Category Archives: Education

“We will change the world, starting from the very beginning.” Building Babies Brains. Criança Feliz, Brazil’s audacious plan to fight poverty – Jenny Anderson * Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale – The Lancet * A groundbreaking study offers undeniable proof that the fight against inequality starts with moms – Jenny Anderson.

“How can we most dramatically improve the quality of life for our citizens, their health, their education? The answer to that question lies in starting at the beginning, at pregnancy, and in the first few years of a child’s life.” Osmar Terra

Decades of groundbreaking research shows that the love and sense of safety experienced by a baby directly impacts how the child’s brain is wired. Adversity, especially persistent, stress-triggering adversity like neglect and abuse, hampers that development, and can result in poorer health, educational attainment, and early death.

“Children who experience profound neglect early in life, if you don’t reverse that by the age of two, the chance they will end up with poor development outcomes is high. The strongest buffer to protect against that? A parent, or caring adult.” Charles Nelson

The best investment a policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because that’s when intervention has the highest payoffs. Strong biological, psychosocial, and economic arguments exist for intervening as early as possible, starting from and even before conception, to promote, protect, and support children’s development.

Studies have found that children whose mothers received coaching made significant developmental gains, and not just in the short term. Twenty-two years later, the kids from one group who had received those home visits as young children not only had higher scores on tests of reading, math, and general knowledge, they had stayed in school longer. They were less likely to exhibit violent behavior, less likely to experience depression, and had better social skills. They also earned 25% more on average than a control group of kids whose mothers had not received the coaching.

Osmar Terra is a tall man with a deep voice and an easy laugh, one that disguises the scale of his ambition to transform Brazilian society. A federal representative for nearly two decades, he is the driving force behind the world’s biggest experiment to prove that teaching poor parents how to love and nurture their infants will dramatically influence what kind of adults they become, and give Brazil its best shot at changing its current trajectory of violence, inequality, and poverty.

Terra, aged 68, first became obsessed with the question of how humans develop nearly 30 years ago. As a cardiologist in the 1990s, he would read endless research papers about the neuroscience of early childhood. When he entered politics, becoming mayor of Santa Rosa in Rio Grande do Sul in 1992, he continued to grapple with the question, even studying for a master’s degree in neuroscience. The science, he believed, should lead to smart policy. As a doctor and a manager, a mayor and a state health secretary, he was always trying to figure out how to to tackle poverty head-on. “In every single activity I always ask myself, ‘What is the public policy that can be more transformative?’” he says. “How can we most dramatically improve the quality of life for our citizens, their health, their education?”

The answer to that question, he came to realize, lay in starting at the beginning, at pregnancy, and in the first few years of a Child’s life.

Decades of groundbreaking research shows that the love and sense of safety experienced by a baby directly impacts how the child’s brain is wired. Adversity, especially persistent, stress-triggering adversity like neglect and abuse, hampers that development, and can result in poorer health, educational attainment, and early death. While science underpins his mission, Terra’s palpable passion for the topic and his skill at politicking eventually led him to create Criança Feliz, a highly ambitious parent coaching program he helped launch in 2017 to try and reach four million pregnant women and children by 2020.

Under Criança Feliz, an army of trained social workers, a sort of national baby corps, are dispatched to the poorest corners of Brazil. Traveling by boat, sometimes battling crocodiles and floods, by foot, by car, by truck and by bus, these social workers go to people’s homes to show them how to play, sing, and show affection to their infants and young children. They explain to parents why this matters:

Emotional safety underpins cognitive growth. Intelligence is not fixed, but formed through experience.

Parent coaching, and specifically, home visiting, is not new. The most famous study, which took place in Jamaica in the 1970s, showed that well trained home visitors supporting poor mothers with weekly visits for two years led to big improvements in children’s cognition, behavior, and future earnings. One group of infants in that program who received coaching in their earliest years earned 25% more than a control group more than 20 years later.

But Brazil’s ambition is audacious. No city or country has ever attempted to reach so many people in such a short amount of time. (The largest program doing this now is probably in Peru, reaching about 100,000 families; Criança Feliz is already reaching 300,000.) “They are raising the bar for what is possible nationally,” says Jan Sanderson, the former deputy minister of children from Manitoba, Canada, who is an expert in home visiting and recently traveled to observe the program.

Just how Brazil, a massive country with endemic poverty and grating inequality, came to embrace parent coaching as the next frontier in combating poverty is a story of Terra’s political will, the strategic savvy of a few foundations, the pivotal role of a Harvard program, and the compassion of a growing group of unlikely allies, from communists to far-right wing politicians. Talking to lawmakers in Brazil can feel like wandering around a neuroscience convention: One senator from the south can’t stop talking about working memory, while a mayor from the northern town of Boa Vista in Roirama state is fixated on synapse connection.

At least 68 senators and congresspeople, judges, and mayors have converted to the cause, becoming evangelical in their focus on early childhood development.

“I believe that this is the solution, not only for Brazil, but for any country in the world in terms of security, public security, education, and health care,” says Iosé Medeiros, a senator from the state of Mato Grosso who heads the parliamentary committee on early childhood development. “It’s a cheap solution.”

Terra’s claims are more dramatic. “We will change the world, starting from the very beginning.”

Those words are hardly surprising coming from the man whom Ely Harasawa, Criança Feliz’s director, calls the program’s “godfather.” But the devil, of course, is in the details, and in Terra and his allies’ ability to steer a course through some rather treacherous political terrain.

Criança Feliz in action

On a hot day in May, Adriana Miranda, a 22-year-old accounting student, visits Gabriela Carolina Herrera Campero, also 22, who is 36 weeks pregnant with her third child. Campero arrived in Brazil less than a year ago from Venezuela, fleeing with her husband and two children from that country’s financial collapse and ensuing chaos. She lives in Boa Vista, a city in the north of Brazil where 10% of the population are estimated to be refugees.

The two women greet each other warmly and start chatting, in spite of the fact that Miranda is speaking in Portuguese and Campero in Spanish. They sit together on plastic chairs on a concrete patio as Miranda goes through a checklist of questions about the pregnancy. Has Campero been to her prenatal visits? (Yes.) How is she feeling? (Hot.) Is she drinking enough water? (Yes.) And walking? (When it’s not too hot.) Is she depressed or anxious? (No, but worried, yes.) Does she feel supported by her husband? (Yes.) How is she sleeping and what kinds of foods is she eating? (She’s not sleeping well because she always has to pee, and she is eating a lot of fruit.)

Miranda moves on to talking with Campero about attachment, how to create a strong bond with a baby in utero, and also once the baby is born. Does she know that at five months, the baby can hear her and that her voice will provide comfort to the baby when it is born?

“It’s important the baby feel the love we are transmitting. When he is in distress, he will know your voice and it will calm him,” says Miranda.

It’s a topic they have discussed before. Campero is eager to show what she has learned about the baby. (A part of the program requires that visitors check for knowledge.) “It has five senses, and if I talk, he will know my voice,” she says. “The baby will develop more.” They discuss the importance of cuddling a baby and being patient.

Having a baby in the best of circumstances can be challenging. As an impoverished refugee, in a new country, it can be utterly overwhelming.

I ask Campero, in Spanish, whether the program has been helpful. After all, she already has two kids. Doesn’t she know what to expect? She starts to cry. “They have helped me emotionally,” she says. “She has taught me so many things I didn’t know.” For example, she didn’t know to read to a baby, or that her baby could hear her in utero. Her son used to hit her belly; he now sings songs to the baby because she explained to him what she learned from Miranda. “I feel supported,” she tells me.

Many people, rich and poor alike, have no idea what infants are capable of. Psychologists and neuroscientists believe they are creative geniuses, able to process information in far more sophisticated ways than we ever knew. But for that genius to show itself, the baby needs to feel safe and loved and to have attention.

Medeiros explains how he viewed parenting before he went to the Harvard program.

”I raised my kids as if I were taking care of a plant,” he recalls. “You give them food, you take care of them.” He says he did the best he could, but “I did not have all this information. If I had encouraged them, stimulated them more, I would have been able to contribute much more to their development.”

He is hardly the exception. A 2012 nationally representative survey in Brazil asked mothers, 5200 of whom were college educated, what things were most important for the development of their children up to three years of age. Only 19% mentioned playing and walking, 18% said receiving attention from adults, and 12% picked receiving affection. “So playing, talking to the child, attachment, it’s not important for more than 80% of the people who are interviewed,” says Harasawa, the director of Criança Feliz.

Criança Feliz is part of Brazil’s welfare program for its poorest citizens, called Bolsa Familia. Started 15 years ago, the welfare program is rooted in a cash transfer system that makes payments contingent on kids getting vaccines and staying in school, and pregnant mothers getting prenatal care. Vaccination rates in Brazil exceed 95% and primary school enrollment is near universal. Originally derided, and still criticized by some in Brazil as a handout program for the poor, Bolsa Familia is nevertheless being replicated worldwide.

But a powerful coterie of Brazil’s political leaders believe it’s not enough. Cash transfers alleviate the conditions of poverty, but do not change its trajectory.

That’s where Criança Feliz comes in. The program is adapted from UNICEF and the World Health Organization’s Care for Child Development parent coaching program. Trained social workers visit pregnant women every month and new parents once a week for the hrst three years of a child’s life. Sessions last about an hour. The goal is to not to play with the baby or train the parent, but to help parents have a more loving relationship with their children. The program costs $20 per child per month. The ministry of social development allocated $100 million in 2017 and $200 million in 2018.

Cesar Victoria, an epidemiology professor at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, will conduct a three year randomized control trial comparing kids in the program to kids who are not, on measures of cognition, attachment, and motor development. Caregivers will be evaluated to see what they have learned about stimulation and play.

Criança Feliz neither pities poverty nor romanticizes it. It recognizes that low income people often lack information about how to raise their children and offers that information up, allowing parents to do what they will with it. “It’s one thing to say ‘read to your baby twice a day,”’ says Sanderson. “It’s another thing to say, ‘when your baby hears your voice, there are little sparks firing in his brain that are helping him get ready to learn.’”

Of course, it’s a delicate balance between respecting the right of a family to raise their children the way they see fit and offering information and evidence that could help the child and the family. “You’re in their home, you can’t interfere,” says Teresa Surrita, mayor of Boa Vista. “But you are there to change their mindset.”

Liticia Lopes da Silva 23, a home visitor from Arujé, outside Sao Paulo, says that the initial Visits with families can be hard. “They don’t understand the importance of stimulation and they are resistant to the idea of playing with children,” she says. “They are raised a different way, their parents did not have this interaction with them.” The issue is not just that some mothers don’t play with their babies; some barely look at them. Others treat the visitors as nannies, leaving them to play with the child, thus thwarting the very purpose of the visit, the interaction between parent and child.

But after a few weeks of watching a social worker sit on the floor, playing with the child, and talking with her about the baby’s development, the mothers sometimes join in. “It’s amazing to see the families evolve,” says one home visitor in Arujé. “Three to four months after, you see the difference in how the mother plays with the child. In a different way, the whole family gets involved. Fathers often get involved and many families start to ask the visitors to come more often, although the visitors cannot oblige.

When a home visitor named Sissi Elisabeth Gimenes visits a family in Aruié, she brings a color wheel painted onto a piece of recycled cardboard, along with painted clothespins. She asks Agatha, age three, to put a brown clip on the brown color.

Agatha doesn’t know her colors and gets very shy. Sissi encourages Agatha while chatting with her mother, Alda Ferreira, about how play beneflts brain development. She quietly models how to use encouragement and praise, praising Agatha for finding white, ”the color of clouds”, as the girl slowly gets more confident and gets off her mother’s lap to play.

The activity is intentional. The clips hone Agatha’s fine motor skills as well as her cognitive ones; the interaction with her mother helps create the synaptic connections that allow her brain to grow and pave the way to more effective learning later on. Alda tells us her daughter knows many things that her older daughter did not at the same age.

Agatha

The process changes the social workers as well. One social worker, who has a three year old herself, says that as parents, we think we know everything. “But I knew nothing.” In Aruja, where the home visitors are all psychology students at the local university, working with the program as part-time interns, many admitted to being shocked at seeing the reality of what they’d been taught in the classroom. Poverty looks different off the page. “We are changing because we are out of the bubble,” said one. “Theory is very shallow.”

As we leave Campero’s house, I ask Miranda what she thought of the visit. She too starts to cry. “Gabriella recognizes the program is making a difference in her life,” she says, embarrassed and surprised at her own emotions. Campero had told Miranda a few weeks earlier that she was worried because the baby was not moving. Miranda suggested that Campero try singing to the child in her womb; the baby started to move.

The man who made it happen

In 2003, as secretary of health in Rio Grande do Sul, Terra created Programa Primeira Infancia Melhor (the Better Early Childhood Development Program, or PIM), a home visiting program based on Educa tu Hijo, a very successful case study from Cuba. Results have been mixed, but Terra saw the impact it had on families and communities. He set his sights on expanding the program nationally.

One of the most persuasive arguments for the program, he knew, was the science. But he had to build votes for that science. In 2011, he started lobbying everyone he could to try and get financial backing from congress to fund a week-long course that he helped create at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child. He thought if lawmakers, who would be attracted to the prestige of a course at Harvard, could learn from the neuroscientists and physicians there, they might also become advocates for the policy.

“Anybody in the corridor he sees, it’s a hug, it’s a tap on the chest, and then it’s early childhood development,” says Mary Young, director of the Center for Child Development at the China Development Research Foundation and an advisor to Criança Feliz. “He’s got the will and the skill.”

One convert, Michel Temer, who was vice president from 2011 and became president in 2016 when his boss was impeached, tapped Terra to be minister of social development. Soon after, Criança Feliz was born. But trying to get Terra to talk about legislation can be a challenge. What he wants to talk about are neurons, synapses, and working memory. Did I know that one million new neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of life?

And that those neural connections are key to forming memories?

