In low-income and middle-income countries, 250 million children under 5 years of age are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential (Black et al., 2017). Among other key risk factors, low levels of cognitive stimulation, dietary deficiencies, chronic infections, and even excessive exposure to stress can affect the structure and functioning of the brain, and subsequent child development (Walker et al., 2011). Affected children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007).
Effective investments in the development of a child in their first years (for instance, taking the forms of parenting support or preschool education programs) have the potential to set them on a trajectory towards a better equilibrium (Engle et al., 2011). For instance, Gertler et al. (2014) found that a parent-support intervention implemented in Jamaica had substantial long-term effects on participants’ earnings. The intervention consisted in weekly visits from community health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers and children to interact in ways that develop cognitive and socioemotional skills. Yet, there are currently few tested models for taking early childhood interventions to scale and guidance remains limited for policymakers working on a limited budget.
In this study, we measure the impact of a mobile-based intervention, which has the advantages of being both cheap and easily scalable. The intervention is an information campaign which uses mobile technology to improve parenting behaviours and favour early childhood development (physical, socio-emotional, and language-cognitive development) for children aged 0-2 years. In total, series of (ten) mobile videos will be disseminated in different local languages using “SD cards” – memory cards used for file storage in mobile phones. The intervention exploits the high mobile penetration rates to reach the greatest numbers and the fact that, in West Africa, SD cards are a common way of sharing music.
The intervention will be implemented in villages located in the cocoa-farming regions of Côte d’Ivoire. As in many other countries in the region, enrolment rates in early childhood education programmes are low in Côte d’Ivoire (less than 10% for children aged 36-59 months), violent discipline the norm, and inadequate care very common (UNICEF, 2014). Cocoa farmers represent a particularly disadvantaged population: most of them are poor and live in work camps, which are isolated from the services and infrastructure that urban and peri-urban areas provide. As a consequence, children growing up in these areas often lack access to early learning and care.
We plan to measure the impact of the intervention using a randomized controlled trial as part of which 200 villages selected to take part in the experiment will be randomly allocated to either a treatment group or a control group. We will evaluate the impact of the intervention on parenting behaviors and child development outcomes