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How early childhood education in Kenya could combat lifelong povertyThere is no one cure for poverty and no way to guarantee that a child will have a successful future, but a good education is a solid start. Poverty is especially bad in Kenya where 42 percent of residents live below the poverty line. A new program in Kenya is testing a model that would prepare young children for school and ultimately prepare them to be successful adults. Early childhood education in Kenya may prove crucial for the success of young Kenyans since such programs have been proven to help children worldwide.

The Tayari Program

In 2014, Kenya introduced a new pilot program for children aged four to six who were enrolled in both public and private education. The program, named “Tayari” after the Kiswahili word for “readiness,” is a “cost-effective, scalable” program with three facets to prepare young children for successful educations. It includes a learning model to help children gain mathematical, reading and even emotional development skills. Teachers receive specific training, guides and materials. In addition to specific teaching styles and a rigid curriculum, children are taught about healthy eating and personal hygiene, specifically the importance of handwashing.

Understanding the actual significance of the program is crucial, which is why Moses Ngware, a senior research scientist at the African Population and Health Research Centre, conducted extensive research on Tayari. His team looked at the impact, cost and scalability of the program. Using randomized controls, they found that students had a three-month advantage over their classmates who were not part of the program. They also found that improving a student’s scores 8 percentage points through Tayari only cost policymakers about $7 per year.

The program addresses important shortcomings within the education system in Kenya, such as “ inadequate provision of age-appropriate and context relevant quality teaching and learning materials.” There is also a shortage of teachers who can guide their students in the classroom. The program was found to be so successful in Kenyan classrooms that it has the potential to change lives throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. While the research is overwhelmingly positive, more data and more time in the program is necessary to know its ultimate effects. The program, like its learners, is still very young.

Education and Poverty Reduction

Improving a child’s chance for a good education is always a good thing, but it could be worth something even more. Could early access to the skills needed to succeed in school lead to a better life in terms of income and wealth? The data shows that early childhood programs and education are already part of strategies to alleviate poverty because of its success rates.

A study in Ypsilanti, Michigan found that at-risk children who were placed in a pilot preschool program achieved greater success than the control group. By 19, they possessed a better economic potential and had better social skills. By 27, they had fewer arrests and higher incomes. The older these children got, the more noticeable their academic and economic achievements were when compared to the control group.

The Carolina Abecedarian Project is one of the oldest programs in this field.  Originally conducted between 1972 and 1985 in North Carolina, the comprehensive early education program was for young children at risk for developmental delays and dropping out of school. Not only did participants do better academically than their control peers, but as adults, they had significantly higher incomes, were more likely to have been “consistently employed” and less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The program was so successful that the organization rolled it out to other states and it is now international.

Early childhood programs are not going to eliminate poverty, but by giving children the social and academic skills needed to better succeed at life, they’re offering a real foundation upon which to build future success. Tayari, the program for early childhood education in Kenya, is cheap, easy to roll out and may really help the poorest of Kenya, maybe even the poorest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sarah Stanley

Photo: Unsplash