“The number of connections depends on the stimuli of the environment,” he says. And the environment of poverty is relentlessly unkind to the stimuli available to children.

Attachment, he explains, is key, not just psychologically, but neurobiologically. “If a child feels emotionally safe and secure and attached they explore the world in a better way. The safer they feel, the safer their base, the faster they learn,” he says.

The first 1,000 days

Over the past 20 years, scientists have focused on the importance of the first 1,000 days of life. Brains build themselves, starting with basic connections and moving to more complex ones. Like a house, the better the foundation of basic connections, the more complex are the ones that can be built on top. In an infant’s earliest days, it’s not flashcards that create their brains, but relationships, via an interactive process that scientists call “serve and return.” When an infant or young child babbles, looks at an adult, or cries, and the adult responds with an affectionate gaze, words, or hugs, neural connections are created in the child’s brain that allow them to later develop critical tools like self-control and communication.

If kids do not experience stimulation and nurturing care, or if they face repeated neglect or abuse, the neural networks do not organize well. And that, says Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, can affect the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the metabolic system, and even alter the physical structure of the brain. “Children who experience profound neglect early in life, if you don’t reverse that by the age of two, the chance they will end up with poor development outcomes is high,” he says.

The strongest buffer to protect against that? A parent, or caring adult.

The case for early childhood as policy was elevated by Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman. As founder of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, he demonstrated the economic case for why the best investment a policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because that’s when intervention has the highest payoffs.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families,” Heckman said in 2012. His work showed that every dollar invested in a child over those years delivers a 13% return on investment every year. “Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way,” he said.

More than 506 Brazilian legislators, judges, mayors, state politicians and and prosecutors have attended the Harvard course that Terra helped set up. There, Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and professor, explains what infants need to thrive, what toxic stress does to a child and how to build resilience. The attendees are put in groups, maybe a state senator from one state with council members from municipalities in the same state, to spend the week on a project; in the next two-and-a-half months, they finish it with the help of a technical facilitator.

”It’s a little facilitation and a little manipulation,” says Eduardo Queiroz, outgoing head of the Fundaeéo Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal, a foundation which has played an integral role in supporting and shepherding Criança Feliz. “We create a community.”

It costs $8,800 to attend the program. Some pay their own way. Congress pays for lawmakers to go, and the Fundagéo Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal funds between 10 and 12 scholarships a year. The fellowship does not require the participants to do anything with their knowledge. But many have. Surrita, who is in her fifth term as mayor of Boa Vista, focused her early governing efforts on working with teens, tackling drugs and gangs as a way to help them. After her week at Harvard, she changed her approach, deciding to make Boa Vista the “early childhood development capital of Brazil.” Investing in young children, she argues, will mean not so many problems with teens:

”After taking this course Harvard on the ECD I realized how important it would be for us to work with the kids from pregnancy up to 6 years old that to develop them mentally and cognitively and that way I realized that it would be possible for us to improve the performance of the teenagers lives by working on them when they’re kids.”

Obstacles and opportunities

Criança Feliz faces two significant threats: the prospect of being shut down, and the challenges created by its own ambition.

Although the Legal Framework for Early Childhood Development, passed in 2016, underpins Criança Feliz, it currently exists as a decree of the president. Of the last three presidents, one is in jail, one was impeached and the current one, Temer, faces criminal charges. With approval ratings of around 3%, Temer has decided not to run again, and the program’s supporters are worried that whoever wins the election will dismantle what the previous government has done (a common practice in Brazil). “We are concerned every day because the program is ongoing and we don’t know if the [next] president will support it,” says Ilnara Trajano, the state coordinator from Roirama state.

Mederios and Terra say the solution to avoiding political death is to create a law that will automatically fund Criança Feliz at the state level, rather than relying on presidential support. Terra, who exudes confidence and optimism, is sure such a law can be passed before the October date set for presidential elections. Others, including Harasawa, are not so sanguine. “We are in a race against time,” she says. She is working around the clock to build support one municipality at a time. She worries that not everyone thinks the government should play a role in parenting. “We are not trying to replace the family,” she says. “We are trying to support it.”

Beyond its political future, the program itself faces a host of issues. In many places, there aren’t enough skilled workers to act as home visitors. There’s also the fraught logistics of getting around. In Careiro da Varzea, in Amazonas state, home visitors often travel five hours, by foot, to reach pregnant women and young children; they are tired when they arrive. In Arujé, seven home visitors share one car to visit 200 families, or 30 visits each, per week. Internet services can be terrible, and wild, dogs often chase the social workers.

The visitors are trained in a curriculum that tells them which materials to use, what to teach and when, and the research that underpins the guidance they give to mothers. But they need more training, and the curriculum does not always prepare them for the poverty and distress they see. Some mothers want to give up their babies; they did not want them in the first place.

Many suffer from depression. The social workers are trained to support nurturing care, but they are not mental health experts. Inevitably, turnover is high.

The evidence for the value of home visiting at scale is at once highly compelling and frustratingly imprecise. Consider the case of Colombia: From 2009 to 2011, researchers there studied 1,419 children between the ages of 12 to 24 months to see whether coaching their mothers on interactions with their babies could help the children’s development. After 18 months, the researchers found a host of benefits. The children whose mothers had received coaching got smarter. Their language skills improved, and their home environments were judged to be more stimulating. But when researchers went back two years later, they found the children, now about five years old, had not maintained those benetits. “Two years after the intervention ended, we found no effects on children’s cognition, language, school readiness, executive functioning, or behavioral development,” the study reported. (Criança Feliz run for a longer period of time, however.)

Governments face notoriously hard choices about where to invest their money. “Early childhood development is a really valuable investment,” says Dave Evans, an economist at the World Bank. “But so is primary education and the quality of primary education, and if you spend a dollar in one place, it’s a dollar you aren’t spending in another place.”

Samuel, Keith, and Giliane

One of the Virtues of a home visiting program, compared to say, building childcare centers, is that social workers can see what is happening inside a home: signs of domestic violence, other children in need, a mother’s depression, a father’s unemployment. They can help with kids like Samuel, who was born with cerebral palsy.

At two-and-a-half years old, Samuel loves his ball, and shrieks with delight when he is presented with a truck. He can’t stop smiling at his mother, Giliane de Almedida Trindade Dorea. She and social worker Keith Mayara Ribeiro da Silva, gather around him to talk and play.

“Where is the dog? Yes! That’s the dog. Very good Samuel!” says da Silva.

The two encourage Samuel to try and stand up. He struggles. “Get up, use your legs,” says Dorea. “You are lazy. Be strong!”

Samuel ignores the women’s requests. He wants to play. They shift gears. “Where is the ball?” da Silva asks. He grabs it and plays. “He’s very smart!” she says. She and Dorea are trying to get Samuel to use one hand, which cannot open, to play with the ball and then the truck. They work together for 15 minutes to find a way to get him to use his weak hand, but he just wants to play with his dominant hand.

Dorea adores her son and plays with him patiently. But it has been hard, she says. When da Silva started to visit, Samuel could not sit up, he was quite shy and often cried. Da Silva has helped the family access the services and care that Samuel needs: a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, an acupuncturist, and a doctor to check his hearing. These are services the government will provide, but finding them and organizing the appointments is time consuming and can be overwhelming.

Dorea says Samuel has changed since Keith has been coming. “His interaction with people, he’s totally different. He was so shy.” In fact, she says the whole family has benefited. Her older daughter also knows how to play with Samuel and loves to help. She appreciates the support. Raising a child with a disability is hard work. “The visitor is a like a friend who comes every week not just for fun but also to share my concerns,” she says. Her biggest complaint about the program? “It’s too short.”

Will it survive?

There is a maxim in investing that you have to survive short-run volatility to get to the long run, you can’t make money if you don’t have any. Criança Feliz faces the same problem. Child development takes time. It is not a jobs program or a construction project, which voters can see.

The benefits can take years to show up, and politicians have never been known for their long-term thinking.

Alberto Beltrame, the current minister of social development, is a believer. Start early and you shape character, transforming the child into a better young adult and, eventually, creating an improved workforce, he says. You reduce violence and crime. He agrees that Bolsa Familia alone is not enough. It does not promote autonomy, or break the cycle of poverty. What is needed is a two-pronged approach: In the short term, promote training, microcredit, and entrepreneurialism to create jobs. For the medium and long term, Criança Feliz.

“We have a huge array of benefits that we are going to gain with this one program, and the cost is very, very low compared to others,” he says.

In every home we visited, mothers said they loved the support, be it information, toys, or more often, company to share their challenges and triumphs. Priscila Soares da Silva has three children, including six month old Allyce, and another on the way. With Allyce, she says, she has changed her approach to parenting, setting time aside to play every day now. “You raise children your way,” she explains cooing over Allyce. “When you see there are other visions, you see the way you did it was not so right.” She is also refreshingly honest about something all parents know: We do it better when someone is watching. “There are things we know, but we are lazy. When she comes, we are better.”

When I quietly ask her teenage daughter, who is lingering in the corner, what she thinks of the visits, she answers immediately: “She’s so much more patient,” she says of her mother. Her own takeaway: Parenting is hard, and she does not want to do it anytime soon. Priscila smiles at this, agreeing she started too soon, and noting the benefits of the program have extended beyond Allyce and the baby she will soon have. “The program got the family closer.”

Evans, from the World Bank, is watching the program closely. “I see Criança Feliz as a big, bold, gamble about which I am optimistic,” he says. “But I think the measurement and the evaluation is crucial to see if it is a model that other countries want to echo.”

If it survives the near term political turbulence, Beltrame says it can go way beyond the poor to beneiit everyone. “We are trying to make the Brazilian people realize, independent from their level of income, that stimulating children from pregnancy through the first 1,000 days of life is important,” he says. Better young people equal healthier and better adults, who are more emotionally connected and can be better citizens.

With Crianea Feliz, Beltrame says, we have the “possibility of having a new destiny and future for each one of these children.”

The Lancet

Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale

An Executive Summary for The Lancet’s Series

Overview of the Series

The 2016 Lancet Early Childhood Development Series highlights early childhood development at a time when it has been universally endorsed in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.” This Series considers new scientific evidence for interventions, building on the findings and recommendations of previous Lancet Series on child development (2007, 2011), and proposes pathways for implementation of early childhood development at scale.

The Series emphasises “nurturing care”, especially of children below three years of age, and multi-sectoral interventions starting with health, which can have wide reach to families and young children through health and nutrition.

Key messages from the Series

The burden and cost of inactian is high.

A staggering 43 percent of children under five years of age, an estimated 250 million, living in low and middle income countries are at risk of suboptimal development due to poverty and stunting. The burden is currently underestimated because risks to health and wellbeing go beyond these two factors. A poor start in life can lead to poor health, nutrition, and inadequate learning, resulting in low adult earnings as well as social tensions. Negative consequences impact not only present but also future generations. Because of this poor start, affected individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year while countries may forfeit up to twice their current GDP expenditures on health and education.

– Young children need nurturing care from the start.

Development begins at conception. Scientific evidence indicates that early childhood is not only a period of special sensitivity to risk factors, but also a critical time when the benefits of early interventions are amplified and the negative effects of risk can be reduced. The most formative experiences of young children come from nurturing care received from parents, other family members, caregivers, and community based services. Nurturing care is characterised by a stable environment that promotes children’s health and nutrition, protects children from threats, and gives them opportunies for early learning, through affectionate interactions and relationships. Benefits of such care are life long, and include improved health, wellbeing, and ability to learn and earn. Families need support to provide nurturing care for young children, including material and financial resources, national policies such as paid parental leave and provision of population based services in a range of sectors, includlng health, nutrition, education, and child and social protection.

We must deliver multi-sector interventions, with health as a starting point for reaching the youngst children.

Interventions, including support for families to provide nurturing care and solving difficulties when they occur, target multiple risks to development, and can be integrated into existing maternal and child health services. Services should be two pronged, considering the needs of the child as well as the primary caregiver, and include both (are for child development as well as maternal and family health and wellbeing. This affordable approach is an important entry point for multi-sectoral collaborations that support families and reach very young children. Essential among these are nutrition, to support growth and health, child protection, for violence prevention and family support. social protection, for family financial stability and capacity to access services; and education, for quality early learning opportunities.

– We must strengthen government leadership, to scale up what works.

It is possible to scale up projects to nationwide programmes that are effective and sustainable, as indicated by four country case studies in diverse world regions. However, government leadership and political prioritisation are prerequisites. Governments may choose different pathways for achievmg early childhood development goals and targets, from introducing tansformative government wide initiatives to progressively enhancing existing services. Services and interventions to support early childhood development are essential to ensuring that everyone reaches their potential over their life course and into the next generation, the vision that is core to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Risks to early childhood development remain high

Updated definitions of stunting and extreme poverty and improved source data were used to re-estimate the number of children under 5 years in low and middle income countries who are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential. Between 2004 and 2010, this number declined from 279 million (51 percent of children in 2004) to 249 million (43 percent of chiidren in 2010), with the highest prevalence in sub Saharan Africa (70 percent in 2004 and 66 percent in 2010).” An illustrative analysis from 15 countries with available Multiple indicator Cluster Surveys in 2010 or 2011 demonstrates the implications of additional risks to chiidren’s development beyond poverty and stunting, induding low maternal schooling (completed primary school) and child physical abuse by either parent or by caregivers (severe punishment of children aged 2 to 5 years, such as hitting a child as hard as possible, or with a belt or stick). Estimates of children at risk increase dramatically when low maternal schooling and this kind of physmal abuse are added, from 62.7 percent (exposed to risks of stunting or extreme poverty), to 754 percent, with large disparities among sub national social and economic groups.

Global commitments to early childhood development are growing

Since 2000, the rapid increase in publications on the topic of early childhood development surpassed the general trend for health sciences publications. However, only a few of the publications reported on interventions.

