Evidence on what works, is critical to protecting children’s rights and increasing access to quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) services and support for caregivers. Despite this, African countries continue to grapple with a lack of contextually relevant data and research on ECD, and uncoordinated efforts that are unable to deliver maximum impact.
For this reason and others, in April AfECN brought together 35 researchers and experts for a day and a half to create the African ECD Research Network. The creation of this network will mean not only a new platform for knowledge sharing and dissemination, but also a place for Anglophone and Francophone countries to connect and identify opportunities, and for the sub-Saharan region in particular to be supported in efforts to generate local knowledge to guide program design and implementation. The research capacity building meeting also served as an opportunity to begin to map regional expertise in ECD and commence efforts to strengthen the capacity of African scholars to conduct research on ECD.
Meeting participants from across the continent* spoke about a wide range of concerns and opportunities including the need to study changing indigenous norms and other forms of indigenous knowledge such as songs that teach norms and values, the importance of needs assessments to identify the biggest gaps in research, the need to package research very specifically for policy makers and implementers, and the obstacles to disseminating data and research between countries.
Also noted was the limited access of African scholars and researchers to important journals with the latest data, methodologies and other tools, the need for assessment procedures that are relevant to the child's age and developmental stage, and the highly-limited data on the impact of ECD trained community-based workers.
As part of these efforts to increase capacity for relevant research, AfECN created a new mentorship model which brings experienced researchers serving as mentors together with implementing organizations that can provide and employ new data, and early to mid-career researchers who are interested in growing their ECD research capabilities. Professor Linda Richter, a distinguished researcher and member of the AfECN board, noted that the aim is to ‘increase the contribution of African scholars to implementation research, as well as to the multi-cultural knowledge base of early child development. I have always enjoyed developing new researchers,’ Linda added, ‘and this Africa-wide initiative is the realization of a long-cherished aspiration.’
In addition to signing up for different roles in the mentorship model, participants discussed other ways that AfECN can play a role in these research efforts, including sparking conversations and research questions through its membership, facilitating meetings to share ideas and research, creating an independent framework on shared research objectives, and finding additional researchers and participants for the mentorship program.
The meeting kicked off not only a new stream of work for AfECN, but also new ways of gathering, assessing, sharing and listening to context relevant data and other forms of knowledge on children towards the ultimate goal of enabling children to reach their full potential.
*Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Senegal, and Mozambique