In this month’s blog, Paul Lynch talks about his ESRC/DfID funded project ‘Let’s Grow Together’ which is looking at promoting greater inclusion of children with disabilities in ECD centres in rural Malawi.
Setting the Scene
Since 2014 the UN, through its Sustainable Development Goals, has begun to prioritise early childhood development seeking to ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’. There is overwhelming evidence showing that high-quality Early Child Development (ECD) programmes benefit all children’s development, life experiences and life chances. But in what contexts are young children with disabilities supported; and prepared for primary education?
Children with disabilities don’t always follow the same pathways as ‘typically’ developing children. They often need support and guidance that address the more practical skills needed for their daily environment; their situation compounded by social status, gender and health conditions – and yet they are often expected to comply with rules, routines and subject-based curricula. It is these complexities which form the basis of this current research project.
Let’s Grow Together is a collaborative project between University of Birmingham, University of Liverpool, Sightsavers, University of Malawi (Chancellor College), Arizona State University, Anthrologica, Association of Early Childhood Development Malawi, and Save the Children which builds upon previous research partnerships in Malawi. The project seeks to promote the inclusion of children with disabilities through the adaptation of assessment tools, as well as teaching curricula and teaching methods in a rural district of Southern Malawi.
Currently, there are no reliable assessments to measure ‘school-readiness’ of children attending Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs) including children with disabilities in Malawi. This is a big problem when trying to measure emerging and developing pre-school skills of young children, particularly for those who will be entering primary school.
Early results indicate that a high proportion children in each of the ECD centres assessed (over half of 44 centres) are unable to perform the most basic pre-literacy ‘school-readiness’ tasks such as hold a book in the correct way or recognise 10 letters of the alphabet. When children are assessed on a pre-literacy task – such as holding a book correctly – this relies on the children having had exposure to print, pictures and books meaning that children who have little or no access to books won’t perform well in the assessment, including children with disabilities.
Quality vs Outcomes
International organisations and national governments expect ‘high quality’ ECD, but there are issues around standards (e.g. set at an international, national or local level) and how they have been validated. So, there is a dilemma, should governments, like Malawi, enforce regulations that promote quality, but don’t have the resources to assure adequate inspection and monitoring. Or should the focus be on child outcomes and/or on other outcomes such as staff performance or on accessible and adequate resources that promote child development or levels of interaction and involvement of parents with staff?
All these aspects are very important for children with disabilities and their families but also for all children. This project hopes to respond to these important questions, ultimately having a strong impact on the development and learning of children with disabilities in Malawi and beyond.