The numbers of countries with national multi sectoral early childhood development policies increased from seven in 2000 to 68 in 2014, of which 45 percent were low and middle income countries. There has also been substantial investment in early childhood development during that time period. For example, since 2000 the Inter American Development Bank has approved more than 150 projects for over US$17 billion. From 2000 to 2013, the World Bank Invested $3.3 billion in 273 projects, primarily through health, nutrition, and population programmes. Still, investment falls short of the need and the impact of available interventions.

Early childhood development from a life course perspective

Childhood development is a maturational process resulting in an ordered progression of perceptual, motor, cognitive, language, socio emotional, and selfregulation skills. Thus, the acquisition of skills through the life cycle builds on the foundational capacities established in early childhood.

Multiple factors influence the acquisition of competences and skills, including health, nutrition. security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning (Figure 1), Each are necessary for nurtunng care. Nurturing care reduces the detrimental effects of disadvantage on brain snucture and function which, in turn, improves children’s health, growth, and development.

Interventions, including nurturing care, benefit early childhood development

Interventions identified by reviews between 2011 and 2015, and country policies shown to have significant benefits for childhood development, are summarised and organised into packages in Figure 2. Many of the health and nutrition interventions have additional beneflts for improved child survival and growth, as well as reduced morbidnes and disabilities.

Family support and strengthening package

Three elements of family strengthening increase the likelihood that families are able to provide nurturing care for their children: access to quality services (eg, antenatal care, immunisation, nutrition), skills building (29, nurturing care and reduction of harsh discipline); and support (eg, social protection, safety networks, and family support policies)

Caring for the caregiver package

This two generation package emphasises care and protection of parents’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, while enhancing caregivers’ capacnty to provide nurturing care to their child.

Early learning and protection package

This set of interventions integrates the support of young children with parental support and the facilitation of teachers’ and caregivers’ ability to create a nurturing environment in day care and early childhood centres. The emphasis is on quality and family support through parental empowerment, guidance on nutrition and care, and child protection.

Parent support pvogrammes

Parent support programmes that promote nurturing care, particularly those employing several behaviour change techniques, can substantially augment the positive effects on early childhood development outcomes of basic health and nutrition, education, and protection interventions. In contrast, maltreatment during childhood is associated with reduced volume in brain regions involved in learning and memory. Children who receive inadequate care, especially in the first 24 months of life, and often from mothers who themselves were neglected or abused, are more sensitive to the effects of stress and display more behavioural problems than do children who receive nurtunng care.

Multi sectoral interventions improve childhood development

The effectiveness of interventions could be improved by taking into consideration the major insights gained over the past decade about how human development is affected across generations by complex and multi faceted experiences. Sectoral interventions combined with elements of nurturing care and protection, can boost the effect on child outcomes. This approach encourages interventions directed at the family as a unit rather than the child alone.

Learning from early childhood development programmes at scale

An analysis of country programmes illustrates the importance of political prioritisation, legislation, and policy, and the use of existing systems and financing to scale up. These programs focus on addressing poverty, inequality, and social exclusion, starting early. Scaledup early childhood development programmes most often have a vision of comprehensive and integrated services for children and families; have been founded by statute or other formally communicated government strategy; have been funded by government; and have been led by a government department or agency working collaboratively with other departments and civil society organisations.

Framework for action

To promote health and wellbeing across the life course at scale requires interventions provided through several sectors, and a supportive environment of policies, cross sectoral coordination, and financing (Figure 3).

At the heart of this intervention framework is the nurturing care of young children, provided by parents, families, and other caregivers Particularly successful are parent support programmes to promote nurturing care, among which the most widely implemented in low and middle income country settings are the WHOIUNICEF Care for Chiid Development and Reach Up and Learn, a parenting programme tested in trials in Jamaica over the past 20 years and now expanding to other regions.

Affordability of early childhood development interventions

To assess the affordability of including interventions to promote early childhood development in existing health and nutrition services, this paper estimates the additional costs of incorporating two interventions aimed at supporting nurturing care of children into the services identified in the Global Investment Framework for Women’s and Children’s Health.“ The First intervention is based on Care for Child Development and the second on support for maternal depression, because it bolsters nurturing care. The estimated average additional investment needed is half a dollar per capita in the year 2030, ranging from US$01 in low income countries to US$07 in upper middle income countries This represents an additional 10 percent over published estimates for a comprehensive set of women’s and children’s health and nutrition services.

The cost of inaction

At an individual level, the loss of average adult income per year for the 43 percent of children at risk of not reaching their developmental potential is likely to be 26 percent, exerting a strong downward economic pull and trapping families in poverty. At a societal level, the cost of inaction for not improving stunting to a prevalence of 15 percent or less and not addressing developmental delays through preschools and home visits is several times more than what some countries currently expend on health or education respectively. The cost of inaction for not improving childhood development through preschool and home visits rises sharply in settings with fewer preschool services, as well as in settings with a higher prevalence of children at risk of poor development.

Pathway to scale

Action 1: Expand political will and funding through advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Under the broader SDG umbrella, investing in early childhood development has become not only an aim in itself, but a requisite for achieving many other SDGs (eg, SDGs 1, 5, 10, 16, and 17). For example, SDG Target 4.2 under the learning goal, calling for universal access to quality eady childhood development, care, and pre-primary education, provides unprecedented opportunity to scale up early childhood development services,

Action 2: Create a policy environment that supports nurturing care of young children

Laws and policies can improve childhood development by increasing access to and quality of health and other services, as well as money and time for parents to provide nurturing care for their young children. Five transformative policies for which there is robust global data on levels, duration, coutry coverage, and progress achieved in the past two decades include: 1) paid parental leave for new mothers and fathers; 2) breastfeeding breaks at work, 3) paid leave for parents to care for sick children; 4) income support through a minimum wage; and 5) tuition free pre-primary education. Governments, with the technical and funding assistance of development partners, must also ramp up efforts to analyse their situation, identify gaps and priority areas for intervention, and develop sustainable and costed action plans to promote early childhood development at scale.

Action 3: Build capacity to promote early child development through multi sectoral coordination

Many efforts to promote early childhood development are dependent on non governmental services, which are frequently limited in scope and inequitable in coverage. Interventions are highly dependent on skilled human resources and, unless built on existing service systems such as health, education, social and child protection, face severe supply side constraints. This is illustrated by lessons learned from the scale up between 2000 and 2009 of more than 120 cash transfer programmes in low and middle income countries

We identified multiple examples in health and nutrition services into which interventions to promote nurturing care and improve childhood developmental outcomes have been feasibly and effectively incorporated. Opportunities also exist in other sectors. which is important for the continuity of support from early childhood into schooling. For example, in the education sector, childhood development can be supported through a variety of early learning opportunities, including the prvisiin of child day care services, preschool, and parent education. Interventions can also be provided through child and social protection services, including cash transfer programmes. Thus, the integration of early childhood development interventions into existing service delivery platforms, starting with health, is an effective and efficient way to reach large numbers of families and children.

Action 4: Ensure accountability for early child development services, increase research, and foster global and regional leadership and action

Ensuring the inclusion of a core set of early childhood development indicators, which go beyond access and process and hold stakeholders accountable for childhood development in the global metrics for the SDGs, is of paramount importance. Research that links detailed longitudinal data on policies and programmes with outcomes, allowing causal modelling, is essential.

Conclusion

Strong biological, psychosocial, and economic arguments exist for intervening as early as possible, starting from and even before conception, to promote, protect, and support children’s development. An emphasis on the first years of life is articulated within a life course perspective. High quality care in families, child day care services, and preschools during the earliest years needs to be followed by high quallty schooling and services into adolescence in order to capitalise on interdependence between investments made in the successive stages of the life cycle.

Multi sectoral interventions, with health services as an entry point, are particularly well-placed to reach children early with services that support families to deliver nurturing care and promote, protect, and support early childhood development, Interventions to promote nurturing care can feasibly build on existing health and nutrition services at only a limited additional cost. Coordination with education is needed to promote learning, and with social and child protection, to reach the most vulnerable population:

Evidence consolidated in this series points to effective interventuons and delivery approaches at a scale that was not envisaged before, During the next fifteen years. world leaders have a unique opportunity to invest in the early years for long-term individual and societal gains and achievement of the SDGs. All sectors must play their part in supporting families to prowde nurturing care for children.

However, the time has come for the health sector to expand its vision of health beyond prevention and treatment of disease to include the promotion of nurturing care for young children as a critical factor In the realisation of the human potential of all people.

A groundbreaking study offers undeniable proof that the fight against inequality starts with moms

Jenny Anderson

Children born into poverty start at a big disadvantage. To thrive, they need food, shelter, and health care. But a growing body of evidence shows there are other ways to help close the vast gap in development between poor kids and their wealthier peers: singing, talking, and playing with them.

If this sounds obvious or inconsequential, it’s not. Dealing with the stress of poverty makes it hard for many parents to establish critical bonds with their babies, bonds that lay the foundations for learning, emotional regulation, and relationships. Poor parents are “focused on survival and illness and food and health care,” says Sally Grantham-McGregor, an emeritus professor of international child health at University College London and University of the West Indies. “There’s no time to play with children, it seems frivolous.”

But playing with babies turns out to be anything but frivolous. Grantham-McGregor and her colleagues have spent more than 40 years pioneering research which showed just how much supporting mothers in the earliest days of a child’s life can directly benefit that child. In the 1970s, Grantham-McGregor and Christine Powell, from the University of the West Indies, began a research project aimed at helping young children from poor backgrounds and their moms in Kingston, Jamaica. They designed programs that sent doctors and nurses to visit mothers every week in their homes for two years, bringing toys and books that would help parents become better teachers to their babies and to increase stimulation and play.

The resulting studies found that children whose mothers received coaching made significant developmental gains, and not just in the short term. Twenty-two years later, the kids from one group who had received those home visits as young children not only had higher scores on tests of reading, math, and general knowledge, they had stayed in school longer. They were less likely to exhibit violent behavior, less likely to experience depression, and had better social skills. They also earned 25% more on average than a control group of kids whose mothers had not received the coaching.

The highly influential Jamaica studies have influenced the way many countries think about investing in early childhood development. Brazil, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Bangladesh, and India are all trying parent coaching programs, many based on the Jamaica model. It’s easy to see why some countries are embracing such an approach. After all, it’s in every country’s best interest to ensure that its most disadvantaged citizens get the support they need to live productive, fullilling lives.

“If we want to attack poverty, the place to start is very early in life,” says Paul Gertler, an economist who studied the long-term effects of the Jamaica program. Research shows that poverty affects a young child’s development on multiple levels, from their cognitive and educational performance to their physical health and social and emotional development. Compared to the cost of unemployment benefits or other social safety net programs, “getting it right to start with is cheaper.”

To tackle the lasting effects that inequality can have on a child’s life, we have to start early. The work of Grantham-McGregor and her team in Jamaica offers some of the best evidence we have about what governments can do to support families in an effort to close the intractable gap between rich and poor children everywhere.

The Jamaica experiments

Much as caregivers in poor countries typically want their children to succeed, it’s not necessarily obvious that a key way to do this is to talk and sing to babies, respond to them when they cry, and find other ways to engage them with the world. Consider a 2012 nationally representative survey in Brazil, which asked mothers, 52% of whom were college educated, what things were most important for the development of their children up to three years of age: only 19% mentioned playing and walking, 18% said receiving attention from adults, and 12% picked receiving affection.

The Jamaica studies showed how much these things matter. Through randomized controlled trials supporting poor, often uneducated mothers, the programs dramatically improved children’s development. (The effect sizes have been described as “astounding.”) It expanded the scope of helping poor children from health and nutrition to stimulation and responsiveness.

While the earliest studies used health professionals as home visitors and relatively expensive toys and materials, Grantham-McGregor and Powell quickly changed the program’s model to save money, using community health workers instead of doctors and nurses and homemade toys. Over the course of seven studies, they also experimented with different levels of frequency for the home visits and worked with babies experiencing different kinds of deprivation, including severely malnourished infants and children who had been born at a low birth weight.

They found that the effects of early intervention were both long-lasting and complex. One study tracked 129 stunted children, that is, babies smaller than well nourished children of the same age and gender, who show persistent developmental delays as they grow up. Researchers followed a group of children and mothers that received weekly home visits for two years, as well as other groups of children, including a control group. The study then tracked the children’s development for up to 22 years.

The beneflts of the intervention seemed to vary as the children grew up. After two years, the infants in the visiting group showed significant developmental gains. They actually caught up to kids who were not stunted, an enormous victory.

Over time, however, some of the effects seem to fade or fluctuate. At 7 to 8 years of age, the mean IQ from the intervention group was no higher than that of the control group. By age 11 to 12, the children who had been in the home visiting group had signincantly higher IQs than the control group, but showed no significant improvements in behavior or school achievement.

Then, when researchers tested the intervention group again at age 22, they found a battery of benefits, from higher income to better social skills and less violent tendencies.

Many researchers might have given up when the effects of the early intervention programs seemed to fade. But the benefits resurfaced with a bang, proving that programs that coach mothers can bring about lasting, significant, long-term results. In 2016, Grantham-McGregor and Smith published research in the Journal of Applied Research on Children exploring 12 published trials in five different countries, all of which were based on the original findings of the Jamaica program.

“Jamaica was so important because it shows us the potential of what can be done, the importance of stimulation, and that impacts can be long lasting,” says Amanda Devercelli, global lead for early childhood development at the World Bank. The challenge lay in taking Jamaica’s small program with big effects and making it accessible to the millions of poor families who need it.

The brain science behind nurturing care

In the years since the Jamaica studies, the science underscoring the critical opportunities and risks of early childhood has exploded. Neuroscience revealed the incredible plasticity of the early brain, showing that the foundations for learning opportunities and risks of early childhood has exploded.

