In a recent review by The Economist about IDB’s book on early childhood development called The First Years, it was noted that:
Latin America and the Caribbean has been less successful in feeding the mental and emotional development of its youngest children, especially those who are children of poor mothers with lower levels of education. Governments have expanded the offer of child care services, largely with the laudable goal of helping mothers work outside the home. Brazil and Chile have doubled the proportion of children using child care services in the last decade and the increase in Ecuador was by a factor of six. Much of the provision occurs in new and large centers, with capacity for up to 300 children. However, the staff of these centers is scarce, poorly trained and poorly paid. ”
One of the main results of the First Years is precisely the low-quality levels of childcare services aimed at children 0-3 years of age (known as nurseries, gardens, nests, rooms, children’s homes, or nursery, in the different countries of the region). The data systematized by the IDB publication are worrisome. The average provider of public care services is located in inadequate quality levels, in countries as diverse as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In these countries, comparable information is available because standardized measures have been administered to assess different aspects of the quality of this type of services.
And why is the quality of childcare services so important?
The first years of life are the key to the future development of human beings. They are those during which the foundations of physical and emotional health and the learning potential of people are laid. In this sensitive period, poor quality childcare services can not only have neutral impacts but can even be detrimental to the development of young children.
In a study carried out in Ecuador, taking advantage of a discontinuity in the public budget allocation formula for this type of services, different dimensions of the welfare of children who do not attend a childcare service are compared with those who do. The authors find that users of childcare services exhibit null results – on social and motor development – and even negative results – on nutritional status, cognition and vocabulary development – of important magnitude. In addition, mothers of children using care services experience depression symptoms more frequently and exhibit less receptive interactions towards their children.
How do you measure the quality of an early childhood development service?
The specialized literature identifies two types of variables that describe the quality of a care service: structural variables and process variables. The structural variables mainly refer to factors that are easier to observe or report, such as the characteristics of the basic infrastructure, salaries, the educational profile of the staff and the number of children in charge of each adult.
Process variables describe the quality of interactions (between children and adults, between children, and between parents and centre staff) and the routines and activities that are performed. The process variables are those that have an effect on children’s cognitive and emotional development.
What can be done to improve the quality of early childhood development services?
A new IDB publication, “ The quality of the Good Living Children’s Centers in Ecuador ” highlights three initiatives undertaken in Ecuador in order to improve the quality of the main public childcare app services, the Good Living Children’s Centers or CIBV.
The three initiatives of the Ecuadorian program were: (a) the hiring of coordinators with post-secondary education for each center; (b) the inspection and cessation of public financing of centers that failed to comply with standards; and (c) the transfer of children over the age of three to the initial education services, thus allowing the CIBV staff and activities to focus on the group of children under 3 years of age and promoting the use of children using the service. organize in more homogeneous groups in terms of age.
The IDB study finds that the results of these reforms were very modest:
- Despite having been incorporated into the vast majority of the centres studied, the coordinators with post-secondary education demonstrate a low level of specific knowledge about early childhood development on a scale designed to measure it. Of 58 questions, on average 33 answers correctly (3 more than the childcare staff, who are required to have full secondary education).
- The cessation of agreements with centres that failed to meet minimum standards effectively-identified centres that, on average, had worse quality levels according to many scales. However, as explained by the authorities in charge of the program, the cessation of agreements for public financing does not ensure that the centres do not continue to operate with funds from other sources (private contributions or from the parents themselves).
- The transfer of children over three years to the initial education services has the potential to result in an improvement in the quality of the service. The IDB study compares several quality measures in classrooms with children with greater and lesser dispersion in their ages and documents that the quality of processes is slightly higher in those centres with smaller age gaps among children receiving the service, although these differences They are not always statistically significant.
In other words, although the reform was undertaken in Ecuador points in the right direction, it is only a first step. International experience suggests that a significant improvement in the quality of childcare services requires a complex process, which includes elements in all of the following areas:
- The governance of the sector and the opportunities for horizontal and vertical coordination between the different actors involved.
- Sufficient financing, with long-term budgetary commitments and administrative processes that allow resources to reach suppliers in a timely manner.
- The systems of continuous quality improvement, which include the development of standards on the services that providers must offer, the results that children must obtain and the competencies that the staff attending them must develop. But in addition, the timely measurement of the quality of the service and the results of the children, the monitoring, monitoring and information systems and the processes of implementation and evaluation of improvements.
- Human resources with the appropriate skills to provide the care children need during this period of their life and with adequate salary and professional development incentives.