The study and insights into the ancient mystery of the development of a human brain remains one of our generation's greatest achievements. A baby's mind is where it all begins, we now know. A missed step in their early years can cause them to play catch up for the rest of their lives.
It is fascinating that children from good backgrounds, at least in the USA, by the age of 3 years, have already heard 30 million words MORE than children from culturally poor households. Children spoken to by their carers in different languages can have up to 4 first languages by 10 months! There is what we call native intelligence; we all learn from the basis of our first language, if your first language is Spanish, Swahili or French, when you hear things, your mind quickly translate them to your native language, the one you are using to think, in order to understand. But if you learn the other languages early enough they also become native to you and no translation needed. It is much easier for human brains to learn a language when we are young, even a second or third language.
Children's mental agility, ability to learn how to learn, is at a peak in the early years. Without the right basics before they start their elementary schooling, children almost never catch up. They will face issues around understanding material, no self-confidence and are, for the most part, doomed to become another sad statistic.
There is a fundamental difference in learning the name of a thing and mastering a concept, of say, colour. Once a child understands that something can have a colour, a shape or position they can make sense of language and the world.
The brain has 32 parts just for understanding what you see, some are responsible for shape, colour, movement and light etc, other parts for hearing and reading.
Did you also know kids learn vocabulary more quickly from their father than their mother? This is from the very fact of the fashion they differently interact with their children, no baby talk and using real names for real things. I can elaborate further on this one as it was proven over and over.
Before we explore this subject further, Albeit Einstein said, "Education is what we remember after we forgot everything we learned in school."
We can all agree that schools are one of the unreformed institutions in dozens of countries, making people search for better ways of teaching children. One of the most effective, unconventional methods of teaching poor kids is the famous Abecedarian; this approach imbues all of the child's day with meaning.
The advent of Abecedarian was an experiment in poor communities in 1972 in North Carolina by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. It was then carried out on 120 sites across the USA, involving 2 430 parents and 2 790 children. The study showed that a programme such as this can increase parental responsiveness, improve interactive reading skills and define the role of parents - and indeed all caregivers - as key role-players in ECD. For parents to learn to talk and interact with their babies is another very important skill to be encouraged.
There is a direct result and clear link between early childhood development and life outcomes.
Here are the results when they monitored participants by the age of 30 years old: they were "four times more likely to have graduated from a four year college (23% vs. 6%); more likely to have been employed consistently over the previous two years (74% vs. 53%); five times less likely to have used public assistance (4% vs. 20%); delayed in becoming parents by an average of almost two years; and much less likely to end up in jail.
Drawing from the findings of the Abecedarian Project, BrainBoosters, a dedicated education NGO in Johannesburg, has coined the term 'Africadarian' as the name for a practical answer to the complex set of educational challenges within Africa and emerging markets.
This breakthrough method of teaching comes from the story of two individuals who are behind BrainBoosters.
Karina Strydom's sons were born with club feet, a crippling deformity if not treated early. To prevent this impediment to cast a bad spell on their future she started to developed their brains by teaching them colour, shapes, numbers, words - the foundation of all future learning, especially mathematics at a very early age. Later she devised an interactive method with instant feedback that ultimately culminated into the fully-fledged model of Africadarian.
In the 1990s, Ms Strydom went into townships of Soweto to also help children from disadvantaged backgrounds by showing teachers easier ways. At that time many people were afraid of the crime in the area, but she soldiered on. It was in the early 2000s that Ms Strydom met her life partner Hendrik Marais, an entrepreneur with a passion for education. Together they founded BrainBoosters in 2011.
This was the Genesis of the Africadarian approach that would see them transform the lives of more than 30 thousand children in South Africa already.
With his insight in early brain development, genetics and business, Hendrik Marais put his time and money behind BrainBoosters, through Eureka DIY, the company founded thirty years ago by him. Their big goal is to make sure every one of the children starting school each year are ready and prepared for their education journey. The Africadarian approach, using the five principles of isolate, repeat, combine, reflect and don't test can help to achieve this worthwhile goal if it can reach the children early enough.
Unlike the Abecedarian Project, Africadarian is very affordable and does not rely on highly skilled professionals but use easily trained carers for pre-school centres and teachers in normal schools doing 'catch-up' in class, using a range of simple but specialised products.
The programme has been received positively by leading international academics resulting in invitations for the BrainBoosters to be made available in countries like Mexico, Uganda, Nigeria - and even in rural China. For now, however, BrainBoosters concentrates their efforts on South Africa where their heart is and the need high.