Quality of care matters for babies and toddlers: Lessons from aeioTU in Colombia

Milagros Nores
Topic: Outcomes

Worldwide, nations have increased public investments in early care and education to improve the development of young children. Research has found that interventions that enhance caregiving in the early years can alter children’s developmental trajectories and support their growth towards their full potential. However, improving supports for development is particularly complex for the lowest income families in the developing world, and many questions remain about how to best improve early childhood care and education at a large scale. Increasingly, research focuses on issues of implementation and scalability.

In a new article in Economics of Education Review, Raquel Bernal (Universidad de los Andes in Colombia), Steve Barnett (NIEER), and I look at the first eight months of a randomized trial of a high-quality center-based early intervention (aeioTU) for highly disadvantaged infants and toddlers in two communities in Colombia. The relatively high structural quality of aeioTU model and its provision to over 13,300 children in 25 cities throughout the country make studying it highly relevant as an example of large-scale intervention. aeioTU stands out from more typical problems available to the disadvantaged for its comprehensive pre- and in-service teacher training, higher qualification requirements for staff, low child-to-teacher ratios, and expert leadership for practice including a pedagogical coordinator and atelier. In addition, aeioTU has a Reggio Emilia “inspired” curriculum which emphasizes learning through a combination of child play, exploration and projects. It balances child‐initiated activities with teacher‐directed activities.

Eight months into the program we find substantive positive effects on language, cognitive development and overall development, with girls benefiting the most. We do not find effects on nutritional outcomes, socio-emotional development or the home environment. A previous article on this program from 2018 assessed the components of quality and the central role that evaluation has played in aeioTU’s quality improvement processes. The program has maintained a strong focus on quality, while scaling up throughout Colombia. Since other studies of center-based early education programs in Colombia have found small or null effects, our findings suggest that the higher quality provided by aeioTU centers is a key to success.

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