Investing in our future: the early childhood intervention and parental involvement in Bangladesh

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Photo: Schoolchildren in Sonargaon, Bangladesh. Photo credit: Chris Pinderhughes/The Advocacy Project/Flickr under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Principal Investigator: Asadul Islam. Lead Organisation: Monash University

Co-investigators: Ummul Ruthbah; John List; Anya Samek; Steven Stillman; Stefan Boes

Education is central to economic development and recognised as the Second Goal of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Many developing countries, including Bangladesh, which is the focus country of this project, have achieved impressive progress in primary school enrolment; however, there is evidence that the effectiveness of primary education is low in many cases. While Bangladesh has adopted various policy measures to improve incentives to attend primary school, there are still severe problems with low completion rates. Furthermore, poor cognitive skills are found among those who have completed primary education.

Our project sets out to investigate the impact of several novel programs targeting both pre-school children and their parents, with the goal of improving both short- and long-term outcomes of rural children in Bangladesh. Past research, such as that on the Perry Preschool Program, has demonstrated that the return to investment in high quality childhood education is substantial and that this is especially true for families from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the vast majority of these programs are currently found in developed countries and it is uncertain whether these types of intensive programs can be effectively run in a poor developing country. Other research has shown that parenting skills are potentially as crucial as formal early life educational programs for child development. Again, this evidence is mainly from developed countries and no research has examined if this is true in the context of developing countries where many poor families have limited education themselves. Recent work has also shown that parental stress is a particularly important impediment to investments in children among the poor. Some researchers have argued that other investments, such as those in formal education, are unlikely to have benefits if parents are constantly worried about day-to-day stressors.

This project will use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the efficacy of four interventions designed to improve child outcomes in Bangladesh. In collaboration with the BRAC, we will develop the Bangladesh rural early childhood centre (BRECC). This centre will have many commonalities with the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Centre (CHECC) project that was successfully carried out in low-income areas of Chicago, IL between 2010 and 2014. The first intervention will establish a pre-school program that aims to prepare pre-primary students for formal school and provide them with the skills needed to succeed in life. The second intervention will also set up a 'Parent Academy' which will consist of a series of interactive workshops designed to assist parents in supplementing their child's school learning. The third intervention will provide them with monthly cash transfers in order to reduce the stress that these families face in dealing with unforeseen events and allow them to focus more on investing in their children. The fourth intervention will combine all three interventions to understand the role, relative efficacy and cost-effectiveness of each of the interventions.

These interventions will be designed so we can measure their impacts on a wide variety of outcomes including child health, cognitive development and non-cognitive skills (e.g., personality). Testing will be used to measure cognitive skills. We will also carefully measure the costs of each intervention so we can properly estimate the most efficient use of resources.

The field component of the project will be run by BRAC, one local researcher from the University of Dhaka, and research assistants and field staffs. The main program will be implemented over a two-year period in 200 randomly selected villages, with the intention of follow-up to measure the long-term consequences of the four interventions. We will survey around 6,000 children and their parents from these villages and the resultant database will be one of a kind for developing countries.

Further Resources:

Who will benefit from this research and how? 
The direct beneficiaries of this project will be (a) Bangladeshi educational institutions, particularly primary schools where teachers are struggling to keep children in classroom primarily because of their lack of preparation to start school, (b) parents who will be trained by educators about their children's learning need to start formal primary schools, (c) remote rural communities, particularly those where most households are low socio-economic status background and are often neglected by the formal system, (d) the Bangladeshi government and other NGOs involved in rural primary and early childhood education who will have access to the early childhood training module, data, research findings and policy implications from what will be the first rigorously designed project on impacts of pre-schooling anywhere in the developing world.
The second group of major beneficiaries will be researchers and policy makers, particularly in other developing countries, and international agencies assisting educational polices because findings will have wider applicability for improvements improving educational outcomes of the rural pre-primary children.
What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit from this activity? 
Project findings will be provided in user friendly formats to the Bangladeshi government policy makers, department of education, BRAC, other NGOs and the international donor and academic communities, with the formats tailored to the specific needs and characteristics of each particular group. 
(1) Each year reports will be made available as discussion papers to ensure timely dissemination of preliminary results to the main stakeholders. In addition to this the final, comprehensive user-friendly report will present the main findings and policy implications.
(2) There will be two major public events, a project launch workshop and a (larger) final project workshop with senior policymakers in Bangladesh. In addition, there will be a workshop in the project area to disseminate the findings among local communities, teachers and schools. 
(3) At least two policy-oriented papers, and several technical papers targeting academics and analysts, will be produced and made available on a dedicated project website, targeting the broad audience of policy-makers and practitioners involved in development and foreign aid.
(4) At least four rigorous academic papers will be produced as identified in the academic beneficiaries section. These will be initially published as working papers and also presented at academic conferences and workshops. We expect these to eventually find outlets in highest-impact academic journals such as the American Economic Review, Economic Journal, and Journal of Development Economics where our team members have many publications.
In addition, there will be a capacity building contribution through training of Bangladeshi researchers in the approach, methodology and analytical techniques of randomised field experiments, an effective instrument for assessing practical policy interventions in a range of areas, using specially-prepared material at an initial planning workshop. The project will also provide experience and training for government and NGO staff. 
The key strategy to ensure that the adoption and promotion of the pre-primary education is continued in the long run, even after the duration of the current project, is to use the idea of a community managed pre-schooling program supported by BRAC and government. As part of this, each of the program village leaders will be asked to identify and appoint a local representative who will be trained by BRAC to carry out the program work for the intervention on behalf of BRAC at the completion of the project. It is noteworthy that BRAC officers will also make regular visits to the survey sites.
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Grant Reference: 
Fund Start Date: 
May 1st, 2016
Fund End Date: 
May 30th, 2020
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: