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Professor to study impact of early childhood education in Madagascar
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Laurier Associate Psychology Professor Colleen Loomis is part of a research team that has been awarded a three-year grant to analyze the impact of "Preschool for All in Madagascar," a new pre-school and early childhood education program. The goal of the research is to highlight the impact and importance of early childhood education in improving education in Madagascar.
Loomis is partnering with Abdeljalil Akkari, a colleague from the University of Geneva where Loomis was a visiting scholar. They will be measuring the effectiveness of an early education program being established in January 2011 by Aide et Action. The non-governmental agency will provide schooling for 12,000 children (ages three to six) primarily in rural and suburban areas in Madagascar.
“We will run parallel with Aide et Action, and assess this intervention to see its effectiveness in preparing kids for school and changing parents’ and policymakers’ perspectives,” said Loomis, who will include interviews with teachers, parents, and stakeholders in public education as part of the research.
The research team – including scientists from the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar – will provide measurement tools on the program’s effect on children’s cognitive, social, emotional and psychological development.
One of the elements they will be studying is the language of instruction. English and French is spoken in Madagascar, as is an indigenous language called Malagasy. Loomis said research suggests learning in the same language that children hear at home aids in educational achievement.
“Once you have that base, you can add other languages,” said Loomis. “And there are intellectual and cognitive advantages to learning two (or more) languages.”
A primary reason for assessing the program is to provide evidence to policymakers about the impact of pre-school education on children’s learning outcomes. In other parts of the world research has shown conclusively that attending pre-school enhances children’s readiness for school. The state of pre-school education in Madagascar is embryonic, and despite existing legislation in Madagascar, access to pre-schools is limited. In 2008, 10 per cent of children attend pre-school, essentially in the private, urban sector; the government invested 0.02 per cent of its budget in pre-schools.
“We always under-invest in education, and it’s always a question of accessibility,” said Loomis.
She plans to share the results of the research with Laurier students, and involve master’s and doctoral students in the research process. The research is also complementary to work she is doing with Better Beginnings, Better Futures, a long-term research project looking at the impact of early childhood prevention programming on children living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Ontario.
“Education is critical to health, wellbeing and justice,” said Loomis. “We need to be doing more educational interventions at a younger age. Those are the people who are going to grow up to be the movers and the shakers in the community.”