Neuroscience shows that the foundations for learning as well as children’s social, emotional, and moral development start as early as pregnancy, and spike in a baby’s earliest years. Like a house, children’s brains need strong foundations. Their brains cannot fully develop without responsive caregiving; people who help them form deep and trusting attachments; and stimulation. Stress during a child’s early years, whether from poverty, malnutrition, neglect, or abuse, can negatively affect their nervous system in ways that can create lifelong problems with learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

A foundational tenet of nurturing care is the importance of serve and return, which refers to adults’ responses to a child’s attempts at communication, from crying and babbling to gazing and smiling. According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard, “The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture of the developing brain, and the active ingredient is the ‘serve and return’ nature of children’s engagement in relationships with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community.”

The neurobiology of early childhood presents a challenge to policymakers. Until fairly recently, policy makers focused their dollars and attention for children on education, usually starting around age five.

But five years old is too late. Research shows that developmental deficits between richer and poorer children can show up in kids as young as seven months. By the time children are in school, the gaps between advantaged children and disadvantaged ones are already enormous. School tends to exacerbate those rifts.

“It’s fairy well established that how well a child has developed cognitively, language development, socially, emotionally, when they enter school will determine to a large extent how well they do in school, and that will have repercussions in adulthood including the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” says Grantham-McGregor. This means the bigger a developmental deficit is early on, the harder it is for poor kids to catch up.

Grantham-McGregor is excited about the developments in neuroscience. But she’s emphatic that it’s already well established that mothers from disadvantaged homes benefit from this kind of help. “The brain research is exciting and it’s helpful because people pay attention,” she said. “It’s good for advocacy, but we were doing these programs before this data came out. And we’re still doing them.”

Expanding the lessons of Jamaica

Economists have joined the neuroscientists, arguing with data, that investing in early childhood is the most cost-effective way to affect long-term outcomes like education and employment.

James Heckman runs the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, and won the Nobel prize in 2000 for his work in microeconometrics. He has since focused on applying his work to early childhood, including analyzing of the Jamaica research. He estimates that the best investment any policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because these interventions have the highest payoffs.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families,” Heckman said in 2012. “Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way.”

The key, it seems, is ensuring that families have the support and tools they need to bond with young children and provide them with engaging environments. “We know from developmental science that families are the biggest builders of skills and abilities in their children in the earliest years,” Heckman tells Quartz. “Jamaica shows that simple but effective parental education can produce better child outcomes.”

Jamaica inspired programs now exist all over the world, as do hundreds of other parenting programs. The biggest issue they face? How to get the strongest outcomes in the most affordable way. In a sense, Jamaica set the bar uncomfortably high for this, due to its small size and the fact that the home visitors were highly trained, and the coaching quite intensive.

“Our challenge now is to take what we learned from Jamaica and design programs that are affordable and feasible in many diverse low-income settings,” says Devercelli from the World Bank.

One study in Colombia looked at whether a more affordable, and scalable, version of the Jamaica program could produce the same effects. It used a large sample, studying 1,420 children aged 12-24 months and their primary caregivers in 96 municipalities, and tied the implementation of the home visits to an existing social protection program, conditional cash transfers. The results showed positive and significant effects on cognition and language, though smaller than the effects in Jamaica, as would be expected.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the Peruvian government implemented Cuna Mas, a home-visiting program based on many of the materials and foundations used in Jamaica and perhaps the best example of Jamaica operating at scale. The program has reached over 90,000 Peruvian families. Early research shows positive and significant effects on children’s cognition and language, as well as parenting practices, although the effects are smaller than in either Jamaica or Colombia.

“As you scale, the impacts are smaller,” says Marta Rubio Codina, a senior economist at the Inter-American Development Bank. Reducing costs to make the programs more affordable for governments means that quality can suffer. The goal, she says, is to figure out how to minimize those compromises. “My bet is that we have to invest in the workforce: training the home visitors and training their mentors.”

To help other countries develop and measure their own programs, an international collaboration of academics headed by the Jamaican group at the University of the West Indies developed Reach Up and Learn, a web-package of materials and curriculum and training manuals which are being used in places from Colombia, India, Peru, and Brazil. One Challenge: making sure the curriculum reflects the country’s culture, including local games, rhymes, songs, and stories.

“Adapting to culture is a lot of work,” says Grantham-McGregor. Pretend games taught to parents may need to be adapted, going to the field to work, or spinning wool, depending on common occupations. Local artists also need to redraw pictures to reflect a given culture’s typical housing, landscape, and style of dress, among other things.

Countries are experimenting with other variations on the program. Bangladesh has built a strong body of evidence that Jamaica-type programs are effective. They are experimenting with small groups of mothers visiting health workers in clinics, rather than having workers come to their homes.

As the long-term benefits of such programs materialize, early childhood advocates are urging governments to find more ways to support mothers and families. In 2016, the Lancet published a series of articles on early childhood highlighting the unique opportunity the early years offer to policymakers. Writing for the Lancet, Pia Britto, an adviser to Unicef, wrote that we now know the critical importance of “nurturing care,” which she defines as a set of interrelated concepts around caregiving, ranging from hygiene to stimulation (talking, singing, playing), responsiveness (early bonding, secure attachment, trust, and sensitive communication), and safety (routines and protection from harm).

“The single most powerful context for nurturing care is the immediate home and care settings of young children often provided by mothers, but also by fathers and other family members, as well as by childcare services,” Britto writes. Thanks to the Jamaica experiments, the world has increasingly accepted this fundamental truth: The best way to help poor kids is to start early, and give mothers and families the support they need.

Education Saved My Life – Mohamed Sidibay * 260 million children aren’t in school. This $10bn plan could change that – Gordon Brown.

Developing countries receive just $10 per child annually in global education support, barely enough to cover the cost of a single textbook. In an age of self-driving cars and smart refrigerators, this dearth of funding is simply unacceptable.

The world is in the midst of an education crisis, as half of the planet’s young people are failing to learn the basic skills needed to secure a more prosperous future. One former child soldier and soon-to-be law student promotes a strategy for putting money behind politicians’ platitudes.

New York

My family was murdered before I could tie my shoes. As a young boy in Sierra Leone, years that should have been playful and carefree were spent fighting in someone else’s war. For me, childhood was a nightmare; escape always seemed impossible. But when the war officially ended, in 2002, I began finding ways to recover.

One of the most important has been an opportunity I couldn’t have imagined as an angry, illiterate, nine year old soldier: school.

I am living proof of the transformative power of education.

Thanks to hard work and lots of good fortune, I managed to graduate from high school and then university. Now, in just a few months, I will begin graduate classes at the Fordham University School of Law, an unimaginable destination for most of the former child soldiers in my country.

And yet, throughout my brief educational journey, one question has always nagged me: why did luck play such a crucial role? After all, education is supposed to be a universal human right. If only it were that simple.

Today, more than 260 million children are out of school, and over 500 million boys and girls who do attend are not receiving a quality education, as the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity discovered.

By 2030, more than half of the world’s school age children some 800 million kids will lack the basic skills needed to thrive or secure a job in the workplace of the future.

Addressing this requires money. But while education may be the best investment a government can make to ensure a better future for its people, education financing worldwide is far too low. In fact, education accounts for just 10% of total international development aid, down from 13% a decade ago. To put this in perspective:

Developing countries receive just $10 per child annually in global education support, barely enough to cover the cost of a single textbook. In an age of self-driving cars and smart refrigerators, this dearth of funding is simply unacceptable.

Over the past few years, I have advocated on behalf of three global education initiatives the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (Education Commission), the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and the Education Cannot Wait fund (ECW). I have done so eagerly, because these organizations are working collectively toward the same goal: to raise funds to make quality education for every child, everywhere, more than a matter of luck.

One of the best ways to do this is by supporting the International Finance Facility for Education, an initiative spearheaded by the Education Commission that could unlock the greatest global investment in education ever recorded. Young people around the world understand what’s at stake. Earlier this month, Global Youth Ambassadors presented a petition, signed by more than 1.5 million children in some 80 countries, to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, calling for the UN to support the finance facility.

By leveraging roughly $2 billion in donor guarantees, the finance facility aims to make $8 billion in new funding available to countries that need it most. If adopted widely, the program could make it possible for developing countries to provide quality education to millions more children, including refugees, young girls, and former child soldiers like me.

Politicians often say that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. That’s true; we are. But platitudes not backed by financial support are meaningless. Simply put, the world must unite to fund quality education for everyone.

The International Finance Facility for Education which is already backed by the World Bank, regional development banks, GPE, ECW, and numerous UN agencies is among the best ways to make that happen.

Twenty years ago, law school was an impossible dream for me. Today, thanks to hard work, global support, and much good fortune, my future is brighter than it has ever been. But my story should not be an exception.

To ensure that others can gain a quality education and follow the path that has opened up to me, we must remove luck from the equation.

*
Mohamed Sidibay is a youth representative to the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, a peace activist at the Global Partnership for Education, and a former peace ambassador with the My Hero Project.

260 million children aren’t in school. This $10bn plan could change that Gordon Brown.

Neoliberal Education: a faux crisis, an erroneous ‘solution’ and capital wins again – Bill Mitchell.

From an MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) perspective, there are no financial limits on the support governments can provide public education. There is also no sense to the notion that public education should “make profits” in a competitive market.


One of the ways in which the neoliberal era has entrenched itself and, in this case, will perpetuate its negative legacy for years to come is to infiltrate the educational system.

This has occurred in various ways over the decades as the corporate sector has sought to have more influence over what is taught and researched in universities. The benefits of this influence to capital are obvious. They create a stream of compliant recruits who have learned to jump through hoops to get delayed rewards.

In the period after full employment was abandoned firms also realised they no longer had to offer training to their staff in the same way they did when vacancies outstripped available workers. As a result they have increasingly sought to impose their ‘job specific’ training requirements onto universities, who under pressure from government funding constraints have, erroneously, seen this as a way to stay afloat. So traditional liberal arts programs have come under attack, they don’t have a ‘product’ to sell as the market paradigm has become increasingly entrenched. There has also been an attack on ‘basic’ research as the corporate sector demands universities innovate more. That is code for doing the privatising public research to advance profit.

But capital still can see more rewards coming if they can further dictate curriculum and research agendas. So how to proceed. Invent a crisis. If you can claim that universities will become irrelevant in the next decade unless they do what capital desires of them then the policy debate becomes further skewed away from where it should be. That ‘crisis invention‘ happened this week in Australia.

This is a case of a vested interest starting with a series of false assumptions and a non-problem and then creating a series of ‘solutions’ to that problem which have no meaning if the actual situation is correctly understood and appraised.

It is just assumed that education has to be provided on a competitive basis in a market for profit. It is never questioned whether that is an applicable paradigm in which to operate.

Then it is just assumed that within that ‘market’ some ‘firms’ (universities) will go out of ‘business’. Why? Because it is just assumed that governments will not be able to fund them any longer because it has limited ‘money’.

See the trend. One myth creates a construction that leads to further deductions that are equally false and so it goes.

That is public policy formation neoliberal style.

The so-called ‘professional services’ firm Ernst and Young, which began life as an accounting firm and morphed into something much more comprehensive and neoliberal.

Its recent history is littered with a plethora of scandals involving accounting and audit fraud, including being associated with the collapse of the Akai Holdings (2009), Sons of Gwalia (2009), Moulin Global Eyecare (2010), Lehman Brothers in 2010, along with many other incidents, where EY (as it is now known) were forced into paying settlements.

It was eviscerated by the US government for its part in “criminal tax avoidance” schemes in 2013. In 2010, it paid “$10 million to settle a New York lawsuit accusing the accounting firm of helping Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc deceive investors in the years leading up to its 2008 collapse” and facilitating a “massive accounting fraud”. This unsavoury firm has established a long list of ‘deals’ with various authorities to avoid criminal prosecution. The question is why its executives have not served time for their part in these scandals.

The 2017 book by Jesse Eisinger The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives is worth a read in that regard. He says that the outcomes of increased political lobbying, a decline in culture at the US Department of Justice and the networking of defense lawyers resulted in a “blunting and removal of prosecutorial tools in white-collar corporate investigations.”

He wrote that there was a ‘revolving door’ between government justice officials and the major law firms representing these banksters and financial fraudsters which meant that the Justice Department was skewed to producing outcomes that were “ultimately to the benefit of corporations”.

As the Slate review noted (July 18, 2017), “government lawyers have too often decided they’re satisfied shaking down companies for settlement money paid for by shareholders, instead of taking on the much harder task of bringing charges against individual executives”.

We are facing a similar situation to that outlined in his book in Australia at present with the Royal Commission on Banking. Whether the criminal behaviour being revealed almost on a daily basis as the hearings continue will result in jail time is yet to be seen. In 2015, though, Australian authorities did lock up a former EY executive for 14 years for his part in “a tax fraud and moneylaundering” racket.

So there is hope.

So, overall, I would assess this firm has been an entrenched part of the neoliberal machine by providing services to all manner of questionable and criminal behaviour all around the World.

Anyway, as we have seen in history, these characters have no shame and re-emerge from scandal with new names (EY rather than Ernst and Young), new logos, flash new WWW sites and mountains of bluster and push.

In the last week (May 1, 2018), its Oceania office has released a Report The university of the future which outlines how insidious these types of outfits really are.

The main claims made by company in this report are:

“The dominant university model in Australia, a broad-based teaching and research institution, supported by a large asset base and a large, predominantly in-house back office will prove unviable in all but a few cases over the next 10-15 years.”

Why?

Because universities will have to “merge parts of the education sector with other sectors venture capital” etc.

Why?

Increased “Contestability of markets and funding” “governments face tight budgetary environments” mean that “Universities will need to compete for students and government funds as never before”.

The globalisation argument is wheeled out. Why not? It has worked as a smokescreen for some decades now. So, “global mobility will grow for students, academics, and university brands. This will not only intensify competition, but also create opportunities for much deeper global partnerships and broader access to student and academic talent.”

And then the actual agenda is unveiled:

Universities will need to build significantly deeper relationships with industry in the decade ahead to differentiate teaching and learning programs, support the funding and application of research, and reinforce the role of universities as drivers of innovation and growth.

