A Conversation about Early Childhood in Guyana, the Land of Many Waters

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Guyana is on the U.N. list of Small Island Developing States, but don’t be fooled: It is not an island, nor is it particularly small.  Its Amerindian name means “Land of Many Waters,” a more accurate description, and a source of some of the challenges the country faces in providing quality education to children living in the most remote areas.

Last month, the World Bank hosted Guyana’s Minister of Education Priya Manickhand to discuss early childhood development. Minister Manickhand specifically asked us three questions that we’ve heard many times over the last few years from policymakers in Latin America and the Caribbean:

  • What can Guyana do to ensure children arrive in grade 1 ready for school?
  • How can we increase parents’ involvement in preschools (known as “nursery schools” in Guyana?
  • And what about parents and children living in the hardest-to-reach areas, where pre-schools aren’t an option?

A lively roundtable discussion of various early childhood development (ECD) experiences across the world resulted in some interesting conclusions, as follows:

School readiness:  Evidence shows that impact hinges on the quality of the interventions.

Fostering quality requires two key elements: quality assurance mechanisms and instruments to evaluate the quality being offered in schools. On the former, Jamaica has developed and enforced standards for preschools, through the establishment of a new inspectorate.  With regard to the latter, Brazil has used Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) to systematically assess the quality of services, including space and equipment, routine of personal care, interactions with caregivers, and program structure. 

Finally, school readiness isn’t only about children being ready for school, but primary schools being ready for incoming preschool graduates. This could be achieved by ensuring that teachers in grades 1 and 2 are trained in child development and preschool pedagogy to help smooth the transition.  Aligning curricula is also important. 

Involving parents:  Options abound, and depend crucially on context.

Honduras, for example, implemented nutrition and stimulation interventions at community clinics to support parents with ‘extra’ information and easy exercises to diagnose and foster their children cognitive and emotional development. These low-cost initiatives appear to be effective in involving parents, especially fathers. In Mexico, the Bank supported parental involvement in pre-school through training to parent councils about the important role they play as parents in their children’s success, such as setting high expectations. 

Reaching the hardest-to-reach: New technologies are promising.

Reaching both children and their parents in the most remote areas is a challenge in many parts of the world.  For parents in remote parts of some African countries, for example, positive parenting techniques can be shared through mobile phone messaging, whereby weekly messages are sent to parents as part of a cash transfer program.  In Guyana, given the country’s ongoing experience with Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) at the primary level, participants suggested that the government explore IRI options for preschool.  Similar such curricula have been developed for the preschool level in Zanzibar. 

In addition to addressing the Minister’s three questions, Bank experts provided some general ideas that might be useful for other countries that want to invest in early childhood development:

Pilot interventions and assess their cost-effectiveness. The financial sustainability of ECD interventions is one of the main concerns of policymakers. Therefore, small-scale pilots, together with rigorous impact evaluations, are essential to assess the cost-effectiveness of alternative strategies.

Exploit connections with other sectors. Linking programs from different sectors can help reduce implementation costs and promote knowledge-sharing.  One example is to use preschools as a vehicle to deliver other critical services such as nutrition or de-worming.  Another is the example from Colombia where the madres líderes, who are in charge of administrating the conditional cash transfer “Familias en Acción” program in the community, have been proven to be effective in delivering ECD sessions. The Bank also showcased some tools available to countries to help with ECD policy development, such as the System Approach for Better Education Results (SABER)-ECD initiative, the newly launched online ECD training program, and a forthcoming ECD costing model that is being developed with UNICEF.

Together, these policies and investments can go a long way in realizing the potential of Guyana’s future.  We look forward to supporting Guyana and other countries to better involve parents, prepare children, and reach those hardest to reach – and to help ensure those successes and lessons flow to the next set of countries scaling up investments in their youngest generation.

Follow the World Bank education team on Twitter: @WBG_Education
World Bank and Guyana
World Bank and Early Childhood Development


Peter Holland

Lead Education Specialist, Africa Region, World Bank

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