This report explores the impact of a two-year, sponsorship-funded preschool program in Meherpur, Bangladesh.
This report draws on a quasi-experimental impact evaluation design to explore the impact of Save the Children’s (SC) two-year sponsorship-funded preschool program in Meherpur, Bangladesh. In February-March 2015 a baseline was administered to 258 intervention children and 240 comparison children using the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA), alongside a questionnaire for the primary caregivers of all 498 children. A follow-up assessment and caregiver questionnaire was administered to as many of the same children and caregivers as could be found in December 2015, after about one school year had passed.
Children who participated in the two-year preschool program increased their development scores significantly more than comparison children in all four core IDELA domains, with effect sizes ranging from 0.27 to 0.52 and an overall IDELA effect size of 0.68. The emergent literacy domain was children’s weakest domain at baseline and showed the least progress of all the core domains. The two additional domains of executive function and approaches to learning did not show a statistically significant difference in growth between intervention and comparison children.
However, at baseline children in the intervention group were significantly advantaged in their early learning environments and development relative to children in the comparison group. These baseline differences, and the uncertainties arising from the preschool enrollment and baseline sampling strategy, make it difficult to attribute endline learning gains to the two-year preschool program. Nonetheless, there is evidence that the program increased learning material availability. This increase in materials was positively correlated with children’s learning gains. Given this, as well as the sheer magnitude of the additional learning gains of the intervention group over the comparison group even after controlling for the advantages of the intervention group, it is likely that at least part of these gains come from the impact of the preschool program. However, a more rigorous research design is necessary to verify this. Future pilot studies should carefully structure the approach to enrollment and sampling to maximize confidence in impact evaluation results, as well as collect additional information such as preschool attendance, parental attendance of any complementary parent sessions, measures of the quality of preschool instruction by community, etc. in order to correlate this information against children’s IDELA gain scores.
With the possible exception of approaches to learning, there is still much room for improvement in children’s development in all domains. Continuing programming should target specific deficiencies such as fine motor skills, letter knowledge, numbers and counting, emotional self-awareness, etc.
In terms of equity, at baseline children from larger families, children from families with less reading materials and toys, children who experienced more negative discipline, children whose primary caregiver expressed less positive attitudes about their role in their child’s development, and children from poorer households scored lower on IDELA. The only equity issue potentially addressed by the preschool program was the disparity between children from print-rich households versus print-poor households in emergent literacy development.
Otherwise, among both intervention and comparison groups inequities tended to grow over time, especially in socio-economic status. Boys and girls gained equally on all domains at baseline and endline. These are important challenges for Save the Children to address in order to reach the most disadvantaged and most marginalized children.