Instrumentalism to the fore.

A spokesperson for the Report told the press that:

We should not underestimate the challenge, it’s not clear that all institutions will be able to make the leap. Universities are faculty focused and prioritise the needs of teaching and research staff over students.

And was quoted as saying:

A lot of the content of degrees no longer matches the actual work that students will be doing.

The neoliberal era has attempted to define every aspect of society in terms of the stylised free market paradigm.

Imposing a mainstream economics textbook model of the market as the exemplar of how we should value things is deeply flawed.

Even within its own logic the model succumbs to “market failure”. The existence of external effects (to the transaction) means that the private market over-allocates resources when social costs exceed social benefits and under-allocates resources to this activity when social costs are less than social benefits.

But they persist in championing the concept and primacy of ‘consumer sovereignty’, which in textbooks is held out as being the force that delivers the optimal allocation of resources because competitive firms provide goods and services at the lowest cost to satisfy the desires of the consumers.

Even in these simplistic textbook stories the dominance of the ‘supply-side’ is ignored (advertising, collusion, etc).

If ever we needed a reminder of how the firms can monopolise information, break laws (consumer protections etc), we just have to think about the behaviour of the banksters in the lead up to the GFC and beyond.

While the demand-side sovereignty story is compromised by supply-side dominance, in the area of education, it is totally inapplicable, given the nature of the process.

Education cannot be reduced to being a ‘product’ that consumers choose. Education is a process of transferring knowledge that the ‘Master’ possesses to the ‘Apprentice’ who has no knowledge (in the area). By definition, the Apprentice doesn’t know what they do not know and cannot be in a position to ‘choose’ optimal outcomes. That has to be the prerogative of the ‘Master’, who has spent years amassing knowledge and craft.

In the case of education, how can the child know what is best? How can they meaningfully appraise what is a good quality education and what is a poor quality education?

The fact that the funding cuts have led to a stream of fly-by-night education providers in Australia who have left thousands of students stranded when they have gone broke is evidence of the failure of a market model.

The reality is that children do not demand programs. The universities are increasingly pressured by politicians (via funding) and corporations (via grants etc) to tailor the programs to the “market” agenda.

Higher education can only ever be a supply-determined activity and at that point the “market model” breaks down irretrievably.

But notwithstanding all this, the neo-liberal era has imposed a very narrow conception of value in relation to our consideration of human activity and endeavour. We have been hectored and bullied into thinking that value equals private profit and that public life has to fit this conception. In doing so we severely diminish the quality of life.

In the education sphere, the bean-counters have no way of knowing what these social costs or benefits are and so the decision-making systems become more crude, how much money will an academic program make relative to how much it costs in dollars?

In some cases, this is drilled down to how much money an individual academic makes relative to his/her cost? This is a crude application of the private market calculus. It is a totally unsuitable way of thinking about education provision. It has little relevance to deeper meaning and the sort of qualities which bind us as humans to ourselves, into families, into communities, and as nations. It imposes a poverty on all of us by diminishing our concept of knowledge and forcing us to appraise everything as if it should be “profitable”.

So constructing educational activity in terms of “what students will be doing” is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking about it.

This is really what the agenda is. The Ernst and Young spokesperson claimed that:

There will most likely be much more work-integrated learning in tertiary courses, which is not necessarily students doing work experience but firms co-developing the curriculum and actually getting students to work through complex real-life problems under the mentorship of academic and industry leaders.

So the firms want to set what students are exposed to.

Education becomes training and specific, profit-oriented training at that. This is the anathema of a progressive future. It is the exemplar of the complete infiltration of neoliberal values into our core social institutions. The neoliberal era has created a conflict in the schooling and higher education sector between traditional liberal approaches and the so-called instrumentalist paradigm.

The assault on public education is one of the neoliberal battlefronts along with labour and product market regulations, public ownership, trade rules, etc. This conflict has come from three sources:

First, governments have become infested with the neoliberal myths and have imposed various cutbacks to school and higher education spending in the misguided attempt to ‘save’ money and cut fiscal deficits.

Second, this fiscal attack has been accompanied by an elevation in the view that education should be more market oriented and models of ‘consumer-driven’ structures have been imposed on educational institutions.

Schooling system administrators and a new breed of university managers took up the neo-liberal agenda with relish, not the least because their own pay sky-rocketed and the previous relativities within the academic hierarchy between the staff who taught and researched and those that took management roles lost all sense of proportion.

Instead of rebelling and making the funding cuts and the increased demand for STEM type activity (and a disregard for liberal arts/humanities curricula) a political issue which in Australia at least would have seen the government back down, the higher education managers embraced the new agenda without fail.

Come in, the bean-counters! The over-paid managers then created a phalanx of managerial bean-counters who have become obsessed with KPls and ‘busy work’ harassing staff with ever expanding lists of requirements and measurements. The bean-counters (for example, Finance divisions with Universities) are largely unproductive drains on institutional revenue and are increasingly drawn from the corporate sector with little experience in education. This trend has then dovetailed with the third source of conflict between liberal and instrumentalist views on education.

Third, capitalists have always tried to embrace the educational system as a tool for their own advancement but social democratic movements have, in varying ways, resisted the sheer instrumentalism that the business sector seeks. The education system is continually pressured by the dominant elites to act as a breeder for ‘capitalist values’ and to reproduce the hierarchical and undemocratic social relationships that are required to keep the workers at bay and expand the interests of capital.

So there is an overlap between the way education is organised and the way the workplace is organised.

Capital also sees education as being primarily involved in the development of job-specific skills (vocational, instrumental) rather than serving any broader goals. The neo-liberal era has seen this type of corporate instrumentalism within education advanced to new heights. The revolving door between profit-seeking corporations and senior management positions within the educational sector is testimony of how corporate values are being elevated above traditional educational aspirations.

You only have to considered Ernst and Young’s “Framework for Assessing and Designing a University Future Model”, which they summarise in this graphic:

Consider the language: “Customers” (not students), “Products” (not knowledge creation), “Role within Value Chain” (not pure knowledge), “Brand and market position”, etc.

I don’t consider this graphic to be remotely relevant to the educational process where knowledge is imparted in a heterodox environment and critical reasoning capacities are developed. The idea that education is a product sold in a market is as far from a progressive ideal as you can get.

From an MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) perspective, there are no financial limits on the support governments can provide public education. There is also no sense to the notion that public education should “make profits” in a competitive market.

The only way that these sorts of debates will progress, however, is to take them out of the fiscal policy realm where they are largely inapplicable and start talking about rights and higher human values and what different interpretations of these rights and value concepts have for real resources allocations and redistribution.

Conclusion

Apart from their scandalous history, Ernst and Young are, in my view disqualified from being taking seriously as a result of their inputs to the public macroeconomics debate.

In their Feeding the animal spirits Budget 2018 report, the spokesperson claims that:

There are good reasons to worry about persistent budget deficits and the national finances do need to be fixed.

And that summarises how stupid and venal the company is.

260 million children aren’t in school. This $10bn plan could change that – Gordon Brown.

We must become the first generation in history where every child goes to school, and in doing so we can demonstrate that international cooperation can work.

A new global fund will create 200m school places and help end child marriage, traffrcking and labour in developing countries.

Once a child refugee fleeing Sudan, and now a prize winning American entrepreneur, Manyang Kher is using a lifetime of hard knocks, a never give up attitude and some rapidly learned skills to change the world.

At the age of just three, he was caught up in his country’s civil war. During a raid, his village was razed to the ground. His father was killed and his mother vanished, presumed dead. Terrified, Manyang ran for his life and kept running.

He met others escaping. He became one of the 20,000 Lost Boys of Sudan who made a gruelling 1,600km trek to Ethiopia then spent 13 harrowing years scrimping and surviving in refugee camps.

Finally, at the age of 17, his life changed. Having reached America as an unaccompanied minor, he learned English, and after graduating from college, he founded a remarkable project in Richmond, Virginia, called Humanity Helping Sudan.

Under its banner, his 734 Coffee Company roasts coffee beans from African owned farms in the Ethiopian Gambella province that was once Manyang’s home.

I have come across numbers symbolising uncomfortable facts before: 7.34 is a theatre company (founded by the British playwright John McGrath in 1971) that was set up to remind people that 7% of the population owned 84% of the country’s wealth. In this instance, the number 734 is equally symbolic. It exactly matches the geographical coordinates on the map of the Gambella 7 degrees north and 34 degrees east highlighting the zone where children’s need for education is greatest.

Now, 8000 of 734’s profits are going to help 200,000 refugee boys and girls living in the area.

Today, with Manyang’s support, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will back a game changing plan under which millions of children will be guaranteed a free education without having to depend on charity. On the same day, the World Bank and all multilateral development banks will make a joint statement to take forward what is an education revolution. The Global Partnership for Education and the refugee agency Education Cannot Wait see it as complementing their important work. A petition calling for countries to finance it has already been signed by 1. 5 million young people.

The International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) aims to provide a brand new $10bn stream of finance which, alongside additional resources from national governments, could create 200m school places and help us to end child marriage, child traficking and child labour by offering free universal education right across developing countries. When up and running, IFFEd will be the biggest single educational investment in history.

And there is good reason why it is urgently needed. More than 260 million children and young people are not going to school today nor will they go to school any other day in the near future.

Even more shocking is the number of children dropping out of school by the age of 12 or learning so little due to the poor quality of education.

The problem is so severe that in 2030, across all low and middle-income countries, more than half of the world’s children and young people 825 million will not have the basic skills or qualiiications needed for a modern workforce.

Today, 750 million people over the age of 15 are unable to read and write, and two-thirds of them are women. And in 20 countries more than half the population is illiterate.

On current projections it will take until after the year 2100 to deliver the sustainable development goal targets promised for 2030, just 12 years from now of all girls and boys completing primary and secondary education.

Yet all overseas aid to education combined offers only $10 per child a year, not even enough to pay for a secondhand text book, let alone a quality education suited for the 2lst century. Funding for global education, which was 13% of all international aid 10 years ago, has fallen to 10%.

So it is urgent that we end the world’s biggest divide, between the half of a generation trapped without education and opportunity, the majority of them girls, and the rest.

Indeed, delivering universal education is the civil rights struggle of our generation. Leading the charge are young people themselves demanding change across the world to stop child marriage in Bangladesh, to end child labour in India, reduce fees for education in Latin America, and to deliver safe schools everywhere from Nigeria where many have been kidnapped, to America where schoolchildren have been the victims of gun violence in their classrooms.

The next generation needs a sea-change response from this generation. The scale of the education challenge cannot be met in ordinary ways through traditional aid. Instead, by building on guarantees from aid donors, and incorporating a buydown facility to reduce the costs of free education for 700 million children in lower middle-income countries, every £100m of aid can deliver £400m of new educational investment.

Our recent history has shown that innovative and concerted international efforts can have a profound impact. Fifteen years ago, heightened cooperation helped create the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, both of which have channelled billions of dollars into healthcare and saved millions of lives.

Neglected for too long, global education now warrants a moment of its own. We must become the first generation in history where every child goes to school, and in doing so we can demonstrate at the end of a week in which conflict seems to be the order of the day that international cooperation can work.

Gordon Brown is the UN special envoy for global education and a former UK prime minister

Universities in the Age of AI – Andrew Wachtel.

Over the next 50 years or so, as AI and machine learning become more powerful, human labor will be cannibalized by technologies that outperform people in nearly every job function. How should higher education prepare students for this eventuality?

BISHKEK – I was recently offered the presidency of a university in Kazakhstan that focuses primarily on business, economics, and law, and that teaches these subjects in a narrow, albeit intellectually rigorous, way. I am considering the job, but I have a few conditions.

What I have proposed is to transform the university into an institution where students continue to concentrate in these three disciplines, but must also complete a rigorous “core curriculum” in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences – including computer science and statistics. Students would also need to choose a minor in one of the humanities or social sciences.

There are many reasons for insisting on this transformation, but the most compelling one, from my perspective, is the need to prepare future graduates for a world in which artificial intelligence and AI-assisted technology plays an increasingly dominant role. To succeed in the workplace of tomorrow, students will need new skills.

Over the next 50 years or so, as AI and machine learning become more powerful, human labor will be cannibalized by technologies that outperform people in nearly every job function. Higher education must prepare students for this eventuality. Assuming AI will transform the future of work in our students’ lifetime, educators must consider what skills graduates will need when humans can no longer compete with robots.

It is not hard to predict that rote tasks will disappear first. This transition is already occurring in some rich countries, but will take longer in places like Kazakhstan. Once this trend picks up pace, however, populations will adjust accordingly. For centuries, communities grew as economic opportunities expanded; for example, farmers had bigger families as demand for products increased, requiring more labor to deliver goods to consumers.

But the world’s current population is unsustainable. As AI moves deeper into the workplace, jobs will disappear, employment will decline, and populations will shrink accordingly. That is good in principle – the planet is already bursting at the seams – but it will be difficult to manage in the short term, as the pace of population decline will not compensate for job losses amid the robot revolution.

For this reason, the next generation of human labor – today’s university students – requires specialized training to thrive. At the same time, and perhaps more than ever before, they need the kind of education that allows them to think broadly and to make unusual and unexpected connections across many fields.

Clearly, tomorrow’s leaders will need an intimate familiarity with computers – from basic programming to neural networks – to understand how machines controlling productivity and analytic processes function. But graduates will also need experience in psychology, if only to grasp how a computer’s “brain” differs from their own. And workers of the future will require training in ethics, to help them navigate a world in which the value of human beings can no longer be taken for granted.

Educators preparing students for this future must start now. Business majors should study economic and political history to avoid becoming blind determinists. Economists must learn from engineering students, as it will be engineers building the future workforce. And law students should focus on the intersection of big data and human rights, so that they gain the insight that will be needed to defend people from forces that may seek to turn individuals into disposable parts.

