Be the first to like this
Shallwani, S., & Jindani, F. (June, 2008). Can early child development programmes help overcome social disparities? Paper presented at the Biennial Convention of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Chicago.
Current research in early child development (ECD) indicates that children’s experiences in their earliest years lay the foundation for lifelong development, academic achievement, and social success. Studies suggest children’s developmental health is impacted by the physical, emotional, and social environments in which they are raised in their earliest years (R. H. Bradley et al., 1989). Longitudinal research indicates that early interventions for ECD can have positive lasting effects on all children, but particularly strong impacts on children from disadvantaged circumstances (L. J. Schweinhart et al., 1993).
Some have further argued that ECD programmes can be a key opportunity to equalize social and health disparities resulting from poverty and social exclusion (M. Friendly & D. Lero, 2002). For example, the Inter-American Development Bank claims that early childhood interventions targeted to children from disadvantaged backgrounds “can help break the tragic cycle of poverty” (1999, p.3). In this way, ECD programmes are presented as an effective and unproblematic way to address problems of social disparities.
However, much of the evidence cited to support this conceptualization is based on research conducted with very specific populations in the Minority world, and has been critiqued as neither very strong nor very generalizable (H. Penn, 2004). Moreover, this conceptualization of ECD as the great equalizer focuses attention to the care and education given to the children of low-income parents, and diverts attention away from macro-level neoliberal economic practices which actually cause poverty and social injustice.
In this presentation, we critically review research and theory on the relationship between ECD and social and health disparities. We present evidence both supporting and shedding doubt upon the mainstream conceptualization of ECD as an opportunity to overcome disparities. We draw upon our own practice and research experiences, particularly in Majority world contexts such as Pakistan and Kenya, to qualitatively highlight learnings.