language priority and enriched care giving. The Africadarian model goes further to include child's native language as a mode of communication for the majority of children, numeracy through demonstrations using tokens, introduces basic concepts in isolation, like colour, shape, numbers, position, size and written words, all in a playful, fun way. These are few contrasts.
What we can say about both approaches, first they are gone pass the experiment phase, their aim is to make a generational impact, a systemic intervention to change direction and bring about sustainable change in a community. Africadarian though is a far more affordable and scalable option in Africa than Abecedarian.
Scalability in disseminating the learning model without losing control over quality, is important as there are few organizations globally that are dedicated to spreading this most effective methods.
Government and particularly the business community might like to know the economics of ECD, in USA they found, for every Dollar spent, there is $16 Return on Investment.
Results of ECD are evident in many countries; parental stimulation increased earnings by 25% in Jamaica, and reduced crime by 30%; Mozambique, preschool education improved cognitive development by 87%. In the United States, if low income children went to good preschools, disparities for readiness for primary schools would drop 24% between white and black children, 35% between white and Hispanic children; ECD learnings, levels the playing field.
This is an urgent need that must be attended to, not only for our own children, also for those children we can reach and impact. Africadarian is the best model to refer to in order to effect this long lasting change.The ancient proverb that 'It takes a village to raise a child', is more relevant in this case.