Even students studying creative and leisure disciplines must learn differently. For one thing, in an AI-dominated world, people will need help managing their extra time. We won’t stop playing tennis just because robots start winning Wimbledon; but new organizational and communication skills will be required to help navigate changes in how humans create and play. Managing these industries will take new skills tailored to a fully AI world.

The future of work may look nothing like the scenarios I envision, or it may be far more disruptive; no one really knows. But higher education has a responsibility to prepare students for every possible scenario – even those that today appear to be barely plausible. The best strategy for educators in any field, and at any time, is to teach skills that make humans human, rather than training students to outcompete new technologies.

No matter where I work in education, preparing young people for their futures will always be my job. And today, that future looks to be dominated by machines. To succeed, educators – and the universities we inhabit – must evolve.

*

Andrew Wachtel is President of the American University of Central Asia.

Project Syndicate

Use of sand vests to calm children with ADHD sparks concern – Kate Connolly and Hannah Devlin.

German schools are increasingly asking unruly and hyperactive children to wear heavy sand-filled vests in an effort to calm them and keep them on their seats, despite the misgivings of some parents and psychiatrists.

The controversial sand vests weigh between 1.2 and six kilograms (2.7-13Ib) and are being used by 200 schools across Germany.

Advocates of the vests say they have witnessed a remarkable change in behaviour in many of the children who have worn them, claiming the heavy vests help to curb children’s restlessness.

A growing number of children are being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) each year in Germany, as elsewhere. Schools that use the vests argue they are an uncomplicated way of tackling the phenomenon head on, and a gentler and less complicated form of therapy than drugs such as Ritalin.

“Children love to wear the vests and no one is forced into wearing one against their will,” claimed Gerhild de Wall, head of the inclusion unit at the Grumbrechtstrasse school in the Harburg district of Hamburg, which has been one of the sand vest pioneers.
But critics say the vests are reminiscent of straitjackets used to constrain violent patients in psychiatric hospitals, and are in danger of stigmatising their wearers.

One parent who vented her anger over the use of the vests on Facebook, wrote: “It would be best if we avoided such torture methods. How can you say to a child, ‘You’re sick, and as a punishment you have to wear this sand-filled jacket which is not only physical agony but will make you look like an idiot in front of the rest of the class.’ I think some people have lost the plot”.

But another parent, Barbara Truller-Voigt, whose nine-year-old son Frederick has worn a 2kg sand vest at his Hamburg school for the past three years as a kind of therapy for his ADHD, said she was convinced it had a positive influence on him.
“He voluntarily puts it on,” she said, “and has the feeling that it helps him. He can concentrate better and is more able to take an active part in lessons because he’s not spending the whole time trying to keep his arms and legs under control.”
Frederick confirmed as much to the Hamburger Abendblatt: “The vest helps to calm me down,” he said. “And when I have it on my handwriting isn’t as scrawly.”

De Wall first came across the vests when she taught in the United States, where they are sometimes used for children with autism and are variously referred to as compression vests or squeeze jackets. She said that, far from constraining a child, they can help them to feel centred.

“Kids who fidget a lot or have a sensory disorder, often have problems being able to sort out one stimulus from another,” she said. “The vests help them to have a better sense of themselves, and that in turn helps them to concentrate.”

She said the vests should never be worn for more than 30 minutes at a time, but claims their weight is not a problem for most children because it is spread evenly over the upper body.

She also said there was great competition in her school to wear the vest. “The pupils jump at the opportunity to wear them, so we make sure to also let the kids wear them who don’t actually need them, which helps to ensure there’s no stigma attached to having one.”

One teacher, who declined to be named, said the experience of using the vests in her class led her to compare the use of the vests to “laying a hand on a child’s shoulder … or giving them a hug, which the children often need, but which we’re obviously not allowed to do”.

But many psychiatrists are sceptical about the vests’ use, particularly without knowing the long-term effect of them.

Michael Schulte-Markwort, director at the Child and Youth Psychiatry University Clinic in the north-western Hamburg district of Eppendorf, told German newspaper Die Tageszeitung the vests were “ethically questionable” and could easily be interpreted as a single remedy to fit all attention deficiency disorders.

Schulte-Markwort also criticised the fact that in schools too much emphasis was placed on ensuring a child changed their behaviour to fit the class, rather than focusing on the child’s individual problems. “We should be doing that far more,” he added.

Yvonne Gebauer, schools minister for the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, has said she could not support the use of the vests in her region. “This is an unusual method, whose application I can only view with a great deal of criticism,” she said in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. “Neither are there any verified findings or studies about their effectiveness.”

The main manufacturer of sand vests in Germany, Beluga Healthcare in Lower Saxony, said the company had made vests for “thousands of happy customers” and had been doing so for the past 18 years.

But the controversy unleashed following reports of the vests’ use in German schools has forced the company to put out a statement on its website. In it, Roland Turley owner of Beluga, which also produces diving vests for the German Navy, states: “We don’t want the vests to be viewed as a magic solution to be deployed in every case of concentration disorder. Not every restless child needs a sand vest. Children need to wear them voluntarily and it’s necessary to have an informed diagnosis from an occupational therapist or a paediatrician.”

He admitted that no study has been carried out on the long-term effectiveness of the vests. “We’ve tried to find an institute that might do it, but so far there’s been no interest,” he added.

Analysis: why the debate about sand vests is important

The revelation that schools in Germany are deploying sand vests intended to help children with ADHD raises important questions about how mental illness and special educational needs are approached in schools.

According to experts, there is still a lack of awareness of the condition in classrooms, resulting in many children becoming disillusioned with education.

“They’re often labelled the naughty kid and excluded,” said Louise Theodosiou, a consultant psychiatrist based in Manchester. “If you’ve already got that label it’s easy to see how you’re more vulnerable.”

Theodosiou said proactive support could make a significant difference to the school experience of children with ADHD, their self-esteem, and ultimately success.

However, any intervention – particularly one aimed at a group who already face extra challenges – needs to be carefully assessed before being rolled out, she said. There is some tentative evidence that weighted clothing could be useful. A 2014 study of 110 children wearing this clothing suggested they paid more attention in class. But questions remain about whether these improvements would be sustained in the long term and whether the garments would have other downsides.

“What we don’t want is something where children are wearing something visibly stigmatising,” said Theodosiou. “We need to know, how does the child feel about it, are they being teased about it?”

“I would want more studies on potential impact on breathing, pressure on the spine. There would be too many variables to understand before we recommended this.”

More broadly, the the evidence that sensory aids, such as fidget toys, are helpful for children with ADHD is fairly scant, although some parents anecdotally report that they are helpful.

“It’s an idea that has caught people’s imaginations, particularly among occupational therapists, but I’ve not seen good evidence for this,” says Philip Asherson, a professor of molecular psychiatry at King’s College London. “There’s a risk that you impose something on a child that they don’t like.”

Asherson said a crucial element of helping children with ADHD thrive is to find things they do well and are passionate about.

“It’s interesting to think about the people with ADHD who do quite well,” he said. “The ones who do well often found something that they were good at as children – it might be sport, drama or arts. They’re often in these areas that aren’t valued as much in [the classroom] but they’ve had parents who recognise that they’re really good at certain things and support them in developing that.”

Q&A

What is it? And what are the symptoms?

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a pattern of behavioural symptoms, including hyperactivity, impulsiveness and having difficulty concentrating. The traits are often noticeable at an early age, but can become more of a problem when a child starts school. The condition tends to run in families – parents and siblings of a child with ADHD are four to five times more likely to have ADHD themselves – and genetics plays a significant role.

MRI scans have showed up some subtle differences in the brain structure and activity, but how these translate into changes in behaviour aren’t well understood at this stage.

How is it diagnosed?

There’s no quick, simple test to diagnose ADHD and a challenge is that many of the relevant behaviours – fidgeting, being easily distracted and blurting out inappropriate comments – are a normal part of childhood. Such behaviours can also be triggered by external factors such as disruptions in home life or anxiety about school, so the person making the diagnosis (normally a psychiatrist or education specialist) first needs to rule out this possibility.

Children with ADHD lie at one extreme of a spectrum and tend to show these traits much more consistently, and to an extent that causes problems in learning and socialising. While a child without ADHD might find it hard to stay focused in a lesson, a child with the condition will also struggle to stay on topic when having a conversation about something they have a real enthusiasm for, such as their favourite football team or film.

An assessment will involve discussions with parents, a one-to-one conversation with the child and sometimes a standardised computer-based assessment, called the Qb test is used, which gives an objective score of symptoms.

How many people have it?

This depends a bit how people are counted. One of the biggest studies, a meta-analysis done in 2007, estimated the prevalence at between 6-7% in children and teenagers across the world. However, some studies, which have been based on parents or teachers reports have found higher figures – for instance, a recent study based on parent reports in the US put the figure at 9.5%. However, in some populations the rates are far higher – for instance, 20-30% of prisoners meet the ADHD diagnostic criteria.

It also depends what age group is being considered. About a third of children with mild ADHD will outgrow their symptoms or learn to manage them so they no longer have a significant impact.

What can be done to treat it?

Nice guidelines recommend that for children with mild symptoms, the first-line treatment should be family work, helping parents with boundary-setting and ensuring that strategies are put in place at school – for instance, assigned a teaching assistant to help with focused work sessions. Behaviour therapies can also help children learn strategies to help manage their symptoms.

Medication is only viewed as appropriate in moderate to severe cases of ADHD and for children of seven years or older. Ritalin is not widely used in the UK – a significant downside is that children need to take a second dose of medicine at lunchtime. Giving children a slow-release form of the active ingredient in Ritalin, called methylphenidate, can be helpful.

Why is medication so controversial?

Giving medication that has an influence on the brain while it is still developing is a concern for many parents. The drugs have been shown to be safe in the short-term, but the long-term effects on the human brain are not yet well understood. For some children, doctors and parents may decide that the benefits of being able to concentrate better and socialise more easily might outweigh potential risks.

There are also physical side-effects: methylphenidate can increase blood pressure and pulse rate and reduce appetite, meaning all these variables need to be closely monitored if a child is put on this kind of medication.

Which famous people have it?

People with ADHD may find it harder to concentrate, but with the right support it does not need to limit a child’s or adult’s expectations of what they can achieve – particularly if they find something that they are passionate about early in life. A number of high profile athletes, including the US swimmer Michael Phelps and British gymnast Louis Smith, have described how the structure of a training programme was helpful for them. The US gymnast Simone Biles also spoke out about her ADHD after it was revealed she took medication to help control symptoms. In a documentary last year, the comedian Rory Bremner described ADHD as like having a “brain like a pinball machine”.

The Guardian

The West’s Broken Promises on Education Aid – Jeffrey D. Sachs.

The Global Partnership for Education, a worthy and capable initiative to promote education in 65 low-income countries, is having what the jargon of development assistance calls a “replenishment round,” meaning that it is asking donor governments to refill its coffers. Yet the fact that the GPE is begging for mere crumbs – a mere $1 billion per year – exposes the charade of Western governments’ commitment to the global Education for All agenda.

The United States and the European Union have never cared that much about that agenda. When it comes to disease, they have at times been willing to invest to slow or stop epidemics like AIDS, malaria, and Ebola, both to save lives and to prevent the diseases from coming to their own countries. But when it comes to education, many countries in the West are more interested in building walls and detention camps than schools.

The GPE does excellent work promoting primary education around the world. Donor countries, all of which long ago signed on to Education for All, should be clamoring to help one of the world’s most effective organizations to achieve that goal. Yet generous donors are few and far between.

This reality extends back to imperial times. When most of Africa and much of Asia were under European rule, the colonizers invested little in basic education. As late as 1950, according to United Nations data, illiteracy was pervasive in Europe’s African and Asian colonies. At the time of independence from Britain, India’s illiteracy rate stood at 80-85%, roughly the same as Indonesia’s illiteracy rate at the time of independence from the Netherlands. In French West Africa, the illiteracy rate in 1950 stood at 95-99%.

After independence, African and Asian countries pursued massive and largely successful initiatives to raise basic education and literacy. Yet, far from seizing this opportunity to make up for lost time, Europe and the US have provided consistently meager assistance for primary and secondary education, even as they have made high-profile commitments such as Education for All and Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for universal access to pre-primary through secondary school.

Consider the grim data on development aid for education, which has stagnated for years – and actually declined between 2010 and 2015. According to the most recent OECD data, total donor aid for primary and secondary education in Africa amounted to just $1.3 billion in 2016. To put that figure in perspective, the US Pentagon budget is roughly $2 billion per day. With around 420 million African kids of school age, total aid amounted to roughly $3 per child per year.

It’s not as if Western governments don’t know that far more is needed. Several detailed recent calculations provide credible estimates of how much external financing developing countries will need to achieve SDG 4. A UNESCO study puts the total at $39.5 billion per year. A report by the International Commission on Financing Education Opportunity, led by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, similarly put developing countries’ external financing needs at tens of billions of dollars per year.

Here is the reason why aid is needed. A year of education in Africa requires at least $300 per student. (Note that the rich countries spend several thousand dollars per student per year.) With Africa’s school-age population accounting for roughly one-third of the total, the per capita financing requirement is about $100. Yet for a typical African country, that’s about 10% of per capita national income – far more than the education budget can cover. External aid can and should cover the financing gap so that all children can attend school.

That’s not happening. Annual spending per school-aged child in Sub-Saharan Africa is roughly one-third of the minimum needed. As a result, most kids don’t come anywhere close to finishing secondary school. They are forced to drop out early, because there are no openings in public schools and tuition for private school is far too high for most families. Girls are especially likely to leave school early, though parents know that all of their children need and deserve a quality education.

Without the skills that a secondary education provides, the children who leave school early are condemned to poverty. Many eventually try to migrate to Europe in desperate search of a livelihood. Some drown on the way; others are caught by European patrols and returned to Africa.

