Holistic parenting education improves infant brain development

Published on 10 June 2019

Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences. With training, parents can become even more effective providers of the care and stimulation that babies and young children need to develop properly.

Launched today, research conducted in Ngororero District, Rwanda by Save the Children and Umuhuza organizations, in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies, shows the impact of parenting education programmes in rural Rwanda. The research found that parents who received parenting trainings had positive and significant impact on time investment on increasing practices of engaging in ‘learning’ caregiver-child activities, such as singing, telling a story, playing with toys, reading and naming objects.

The study shows that compared to mothers from the same District who didn’t receive the interventions, mothers who received the basic package intervention invested 41 per cent more time on learning activities. Mothers who received a more advanced package invested 52 per cent more time than those who didn’t. In the medium-term, although gains were reduced, they remained high, with mothers who received the basic package invested 22 per cent more time than mothers who didn’t receive. Meanwhile mothers who received advanced package investing 27 per cent more time than those who didn’t.

The research shows that men who received the basic package of the intervention increased over their investment in learning activities with children by 81 per cent in the short-term and 32 per cent in the medium-term.

Early childhood education in Rwanda

Twenty-five years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has made a great improvement in children lives. In a recent report by Save the Children, the country was ranked as the second biggest mover of change for improving children’s lives in the world. The Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) 2014-15 reported that 92 per cent of children age 36-59 months are on track in physical domains of child development. However, only 7 per cent of these children are developmentally on track in areas of literacy and numeracy; these figures are even lower for those in rural areas, poorer households and children of less educated parents.

The research launch comes ahead of the International Conference on Early Childhood Development (ECD), which takes place on 11-12 June in Kigali. The conference will bring together experts from different countries to share evidence on local and international findings of research on early childhood development, increasing knowledge on best practices for ECD implementation, strengthening advocacy for ECD investment at government and community level and strengthening multi-sectoral, regional and international partnerships for research and implementation of ECD amongst others.

Sofia Cozzolino, Program Development and Quality Director, Save the Children Rwanda, said:

“The first 3 years of life are critical in shaping a child’s future; it’s in this time that children’s brains are growing the fastest and are most susceptible to change. Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences.”

Abdul Kalim Ndimurwango, a father who participated in the First Steps parenting training sessions said:

“I didn’t know that a child needs parental care even when they are still in their mother’s womb. It is not only me, but so many other parents, especially husbands have this understanding. In the trainings, we got to know that caring for a  baby begins from when s/he is in the womb of their mother.”

Abdul Kalim became a trainer after observing that there are many families who do not know how to care for their children.  He commented:

“My last born Gisa is very bright. He is still very young but does things that I didn’t see his brothers doing when they were still his age. I think he will be very intelligent. We started caring for him when he was still in his mother’s womb. This came after attending First Steps trainings which opened my mind. […] Every day I have to find time for him. I read books for and with him, play with him. We became friends.”

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