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Danish think tank lauds Jamaican early childhood initiative

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2016 | 5:00 AMAndre Poyser

The Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a think tank based in the capital city of Denmark, has singled out an early-childhood initiative which sought to address the issue of chronic malnutrition or stunting of children in Jamaica during the mid-1980s, as a best practice for education policy and reform.

CCC founder and director, Bjorn Lomborg, in comparing a number of technology-based educational reform initiatives, noted that many of these had mixed results and did not achieve improved educational attainment for students.

"New research for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the think tank I direct, highlights the counterintuitive fact that equipping classrooms with additional textbooks or computers is no educational silver bullet," he said.

According to Lomborg, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School, investments in early-childhood interventions, such as the one undertaken in Jamaica to address stunting in children, have proven to be much more effective than technology-based initiatives.

"So how can policymakers do the most good? A seminal study from Jamaica suggests that early-childhood interventions can make a world of difference," he said.

The study by Gertler et al, published in the May 2014 edition of Science, looked at the earnings of young adults in Jamaica, 20 years after, as toddlers, they were given two years of help from community health workers.

 

PROMOTE DEVELOPMENT

 

"In the mid-1980s, Jamaican social workers visited stunted children in their homes for one hour each week for two years, teaching their mothers how to play with their children to promote development. At the outset, these children lagged behind their peers in all development tests. But over the two years of home visits, the children's development improved. And when researchers went back 20 years later, the results were amazing. The stunted children earned just as much as their peers. Stunted children who had not been part of the programme earned 25 per cent less," Lomborg said as he explained the findings of the study.

Lomborg went on to suggest that the intervention be replicated in Bangladesh, where six million children are stunted.

"Setting up early-childhood education centres in Bangladesh could transform lives at a cost of around US$300 per student. Based on the Jamaican study, income improvements would be worth around US$10,000 over each child's lifetime," he argued.

According to the think tank director, educational reform initiatives should take lessons from the Jamaican study.

"Whether for Bangladesh or elsewhere, the real lessons to be taken away from this research is that we need to look past trendy policies like adding technology to classrooms. The key to educational progress is to focus on interventions backed by credible scientific evidence," he said.

andre.poyser@gleanerjm.com