Development Dialogue: Tapping Technology to Promote Early Childhood Development

A child’s earliest years present a unique window of opportunity to ensure good outcomes later in life. Early childhood development programs that include education, health, nutrition and social protection components have proven to be effective in several countries, but despite this growing evidence, estimates show that more than 200 million children in developing countries under the age of 5 will not reach their development potential.

Early childhood is a critical time because the brain develops most rapidly in the first years of life and affects the lifelong capacity of each child to learn. Stable, caring, interactive relationships with adults are necessary to benefit the healthy development of young children, and high-quality early childhood care and education programs can improve children’s chances for success in later life. Early childhood development can also help level the playing field from the early stages of life. Interventions directed at the poorest children can offset negative trends, as well as promote quality learning and physical growth. In fact, investing in young children is one of the smartest investments a country can make. Examples of programs that work well include those that promote parenting education, preschool enrollment, children's educational media, and training for child care workers to improve quality in early child development programs. 

Join development leaders, expert practitioners, and policy-makers in this two-week online forum to discuss how to use technology and media to support early childhood development and ensure that all children thrive during their early years.

Claudia Costin, Senior Director, Education, World Bank Group, Moderator, on the impact of early childhood development programs.

Investing in young children is one of the smartest investments a country can make. We know that the first years of life are crucial to healthy development. But that’s just the start. The impact of early childhood development programs on children’s education outcomes, nutrition, health, and future productivity make it one of the most promising interventions to level the playing field at an early stage and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.

Yet far too few children benefit from these services, especially among the poorest families. Less than 50 percent of 3- to 6-year-old children in developing countries receive any form of pre-primary education. A key question is how we can work together with policymakers to expand the coverage of these programs at an affordable and sustainable cost. Given the many demands on public resources, there are still questions raised before countries take cost-effective programs to scale across different socio-economic and cultural settings, and for different ages.

As we continue to think outside the box, technology and media have an untapped potential. In several countries, radio and television, for example, can support parenting and help expand educational programs to reach high-risk children. At the World Bank Group, we are committed to continue ramping up our support to early childhood development programs, and knowledge generation and discussion around these issues.

I am delighted to be joined by four wonderful panelists who will help me lead this discussion. I invite you to ask questions, raise issues that haven’t yet surfaced, and share your practical experience and ideas about what has worked and what hasn’t.

Sashwati Banerjee, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India, on leveraging technology to provide high quality ECCE and reduce childhood poverty.

Sashwati Banerjee leads Sesame Workshop’s educational mission in India to create innovative and engaging content that maximizes the educational power of all media to help children reach their highest potential. 

As Founding Managing Director of Sesame Workshop India, Banerjee spearheads Galli Galli Sim Sim, a multiplatform initiative that combines the power of mass media with educational outreach to prepare children for school and life. Under her leadership, the organization has developed and implemented ground breaking programs to reach children – especially those who are disenfranchised. From designing vegetable carts that roll into densely populated slums with messages on healthy habits to partnering with community radio stations and integrating them with telephony in order to address the educational needs of rural and migrant communities, Banerjee’s efforts bring important lessons to children—wherever they are. With the high usage of cell phones in India, teacher capacities are strengthened and classroom experiences are enhanced in government preschools and primary schools with content geared towards children, educators and caregivers. To date, Galli Galli Sim Sim has reached more than 50 million children since its debut in 2006 with demonstrated impact on learning outcomes. 

Further, Banerjee has been essential to expanding Sesame Workshop India’s efforts to address quality in early childhood education in the private sector.  In order to meet the growing demand for preschool education, Banerjee launched Sesame Street Preschools as well as products like ‘School–in-the-Box’. Ms. Banerjee’s leadership in developing and overseeing these initiatives set the framework for Sesame Workshop India’s sustainability strategy and drive the mission to promote lifelong learning. 

Banerjee has extensive experience in the social development sector. As the Program Director and Communications Manager of Abt Associates’ USAID funded PSP One Project, she successfully designed and led the ‘Goli ke Hamjoli’, ‘Bindaas Bol’ and the ‘DIMPA’ campaigns. Banerjee’s prior work spanned across various organizations in the private sector managing programs, communications, public relations and marketing. 

