As in many other developing countries, children under the age of five in rural Ghana often fail to reach their developmental potential. Researchers there are partnering with the organization Lively Minds to evaluate the impact of a low-cost, play-based learning program on early childhood cognitive development.

Policy Issue 

Early childhood is a crucial time for development, since during these early years children form the basis for future learning. However, in developing countries, many children under five fail to reach their developmental potential. Training caregivers to run educational “Play Schemes” in kindergarten classes may be a cost-effective way to improve early childhood development, but there is little rigorous evidence on its efficacy. In Ghana, researchers are evaluating if a play-based learning program that engages both teachers and parents can improve early childhood cognitive development at low cost.

Context of the Evaluation 

This evaluation is taking place among pre-primary schools in the Bongo District (Upper East Region) and Tolon District (Northern Region) of Ghana. In the remote rural communities in Ghana, many children do not receive any education before primary school. Although Ghana has introduced two years of kindergarten into the primary education system, many rural schools struggle with a lack of trained teachers, large class sizes, lack of play-based resources, teacher absenteeism and an emphasis on rote-based teaching.

Additionally, low levels of maternal education may reduce rural parents’ involvement in their children’s education. Maternal education levels are particularly low in the areas where this study is taking place. As of 2014, the median educational attainment for women was 0 years in the Northern region and 2.9 years in the Upper East region, compared to a national average of 7.2 years1.

Details of the Intervention 

Researchers are partnering with Lively Minds, an organization that runs educational programs in rural Ghana and Uganda, to evaluate the impact of a community-led play-based learning program on 4 to 5 year-old children’s cognitive development and health.

Among eighty rural schools, half are being randomly assigned to receive training and support from Lively Minds, while the other half are serving as a comparison. The Lively Minds program includes the following components:

  1. Teacher training: Two kindergarten teachers from each school receive a training course on the importance of education and play, classroom management, how to use and make games, and how to train mothers.
  2. Mother training: The trained kindergarten teachers then train 30–40 mothers in their community during two two-hour community meetings and eight two-hour participatory workshops. The training is designed for women who are illiterate and have never been to school. Content includes the importance of education and play, how to make and play games, child-friendly teaching, and how to install simple handwashing devices (tippy-taps) at home.
  3. Play schemes: Four days a week for one hour, groups of trained mothers volunteer at the kindergarten. Each mother runs a play station and teaches using discovery-based methods.  Children have to wash their hands with soap before participating, with the goal of developing handwashing habits.
  4. Ongoing support: Ghana Education Service officials and Lively Minds staff have monthly meetings to track the progress of the play schemes and ensure implementation quality. Once a month, “top-up” training workshops are held for kindergarten teachers.

To measure the impact of the program on children’s cognitive development, researchers are using the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) tool, which tests pre-numeracy and pre-literacy skills, socio-emotional and motor development, and self-control. They are also measuring the program’s impact on child health outcomes, school attendance, caregivers’ psychological well-being and knowledge of childcare, and parents’ investment in their children both inside and outside of school.

Researchers are measuring these outcomes before the intervention began in late 2017, mid-way through the program in April 2018, and after the program ends in August 2018.

Results and Policy Lessons 

Study ongoing, results forthcoming