First-ever SECD International course: Featured fellows share their experiences

Science of Early Child Development: Kenya/TanzaniaThe first-ever 16-week Science of Early Child Development (SECD) International Course, co-facilitated by Red River College and Aga Khan University in Nairobi, recently came to an end this fall.

The course was a key component of the year-long World Bank Africa Early Years Fellowship, created for the purpose of assembling a select group of African professionals to work at capacity-building in their home countries, in support of governments and World Bank teams as they ramp up investments in early years resources.

Currently, 80% of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in pre-primary programs and malnutrition is a persistent reality.

A bit of background

The SECD resource, developed by a small team at Red River College, began 16 years ago as a local initiative to create an accessible resource that could mobilize the possibilities of early brain development science to better equip early child educators in Canada.

Today, it’s a comprehensive, continually updated collection of on- and offline multi-media educational tools that incorporate research from around the world, providing cutting-edge resources to more than 40 countries. Readings, questions and interactive activities bring concepts to life, while captioned videos showcase the latest research, highlighting real-life examples.

The initiative wouldn’t have been possible without funding and collaboration from several key partners, including the World Bank, the University of Toronto, the Lawson Foundation, and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which works to improve living conditions and create opportunities in Asia and Africa. The World Bank and the AKDN took notice of SECD in 2007, effectively setting the wheels in motion to make it international.

A decade later, the World Bank Early Learning Partnership selected the SECD International resource as a foundation for the course that would become a key component of their Fellowship.

The Africa Early Years Fellowship

The 2017 Fellowship, now in its third year, began in January, and offers fellows the option of applying to extend their fellowship for a second year. A total of 20 fellows were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including economics, education, ECD, medicine/health, and international development. High-priority countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi and Mali, among others.

Featured Fellows

Aïchatou Cisse, Mali

Aïchatou Cisse, Mali“My ECD trajectory is not straightforward and at the same time has always been present even indirectly and unconsciously throughout my career,” says Aïchatou Cisse, of Mali.

With seven years of experience in international development work across multiple sectors, and MAs in both Economics and Political Science and International Development, Cisse started working on microfinance and health microcredit projects for disadvantaged communities and individuals however she could, later coordinating social and economic projects as an economist for the UN Development Program.

“Even though I’ve done a lot of work, mainly with governments and economic sectors, it has always been with a focus on social and economic services delivery for the most vulnerable communities,” she says. “ECD is crucial not only for the survival and academic success of children but also for society as a whole. If you want to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, don’t invest in ECD.”

When asked about the Fellowship, she describes it as intense, diverse and intellectually stimulating.

“The Fellowship supports us as human beings and encourages us to strike a work/home balance, which is great, because a lot of us are also parents of young children. Similarly, when I think about the communities I am working for, I don’t think of them as indicators or targets, but as humans who have their strengths and struggles as parents, just like me.”

Cisse is currently participating in the design of three new World Bank projects in Mali focused on ECD, makes field visits to early childhood education centres and nutrition rehabilitation units, and engages in ECD policy dialogue with government and partners.

Moses Abiero, Kenya

Moses Abiero, KenyaWith over a decade of ECD experience in public, private and civil society organizations, Moses Abiero has worked in various capacities for ChildFund Kenya, supporting the optimal development of infants and young children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Abiero has an MA and BA in Early Childhood Studies and Early Childhood Education respectively, and is currently a PhD candidate.

He says he found the SECD course very useful because it created opportunities for policy dialogues while also providing practical examples of real-life ECD programs. “It exposed fellows to various studies — especially those linking a supportive environment for children with proper brain development, which is key.”

Growing up, Abiero’s family dealt with inadequate nutrition, lack of quality health care, weak extended family support, the normalization of child labour, and poor housing, among other challenges. His parents made sacrifices so he and his siblings could get an education, even though they couldn’t afford the better schools.

“My childhood laid the groundwork for my later community service,” he says. “I was accepted for a BA in Early Childhood Education. The same day, my friends and family tried to discourage me, saying the course was for nursery school teachers without secondary school certificates. But I found it opened up prospects aligned with my passion for serving children.”

Roman Tesfaye, Ethiopia

Roman Tesfaye, EthiopiaWith more than five years of experience in economics, nutrition and health across different sectors, Roman Tesfaye of Ethiopia is honoured to be the youngest fellow selected. She was previously the research officer for Alive & Thrive Ethiopia, a project focused on scaling up infant and young child feeding to reduce stunting — a common problem in Ethiopia.

“Supporting this project made me more involved in implementing programs on the ground that help children thrive, especially in their first 1,000 days. I was very interested in tackling malnutrition and child-development in Ethiopia, where under-five mortality is at 67%.”

Tesfaye was also the local liaison for a three-country initiative on combating global child under-nutrition. She earned her MA in International Economics and her BA in Finance and Development Economics, and has co-authored publications on nutrition and food security. She sees ECD as key to a productive life and to a nation’s development.

“I would like to see Ethiopia and Africa as a whole eliminate malnutrition and create access to quality pre-primary education and a suitable environment for children to thrive in. I believe all 20 of us will make a difference in our respective countries.”

Moving Forward

The three fellows featured above are not about to let their groundbreaking work on ECD stop at a 16-week course or a year-long fellowship. Life for each of them before the Fellowship is already a clear indication of this.

Post-Fellowship, Cisse hopes to influence political leaders to prioritize ECD budgeting and planning at national and local levels, and to offer her technical expertise to the cause. Tesfaye is eager to share with the World Bank her knowledge on how to structure programs to have better outcomes for children.

And Abiero plans to use his newfound knowledge to support policy dialogues with government, write a research paper based on his SECD course experience, and establish a Centre for Child and Human Development in his area. He also hopes to have the opportunity to visit Winnipeg as a fellow at Red River College, so he can share what he learns about the ECD faculty with universities back home.

— Feature and profiles by Maya Khamala