Banerjee serves on the board of ‘Point of View,’ a Mumbai-based non-profit organization that promotes the points of view of women and other marginalized groups on all issues through a creative use of media and art.  Additionally, Ms. Banerjee serves on the board of CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment and Action), a Delhi-based non-profit organization working on capacity building, leadership and human rights for women and young people.  Banerjee is committed to issues about women’s reproductive rights and health and is associated with WRAI (White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood) and ARC (Advocating Reproductive Health).  

Banerjee holds a BA in English from Delhi University and a Diploma in Advertising and Communications and Journalism, publishes and writes on various journals. When she is not working, Ms. Banerjee enjoys traveling, reading and music.

Sashwati: There is strong evidence around the world that investment in high quality early childhood education can make a significant and long lasting difference in the lives of children who experience poverty1. In recent years, policymakers and researchers have argued that high quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) programs have the potential to close gaps in school achievement that often exist between poor and minority children and their middle-class counterparts2. Yet, the problem of inequity is globally pertinent with an ineffective distribution of public resources, lack of sufficient investment and absolutely small amount of private funding towards strengthening ECCE. Added to that, the disintegrated package of essential interventions delivered to eradicate malnutrition and gender inequality has had direct impact on children’s cognitive development.

While emerging nations are embracing the Internet and mobile technology, it is time to leverage their potential adoption and approval, towards fighting poverty. Mobile phones through SMS and IVRS based platforms can be effectively used to extend learning at home, deliver educational content, build capacity of teachers and monitor progress. Low cost technology can such as wire mesh can help bridge the digital divide.

This conversation will examine approaches that attempt to use technology and its innovative use to build partnerships, share knowledge and design interventions to mitigate poverty and its negative influence on children. 

  1 (Barnett, 1995; Brooks-Gunn, 2003; Karoly, et al, 1998)
  2 (Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2005)

Rachel Christina, radio-based instruction, Education Development Center, on Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI) as an ideal mechanism for early childhood programming.

For nearly twenty years, the Education Development Center (EDC) has been working with governments, NGOs, and communities in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of the world to provide high-quality early childhood education at scale and at reasonable costs. Through the medium of Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI), we have developed and delivered teacher training and direct instruction, using best practices in early childhood education, with powerful results, to children in contexts as diverse as Honduras, Nepal, El Salvador, Indonesia, Zanzibar, Malawi, and Paraguay. This work is part of our broader IAI portfolio, through which we have improved educational opportunities for tens of millions of students and enhanced the teaching and supervisory skills of thousands of teachers and administrators in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 

As a low-cost, high-reach, renewable and reusable teaching and learning medium, IAI provides an ideal mechanism for early childhood programming. EDC’s IAI packages for early childhood include lessons designed to promote comprehensive child development and school readiness in a logical, research-based scope and sequence. The process of developing programs is deliberately designed to build the capacity of government personnel and engage communities to increase both supply and demand for high-quality early childhood programs. Content is delivered through CD, MP3, radio, or mobile phone, with the assistance of a classroom teacher or group leader, who is coached by the IAI “teacher facilitator” to implement active, child-centered instruction that is highly relevant to the daily lives of the young participants. Songs, stories, and dramatic themes provide an engaging framework for literacy, math, life skills or other learning content. The participatory nature of the guided lessons engages students in multiple ways -- cognitively, physically, creatively and socially.

The recorded audio programs, accompanying teacher guides, student materials, and training for teacher facilitators provide a dual-pronged program of high-quality instructional content for children and guided-practice professional development for teachers, transforming classrooms and promoting strong early childhood development. Audio content, particularly when delivered over radio, also makes learning more transparent for families and community members, who may otherwise not understand what their children are learning in school if they themselves can’t read. This transparency is a particular advantage in contexts where ECED is newly available, as parent support and buy-in is critical to increasing ECED access. Where appropriate, communities are also engaged as partners to provide learning spaces and facilitators to lead early childhood groups, building a broader base for programming in contexts where governments’ capacity to delivery services is constrained.

Martha Vibbert, Director, SPARK Center at Boston Medical Center, BU School of Medicine, on strengthening parent-child interaction skills in the age of video and mobile technology.