So now comes the GPE’s replenishment round, scheduled for early February in Senegal. The GPE should be receiving at least $10 billion a year (about four days’ military spending by the NATO countries) to put Africa on a path toward universal secondary education. Instead, the GPE is reportedly still begging donors for less than $1 billion per year to cover GPE programs all over the world. Instead of actually solving the education crisis, rich-country leaders go from speech to speech, meeting to meeting, proclaiming their ardent love of education for all.

Across Africa, political, religious, and civil-society leaders are doing what they can. Ghana has recently announced free upper-secondary education for all, setting the pace for the continent. As African countries struggle to fund their ambitious commitments, new partners, including private companies and high-net-worth individuals, should step forward to help them. Traditional donors, for their part, have decades of lost time to make up for. The quest for education will not be stopped, but history will judge harshly those who turn their backs on children in need.

*

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

Project Syndicate

Undoing poverty’s negative effect on brain development with cash transfers – Cameron McLeod. 

An upcoming experiment into brain development and poverty by Kimberly G Noble, associate professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, asks whether poverty may affect the development, “the size, shape, and functioning,” of a child’s brain, and whether “a cash stipend to parents” would prevent this kind of damage.

Noble writes that “poverty places the young child’s brain at much greater risk of not going through the paces of normal development.” Children raised in poverty perform less well in school, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are less likely to continue on to college. Children raised in poverty are also more likely to be underemployed when adults. Sociological research and research done in the area of neuroscience has shown that a childhood spent in poverty can result in “significant differences in the size, shape and functioning” of the  brain. Can the damage done to children’s brains  be negated  by the intervention of a subsidy for brain health?

This most recent study’s fundamental difference from past efforts is that it explores what kind of effect “directly supplementing” the incomes of families will have on brain development. “Cash transfers, as opposed to counseling, child care and other services, have the potential to empower families to make the financial decisions they deem best for themselves and their children.” Noble’s hypothesis is that a “cascade of positive effects” will follow from the cash transfers, and that if proved correct, this has implications for public policy and “the potential to…affect the lives of millions of disadvantaged families with young children.”

Brain Trust, Kimberly G. Noble

  • Children who live in poverty tend to perform worse than peers in school on a bevy of different tests. They are less likely to graduate from high school and then continue on to college and are more apt to be underemployed once they enter the workforce.
  • Research that crosses neuroscience with sociology has begun to show that educational and occupational disadvantages that result from growing up poor can lead to significant differences in the size, shape and functioning of children’s brains.
  • Poverty’s potential to hijack normal brain development has led to plans for studying whether a simple intervention might reverse these injurious effects. A study now in the planning stages will explore if a modest subsidy can enhance brain health.

BasicIncome.org

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The goal of Dr. Noble’s research is to better characterize socioeconomic disparities in children’s cognitive and brain development. Ongoing studies in her lab address the timing of neurocognitive disparities in infancy and early childhood, as well as the particular exposures and experiences that account for these disparities, including access to material resources, richness of language exposure, parenting style and exposure to stress. Finally, she is interested in applying this work to the design of interventions that aim to target gaps in school readiness, including early literacy, math, and self-regulation skills. She is honored to be part of a national team of social scientists and neuroscientists planning the first clinical trial of poverty reduction, which aims to estimate the causal impact of income supplementation on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development in the first three years of life.

Columbia University

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A short review on the link between poverty, children’s cognition and brain development, 13th March 2017

In the latest issue of the Scientific American, Kimberly Noble, associate professor in neuroscience and education, reviews her work and introduces an ambitious research project that may help understand the cause-and-effect connection between poverty and children’s brain development.

For the past 15 years, Noble and her colleagues have gathered evidence to explain how socioeconomic disparities may underlie differences in children’s cognition and brain development. In the course of their research they have found for example that children living in poverty tend to have reduced cognitive skills – including language, memory skills and cognitive control (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Wealth effect

More recently, they published evidence showing that the socio-economic status of parents (as assessed using parental education, income and occupation) can also predict children’s brain structure.

By measuring the cortical surface area of children’s brains (ie the area of the surface of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain which contains all the neurons), they found that lower family income was linked to smaller cortical surface area, especially in brain regions involved in language and cognitive control abilities (Figure 2 – in magenta).

Figure 2. A Brain on Poverty

In the same research, they also found that longer parental education was linked to increased hippocampus volume in children, a brain structure essential for memory processes.

Overall, Noble’s work adds to a growing body of research showing the negative relation between poverty and brain development and these findings may explain (at least in part) why children from poor families are less likely to obtain good grades at school, graduate from high-school or attend college.

What is less known however, is the causal mechanism underlying this relationship. As Noble describes, differences in school and neighbourhood quality, chronic stress in the family home, less nurturing parenting styles or a combination of all these factors might explain the impact of poverty on brain development and cognition.

To better understand the causal effect of poverty, Noble has teamed up with economists and developmental psychologists and together, they will soon launch a large-scale experiment or “randomised control trial”. As part of this experiment, 1000 US women from low-income backgrounds will be recruited soon after giving birth and will be followed over a three-year period. Half of the women will receive $333 per month (if they are part of the “experimental” group) and the other half will receive $20 per month (if they are part of the “control” group). Mothers and children will be monitored throughout the study, and mothers will be able to spend the money as they wish, without any constrains.

By comparing children belonging to the experimental group to those in the control group, researchers will be able to observe how increases in family income may directly benefit cognition and brain development. They will also be able to test whether the way mothers use the extra income is a relevant factor to explain these benefits.

Noble concludes that “although income may not be the only factor that determines a child’s developmental trajectory, it may be the easiest one to alter” through social policy. And given that 25% of American children and 12% of British children are affected by poverty (as reported by UNICEF in 2012), policies designed to alleviate poverty may have the capacity to reach and improve the life chances of millions of children.

NGN is looking forward to see the results of this large-scale experiment. We expect that this project, in association with other research studies, will improve our understanding of the link between poverty and child development, and will help design better interventions to support disadvantaged children.

Nature Groups

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Socioeconomic inequality and children’s brain development. 

Research addresses issues at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience and public policy.

By Kimberly G. Noble, MD, PhD

Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, is an associate professor of neuroscience and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She received her undergraduate, graduate and medical degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. As a neuroscientist and board-certified pediatrician, she studies how inequality relates to children’s cognitive and brain development. Noble’s work has been supported by several federal and foundation grants, and she was named a “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Science. Together with a team of social scientists and neuroscientists from around the United States, she is planning the first clinical trial of poverty reduction to assess the causal impact of income on cognitive and brain development in early childhood.

Kimberley Noble website.

What can neuroscience tell us about why disadvantaged children are at risk for low achievement and poor mental health? How early in infancy does socioeconomic disadvantage leave an imprint on the developing brain, and what factors explain these links? How can we best apply this work to inform interventions? These and other questions are the focus of the research my colleagues and I have been addressing for the last several years.

What is socioeconomic status and why is it of interest to neuroscientists?

The developing human brain is remarkably malleable to experience. Of course, a child’s experience varies tremendously based on his or her family’s circumstances (McLoyd, 1998). And so, as neuroscientists, we can use family circumstance as a lens through which to better understand how experience relates to brain development.

Family socioeconomic status, or SES, is typically considered to include parental educational attainment, occupational prestige and income (McLoyd, 1998); subjective social status, or where one sees oneself on the social hierarchy, may also be taken into account (Adler, Epel, Castellazzo & Ickovics, 2000). A large literature has established that disparities in income and human capital are associated with substantial differences in children’s learning and school performance. For example, socioeconomic differences are observed across a range of important cognitive and achievement measures for children and adolescents, including IQ, literacy, achievement test scores and high school graduation rates (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997). These differences in achievement in turn result in dramatic differences in adult economic well-being and labor market success.

However, although outcomes such as school success are clearly critical for understanding disparities in development and cognition, they tell us little about the underlying neural mechanisms that lead to these differences. Distinct brain circuits support discrete cognitive skills, and differentiating between underlying neural substrates may point to different causal pathways and approaches for intervention (Farah et al., 2006; Hackman & Farah, 2009; Noble, McCandliss, & Farah, 2007; Raizada & Kishiyama, 2010). Studies that have used a neurocognitive framework to investigate disparities have documented that children and adolescents from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to perform worse than their more advantaged peers on several domains, most notably in language, memory, self-regulation and socio-emotional processing (Hackman & Farah, 2009; Hackman, Farah, & Meaney, 2010; Noble et al., 2007; Noble, Norman, & Farah, 2005; Raizada & Kishiyama, 2010).

Family socioeconomic circumstance and children’s brain structure

More recently, we and other neuroscientists have extended this line of research to examine how family socioeconomic circumstances relate to differences in the structure of the brain itself. For example, in the largest study of its kind to date, we analyzed the brain structure of 1099 children and adolescents recruited from socioeconomically diverse homes from ten sites across the United States (Noble, Houston et al., 2015). We were specifically interested in the structure of the cerebral cortex, or the outer layer of brain cells that does most of the cognitive “heavy lifting.” We found that both parental educational attainment and family income accounted for differences in the surface area, or size of the “nooks and crannies” of the cerebral cortex. These associations were found across much of the brain, but were particularly pronounced in areas that support language and self-regulation — two of the very skills that have been repeatedly documented to show large differences along socioeconomic lines.

Several points about these findings are worth noting. First, genetic ancestry, or the proportion of ancestral descent for each of six major continental populations, was held constant in the analyses. Thus, although race and SES tend to be confounded in the U.S., we can say that the socioeconomic disparities in brain structure that we observed were independent of genetically-defined race. Second, we observed dramatic individual differences, or variation from person to person. That is, there were many children and adolescents from disadvantaged homes who had larger cortical surface areas, and many children from more advantaged homes who had smaller surface areas. This means that our research team could in no way accurately predict a child’s brain size simply by knowing his or her family income alone. Finally, the relationship between family income and surface area was nonlinear, such that the steepest gradient was seen at the lowest end of the income spectrum. That is, dollar for dollar, differences in family income were associated with proportionately greater differences in brain structure among the most disadvantaged families.

More recently, we also examined the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the same sample (Piccolo, et al., 2016). In general, as we get older, our cortices tend to get thinner. Specifically, cortical thickness decreases rapidly in childhood and early adolescence, followed by a more gradual thinning, and ultimately plateauing in early- to mid-adulthood (Raznahan et al., 2011; Schnack et al., 2014; Sowell et al., 2003). Our work suggests that family socioeconomic circumstance may moderate this trajectory. 

Specifically, at lower levels of family SES, we observed relatively steep age-related decreases in cortical thickness earlier in childhood, and subsequent leveling off during adolescence. In contrast, at higher levels of family SES, we observed more gradual age-related reductions in cortical thickness through at least late adolescence. We speculated that these findings may reflect an abbreviated period of cortical thinning in lower SES environments, relative to a more prolonged period of cortical thinning in higher SES environments. It is possible that socioeconomic disadvantage is a proxy for experiences that narrow the sensitive period, or time window for certain aspects of brain development that are malleable to environmental influences, thereby accelerating maturation (Tottenham, 2015).

Are these socioeconomic differences in brain structure clinically meaningful? Early work would suggest so. In our work, we have found that differences in cortical surface area partially accounted for links between family income and children’s executive function skills (Noble, Houston et al., 2015). Independent work in other labs has suggested that differences in brain structure may account for between 15 and 44 percent of the family income-related achievement gap in adolescence (Hair, Hanson, Wolfe & Pollak, 2015; Mackey et al., 2015). This line of research is still in its infancy, however, and several outstanding questions remain to be addressed.

How early are socioeconomic disparities in brain development detectable?

By the start of school, it is apparent that dramatic socioeconomic disparities in children’s cognitive functioning are already evident, and indeed, several studies have found that socioeconomic disparities in language (Fernald, Marchman & Weisleder, 2013; Noble, Engelhardt et al., 2015; Rowe & Goldin-Meadow, 2009) and memory (Noble, Engelhardt et al., 2015) are already present by the second year of life. But methodologies that assess brain function or structure may be more sensitive to differences than are tests of behavior. This raises the question of just how early we can detect socioeconomic disparities in the structure or function of children’s brains.

 One group reported socioeconomic differences in resting electroencephalogram (EEG) activity — which indexes electrical activity of the brain as measured at the scalp — as early as 6–9 months of age (Tomalski et al., 2013). Recent work by our group, however, found no correlation between SES and the same EEG measures within the first four days following birth (Brito, Fifer, Myers, Elliott & Noble, 2016), raising the possibility that some of these differences in brain function may emerge in part as a result of early differences in postnatal experience. Of course, a longitudinal study assessing both the prenatal and postnatal environments would be necessary to formally test this hypothesis. Furthermore, another group recently reported that, among a group of African-American, female infants imaged at 5 weeks of age, socioeconomic disadvantage was associated with smaller cortical and deep gray matter volumes (Betancourt et al., 2015). It is thus also likely that at least some socioeconomic differences in brain development are the result of socioeconomic differences in the prenatal environment (e.g., maternal diet, stress) and/or genetic differences.

Disentangling links among socioeconomic disparities, modifiable experiences and brain development represents a clear priority for future research. Are the associations between SES and brain development the result of differences in experiences that can serve as the targets of intervention, such as differences in nutrition, housing and neighborhood quality, parenting style, family stress and/or education? Certainly, the preponderance of social science evidence would suggest that such differences in experience are likely to account at least in part for differences in child and adolescent development (Duncan & Magnuson, 2012). However, few studies have directly examined links among SES, experience and the brain (Luby et al., 2013). In my lab, we are actively focusing on these issues, with specific interest in how chronic stress and the home language environment may, in part, explain our findings.

How can this work inform interventions?

Quite a few interventions aim to reduce socioeconomic disparities in children’s achievement. Whether school-based or home-based, many are quite effective, though frequently face challenges: High-quality interventions are expensive, difficult to scale up and often suffer from “fadeout,” or the phenomenon whereby the positive effects of the intervention dwindle with time once children are no longer receiving services.

