Longitudinal studies on the effects of high-quality early childhood programs and research on the impact of early experiences on human brain development demonstrate that good early childhood care and education can be a key contributor to narrowing social and economic gaps and driving development, particularly in low-resource, disadvantaged communities. In the United States, estimates of the returns on investment of high-quality programming average between 4 and 9 dollars to each dollar invested. These returns include both improvements in education and lifetime earnings for those with strong positive early childhood experiences and reductions in the cost to society as they make less use of health, criminal justice, and social welfare systems.
In lower-income countries, the potential effects of more access to early childhood services are even more dramatic. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% percent of children are at risk of not achieving their developmental potential because of extreme poverty and stunting, both of which can be mediated by quality early childhood care and education. Noted education economist George Psacharopolous calculates that increasing the preschool enrollment rate in this region from the present average of 18% to 59% would have a benefit to cost ratio of between 28 and 37 dollars returned for every dollar invested. Increasing the primary education enrollment ratio to 100% would have a benefit-cost ratio of between 5 and 8 dollars, and improving school quality would have a return of between 3 and 5 dollars for every dollar invested.
While these figures would seem to provide a huge motivation for improving early childhood programming in such contexts, governments find it hard to redirect limited resources to early childhood. The numbers of children who lack access to high-quality programs remain vast. In the world’s poorest and most challenging contexts, citizens’ opportunities are further limited by early exclusion from stimulating, learning-promoting programming.
EDC’s Interactive Audio Instruction programs provide one solution to the challenges these countries face when trying to provide high-quality early childhood programming at scale and at reasonable costs. Our packages for early childhood and early primary school include lessons designed to promote comprehensive child development and school readiness in a research-based scope and sequence that also serves as professional development for adult caregivers and teachers. Culturally-relevant content is delivered over mobile phones, MP3 players, CDs, or radio, with the assistance of a classroom teacher or group facilitator, who is coached by the audio “teacher facilitator” to implement active, child-centered instruction that is highly relevant to the daily lives of the young participants. Warm and appealing characters lead the listening participants through songs, stories, and games that provide an engaging framework for literacy, math, life skills and other learning content. The participatory nature of the guided lessons engages students and teachers in multiple ways—cognitively, physically, emotionally, creatively and socially.
Interactive Audio Instruction is low-cost, high-reach, renewable, and reusable, and EDC has used it to powerful effect in contexts across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Just a few examples follow:
- Democratic Republic of Congo: Twenty-one percent of Grade 2 students participating in EDC’s PAQUED early grade literacy program attained or surpassed the benchmarks set for French reading in Grade 3, compared to 2% of students in comparison schools. Interactive Audio Instruction listenership was a key factor in teacher instructional changes that facilitated improvements in students’ reading skills.
- Honduras: EDC’s Juego y Aprendo Interactive Audio Instruction program established alternative early childhood centers, staffed with volunteer facilitators, in remote and isolated communities. 12 months of Interactive Audio Instruction use enabled students to match student achievement levels attained by a comparison group of formal preschools. In the seven years following the initial intervention, Honduras expanded Juego y Aprendo from the original 53 sites to over 3,000 locations, and the program has been successfully sustained.
- Paraguay: EDC combined the Big Math for Little Kids curriculum with an early childhood Interactive Audio Instruction framework to develop Tikichuela (Math in My School), a program in Spanish and Guaraní that was designed to increase math teaching knowledge and confidence among teachers and improve math performance among the largely rural, indigenous population. After only five months, students in the pilot program saw, on average, a 16-point increase in scores over those not in the program, and the teaching quality gap between program participants and their formally trained comparison teachers closed.
- Rwanda: Interactive Audio Instruction lessons in Kinyarwanda and English designed by EDC’s Language, Literacy and Learning (L3 program) were used in all public grade 1-4 classrooms, with resulting dramatic gains in mother tongue and English literacy.
- Zanzibar: EDC’s Radio Instruction to Strengthen Education (RISE) and Zanzibar Teacher Upgrading by Radio (ZTUR) programs established the eLearning Division of Zanzibar’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), which continues to produce and broadcast interactive audio instruction programs for math, literacy and life skills 11 years later. Three hundred non-formal Early Childhood Development centers in disadvantaged communities were also established, and their facilitators and hundreds of other preschool teachers were trained. RISE preschool IAI listeners demonstrated a learning advantage of more than 10% over non-participating comparison students from higher SES backgrounds, and they maintained that advantage through Grade 7.
In fact, EDC literally wrote the book on the use of IAI for early childhood programming! Interested readers should check out Expanding Access to Early Childhood Development Using Interactive Audio Instruction: A Toolkit and Guidelines for Program Design and Implementation, our 2015 master guide to all things ECD IA. For a sneak preview, watch our “Playing to Learn” video below.