Martha Vibbert, Ph.D. is Director of the SPARK Center at Boston Medical Center, a medically-specialized, therapeutic early intervention program in the community for infants, toddlers and preschools who have complex health, developmental and psychosocial challenges. She is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine; and Associated Faculty at Boston University’s Center for Global Health and Development. Dr. Vibbert She is a licensed clinical psychologist and received her master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University. She completed her clinical training at Boston Children’s Hospital and worked at Harlem Hospital in NYC on the Pediatric AIDS Team before joining the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Boston Medical Center in 1991.

Dr. Vibbert’s research has focused on early language acquisition, early parent-child interaction, and the combined impacts of health problems, poverty, and caregiving environments on early neurodevelopment. Her clinical work centers on integrating mental health care into pediatric and early childhood education settings, with the goal of supporting vulnerable families and helping young children to overcome developmental challenges associated with early trauma, separation, and chronic illness.

For the past 10 years, Dr. Vibbert has overseen SPARK’s International Knowledge Exchange Program involving program partnerships and collaborations with pediatric and early childhood colleagues across the globe. She is co-Chair of the World Forum Foundation’s Working Group on ECD and HIV/AIDS, and founding Director of Universal Baby, a global, video and mobile technology intervention to promote key ‘serve and return’ parent-child interactions that nurture early brain development and lay the foundation for later learning.

Martha: Universal Baby (UB) is a portable parenting skills intervention built to leverage the power of visual learning, mobile technology, social modeling, and social networking. International research has shown that responsive and stimulating parenting is key for children’s early growth and healthy neurocognitive development. Basic reciprocal (‘serve and return’) interactions between caregivers and very young children are essential to build neuronal density and durability in the developing brain, to support emotional bonding, and to lay the foundation for a child’s future learning, health, and resilience.

Unfortunately, caregivers living in poverty may be least likely to gain access to this key information about how to support their child’s brain development during the earliest critical years. Wide cultural variation in childrearing traditions has led to challenges in conceptualizing and delivering effective parenting interventions. Barriers to sustainability and scale with typical parent coaching approaches include cost, training demands, and over-reliance on dense manuals and charts, and geographic challenges. 

UB leapfrogs these barriers by inviting caregivers to watch their own and others’ naturally-occurring examples of ‘serve and return’ interactions with young children---from within their own community. Field implementers capture local video footage and upload it to a technical hub where, based on cross-cultural collaboration, it is shaped into short appealing UB videos that are then downloaded to the field for widespread viewing and sharing. Video graphics and local narration help users to recognize the dynamics and subtleties of positive ‘serve and return’ interactions, and underscore the evidence about how these behaviors contribute to brain development and a child’s future learning. UB is a cost-effective and catalytic innovation that can be scaled and embedded into any local program or setting. It puts the science of child development directly into the hands of parents---everywhere. 

For more information, please contact

Salvador Herencia, Director of Salgalu Comunicacion.

Salvador Herencia Hinojosa has more than 30 years of experience working in communication and advocacy for children’s rights and is currently the Director of Salgalu Communication and Social Responsibility, which leads Peru’s National Movement for Investing in Children. By rallying support from opinion leaders, Salgalu developed a communication strategy to socially and politically achieve the country’s goals of investing in children. Salgalu’s strategy includes an online television channel, which broadcasts daily content on early childhood, a news agency, a blog platform, and online training. 

Previously, Mr. Herencia worked for UNICEF, where he was Regional Communication Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean and responsible for the area of Communication and Social Mobilization in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Panama. His last position was in Florence, Italy, as Chief of Communications and Partnership in UNICEF's Innocent Research Center. In the 1980s, Mr. Herencia participated in the process to achieve polio eradication in Latin America and the Caribbean, increase immunization in the region, as well as the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of Children in most countries of the region. 

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Salvador: Salgalu Communication leads and supports Peru’s National Movement for Investing in Children, which we believe is a key factor for poverty eradication in the region. This is a citizen initiative attracting personalities across academia and other fields who are opinion leaders in the topic. Salgalu seeks to prioritize investing in children by using ICT to share information and knowledge. As part of our work, we use social media and manage an online TV channel, where we produce and broadcast content focusing on early childhood, including news, interviews with ECD specialists, and tips for parents and educators. 

New Question
How can technology and media increase capacity and reach of parenting programs?