What about the effects of directly supplementing family income? Rather than providing services, such “cash transfer“ interventions have the potential to empower families to make the financial decisions they deem best for themselves and their children. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies in the social sciences, both domestically and in the developing world, have suggested the promise of direct income supplementation (Duncan & Magnuson, 2012).

To date, linkages between poverty and brain development have been entirely correlational in nature; the field of neuroscience is silent on the causal connections between poverty and brain development. As such, I am pleased to be part of a team of social scientists and neuroscientists who are currently planning and raising funds to launch the first-ever randomized experiment testing the causal connections between poverty reduction and brain development.

The ambition of this study is large, though the premise is simple. We plan to recruit 1,000 low-income U.S. mothers at the time of their child’s birth. Mothers will be randomized to receive a large monthly income supplement or a nominal monthly income supplement. Families will be tracked longitudinally to definitively assess the causal impact of this unconditional cash transfer on cognitive and brain development in the first three years following birth, when we believe the developing brain is most malleable to experience.

We hypothesize that increased family income will trigger a cascade of positive effects throughout the family system. As a result, across development, children will be better positioned to learn foundational skills. If our hypotheses are borne out, this proposed randomized trial has the potential to inform social policies that affect the lives of millions of disadvantaged families with young children. While income may not be the only or even the most important factor in determining children’s developmental trajectories, it may be the most manipulable from a policy perspective.

American Psychological Association

In the age of robots, our schools are teaching children to be redundant – George Monbiot. 

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

The Guardian

Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses – Steven Singer. 

America loves business.

We worship the free market. Nothing is more infallible, not reason, not morals, not even God.

Money is the true measure of success – the more you have, the better a person you are.

This perverted ideology (otherwise known as Neoliberalism) has taken over much of American life. Where we once cared about our country, justice and fair play, today it has all been reduced to dollars and cents.

Every problem can be answered by business. Every endeavor should be made more business-like. Every interaction should be modeled on the corporate contract, and every individual should try to maximize the outcome in his or her favor. Doing so is not just good for you, personally, but it’s what’s best for everyone involved. And this dogma is preached by the high priests of the market who claim that as they, themselves, get wealthier, one day we too will reap the same rewards – but that day never seems to come.

These principles are articles of faith so deeply ingrained that some folks can’t see past them. They have become the driving force behind our country and much of the world. Meanwhile, most people get ever poorer, our environment gets increasingly polluted and everything is up for sale.

One of the last holdouts against this market-driven nightmare is the public school system.

We still have widespread educational institutions run democratically at public expense dedicated to providing every child with the tools and opportunities to learn.

They’re not perfect. Far from it. But they enshrine one of the last vestiges of the America of our grandparents. Democracy and justice are the system’s core values – not profit, expansion and market share.

However, our schools suffer from disinvestment. Since we’ve segregated the rich from the poor into privileged and impoverished neighborhoods, it’s easy to provide more funding and resources to wealthy children and less to poor ones. That’s the main reason why some schools struggle – they haven’t the resources of the Cadillac institutions.

Common Dreams

Pisa Tests And Stupidity. New Zealand’s Outdated Education Philosophy. – Bryan Bruce. 

I see the latest OECD Pisa Test results are out and NZ’s scores fell very slightly in the three tested subjects – Reading, Maths and Science.

Frankly I don’t care. Only the stupid would think measuring 15 year olds in 3 subjects was a measure of whether our education system is good or bad.

I don’t know what Lorde’s test marks were in these 3 subjects at 15 for example, but she left school and won 2 Grammy’s .

My point is that a good education system is one (in my view) that aims to foster the talents and abilities of every individual child…. and a system hell bent on measuring kids to see how much they are the SAME as other kids their age, risks missing how DIFFERENT every child is – so that teachers can help each of their students be the best that they can be.

To continue with a 19th Century testing approach to assess today’s young people for life in the 21st century is again – stupid.

Remembering and regurgitating facts isn’t that important in a world where Google knows everything. What’s important is being able to determine what is good information from what is bogus and how to join the dots between information to achieve the result you need.

Also today’s young people will increasingly live in a world where being able to work with others to solve complex problems will determine their success in life. That ability to cooperate with others to solve problems isn’t measured by any of the Pisa tests.

One thing the latest PISA results DO show however is that 15 year olds from rich schools are about 3 years ahead of kids from poor schools and while teachers in lower socio-economic areas are clearly doing a very good job by lifting the performance of their students – our school administration system is against them.

The introduction of self-managing schools by Labour’s David Lange 30 years ago has proved disastrous for children who come from our poorer homes. It has delivered a Public School System where kids in rich areas are clearly benefiting  more from a system funded by the public purse. Not only is that unfair it’s stupid.

It’s stupid because it means we are wasting the brains of kids who weren’t lucky enough to be born into wealthy homes.

We’re a small country. We can’t afford to waste a single brain, a single ability or a single talent.

Just how stupid is our system?

It seems to me the fact that no other country in the world has sought to follow our self-management school system says it all.

We need to get smart and fix our broken system because decentralisation is getting in the way of teachers doing their job.

How so? Well, for one thing, in an effort to  try and force our grossly unfair system to perform  the Ministry has loaded teachers and school principals with volumes of paperwork to make them “accountable”.

Again that’s stupid,because it robs teachers of invaluable teaching time with individual students.

What we need to do instead is charge our educators with the “responsibility” for educating our nation’s children, because there is a world of difference in those two words.

To make someone ‘responsible’ for something says “we trust you”.

To make someone ‘accountable’ for something says ‘we don’t trust you at all and we are going to check up on you every five minutes to make sure you are doing your job.

Shall I say it again? “That’s stupid.”

It’s time to develop a school system where teachers are trusted to get on with the job of teaching.

We need a centralised school system created in consultation with our teachers and educators and driven by them and not politicians.

A system that has as light an administration system as possible. One that is designed (amongst other things) to bring back the principle of equal opportunity for ALL our children.

A focus on PISA style testing also doesn’t prepare our children in the best possible way for the future.

To be honest if I’d be more worried if we were Number 1 in those three PISA subjects because it would mean in all likelihood we had adopted a very authoritarian system of teaching.

“Do as you are told” teaching doesn’t foster creative thinking – and our economy will need creative thinkers if it is to grow in the future.

You can’t learn to be a creative thinker in an environment where the only answer is the one the teacher wants to hear.

We need to make our schools safe places to learn. Places where students are free to try out their ideas and maybe get things wrong now and then. Because in life we don’t get everything right first time and new innovations and discoveries are often made when we learn from our mistakes.

So we need to develop 21st Century methods of evaluating our young people not ones based on 19th Century ideas of what will prepare our children best for a successful life.

For example  PISA doesn’t measure many of the the essential skills we use most everyday.. such as oral language.

How many of us make our living from sales – persuading people to buy your idea or product? Or instructing people? Or using the telephone or , yes, (God help us) .. politics.

Being good at Oral Language, being able to organise your thoughts and communicate them is essential for success today. Why isn’t that one of the subjects used to determine who has a successful education system and who has not?

So let’s stop being stupid. Let’s have a nationwide hui on education to design a better way to administer our public education system that takes politics out of it  and entrusts our teachers with the responsibility of helping every child to realise their particular talents and abilities and be the best that they can be.

Fiddling While Schools Burn – Bryan Bruce. 

Congratulations to our teachers for standing firm against bulk funding. We have a very unfair Public education system and Hekia Parata’s proposal to force principals to choose between hiring a teacher or buying school equipment would have made an already terrible situation worse.

The way to fix our broken education system is not to tinker with the Decile funding model. It is to admit that the self-management system of school administration, introduced by David Lange and designed by former Supermarket boss Brian Picot 3 decades ago, has been a disaster for children of low (and now also middle) income families.

THAT”s what we need to fix.

We are the only country in the world that has a completely autonomous self management school system and you would think that if it was such a wonderful thing then, at some point over the last 30 years, some other country would have copied us. But they haven’t.

They haven’t  because they can see that not only has school self-management created rich and poor schools within a Publicly funded school system, it has also loaded teachers  with so much “accountability” administration that it has robbed our educators of invaluable teaching and professional development time.

If the Decile system serves any useful purpose at all it is simply as a measure of how unfair our school system has become.

A student who attends a Decile 1 or 2 Secondary School has about a 30% LESS chance of attaining NCEA level 2 than if they attended a Decile 9 or 10 school. That’s not because teachers in Decile 1 and 2 schools are worse than teachers in Decile 9 and 10 schools, it’s because over the last 30 years we have created a very unequal society.  

So fixing our school system cannot be separated from fixing our society. 

In Finland and Shanghai (who the OECD say lead the world in education) they have the centralised system of school administration that we once had before Lange introduced his radical new scheme. Back then, teachers from other countries used to visit us – not Finland – to see how we ran things like our reading programmes because we taught that skill better than anyone else. Why? Because we had a cooperative education system in which teachers shared information and good ideas in order to make every school a good school. Not the competitive one we have today, which inherently encourages teachers and schools not to share good ideas and methods but hold on to their “intellectual property” so they can gain more pupils and funding.

So in my view, returning to a centralised system of light administration that unburdens our teachers from unnecessary administrative tasks in order to spend more time on the difficult job of preparing our children for life is the place to start. Fiddling with funding won’t fix our systemic school administration problem. Taking away the  control of education from politicians and putting back into the hands of our educators however, just might.

If you would like to know more about my views on our Public education system you can watch  my documentary World Class? for free for the next 10 days here: Bryan Bruce

Germany scraps tuition fees after mass student protests cause shift in public opinion. 

After experimenting with tuition fees, all the federal German states have been persuaded to reverse their decision. In the UK and US, there is no political will to change the policies which are blighting whole generations. The only way forward is to copy German protest movements.

The world’s fourth largest economy, Germany, has abolished all higher education tuition fees after flirting with the system for a few years. The contrast could not be greater with both the United States and the United Kingdom, which has largely aped the US model with potentially disastrous results.

In the US, tuition costs have risen 500% since 1985 and those who borrowed for a bachelor’s degree granted in 2012 owe an average of US$29,400. Some 40 million Americans are paying back US$1.2 trillion in outstanding student debt. US senator Elizabeth Warren, who is campaigning to lower fees, says the burden is stopping young Americans from buying homes and cars, or starting small businesses. Meanwhile, existing federal financial aid to students is poorly targeted, with half of federal tuition tax credits going to the wealthiest 20%. Economy Watch

The Destruction of New Zealand’s Public Education System. 

New Zealand Teachers in 2008 were excited about putting all their energies into the new ideas and approaches that were espoused in these co-constructed documents that had taken around seven years to review and write. Evidence, research and practitioner input had created something that would allow us to prepare New Zealand children to become resilient in a rapidly changing world.

We were just on the cusp of something great when an election occurred…

A National led Government was elected and New Zealand’s public education system came under heavy attack. Local Bodies 

NZ School Punishment: 11-year-old locked in ‘dark cell’ 13 times in 9 days.

Victorian era attitudes still alive and well in New Zealand education. 

Children were repeatedly locked in a darkened, cell-like room at a primary school as punishment for bad behaviour.

Education officials launched an investigation at Miramar Central School in Wellington after a behaviour therapist found a 11-year-old disabled boy alone and distraught in the cupboard-sized room, with no way to get out.

The boy, who is autistic with the mental age of a toddler, was one of at least 10 children – mainstream and special needs – put in the “time out” room within the past year, largely without parent knowledge or consent. NZ Herald

People Make People –  Bryan Bruce. 

​Teaching is more than instruction. It’s people making. One of the biggest mistakes we could make in preparing our children for the future is to think that teachers can be replaced by computers.

Why? Because that would be to reduce the job description of a teacher to that of an instructor  – which would take us back to the 19th Century when teachers tried to fill their students up with information.

Yes school is still place were you learn the basic literacy and numeracy skills, but in these days when Google knows everything remembering information is far less important than knowing how to find out what you want to know, how to decide what is good information and bad information – and how to join the dots between various pieces of good information to solve your problem or come up with something new.
So a focus on computer based learning which can be done at home is, in my view, to take a short sighted view of the role of teachers and schools in today’s society  – which is to prepare our children for a future none of us can predict. And one thing we DO know is that whatever the future holds for our kids, it will be their social skills – such as their ability to work with others and communicate their ideas  to other that will largely  determine their success in life.
Now, that things a good teacher  assess in the social environment of a school, but a computer can’t. Because it takes good people to make good people.

GFE, a Global Fund for Education – Jeffrey D. Sachs

Many parts of the world are headed for massive instability, joblessness, and poverty. The twenty-first century will belong to countries that properly educate their young people to participate productively in the global economy.

What US politicians and policymakers in their right minds could believe that US national security is properly pursued through a 900-to-1 ratio of military spending to global education spending? Of course, the US is not alone. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel are all squandering vast sums in an accelerating Middle East arms race, in which the US is the major financier and arms supplier. China and Russia are also sharply boosting military spending, despite their pressing domestic priorities. We are, it seems, courting a new arms race among major powers, at a time when what is really needed is a peaceful race to education and sustainable development. Jeffrey D Sachs, Project Syndicate

New Zealand’s latest education breakthrough: “Less than half a sandwich per child”

Education is the key to a better life, we’re told, but God forbid we value those who provide it. Lizzie Marvelly, NZ Herald

Children under ten being fed 14 spoons of sugar a day

The figures show that youngsters’ consumption of sweet drinks has dropped very little in the six years health officials have been collecting data, despite dire warnings of the health dangers. They are still the biggest source of sugar in the diet of children and teenagers. NZ Herald

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Finland is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence. Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.

There are no private schools in Finland. This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school.

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s school reformers are trying to do.

The Atlantic http://theatln.tc/2bQb7M9

Finnish Lessons by Pahi Sahlberg

Amazon http://amzn.to/2bQdiPD