Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) includes cognitive development, health, social and language development. Improvements in these domains lead to increases in life-skills, long-term school attendance, and increased life-time earnings.
In Ghana, particularly in rural areas in the northern parts of the country, two critical ECCE gaps often exist:
The Lively Minds programme addresses these gaps in Ghana by engaging kindergarten teachers as well as empowering mothers to run Play Schemes and provide education and care at home. The Lively Minds Play Schemes involve a specially-designed suite of educational games being played in government kindergarten schools in Ghana. The games are designed to encourage the children to act socially, think creatively, solve problems, and learn new skills including counting and pre-literacy skills. Mothers enrolled in the programme attend schools on different days where they lead an hour-long session. The children are arranged in small groups, rotate around five play stations, and must handwash with soap before taking part, sensitising them to this vital practice. Parents are also given Parenting Workshops to encourage provision of nurturing care and education at home.
In 2016 GIF awarded a grant to Lively Minds to set up and run play schemes in partnership with the Ghana Education Service in six districts. Further funding was awarded to the Institute of Fiscal Studies to conduct a randomized control trial, or RCT, in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action involving randomization of 80 schools in two districts. A follow-on grant awarded in 2020 to Lively Minds will enable Lively Minds to support GES to scale-up of the programme to 60 districts reaching close to 500,000 children each year. GIF funds focus on the first 24 districts over the first three years of this five year programme.
By end of 2019, Lively Minds had supported over 250 play schemes; reached 50,000 children; trained over 11,000 mothers; and trained over 600 teachers. Teachers had a 90% attendance rate at Play Schemes, and volunteer Mothers had an attendance rate of 80% percent: both consistently and substantially above target rates.
The GIF-funded RCT showed that the Lively Minds programme improved the school readiness of the children at low cost. This is driven by significant improvements in early understanding of numbers, development of executive function (such as memory and focus), and fine-motor skills such as improved muscle grips. Further improvements included a reduction in conduct problems and hyperactivity.
The Lively Minds programme is particularly successful in raising cognitive abilities for children coming from poorer households. Children from the bottom socio-economic quintile saw more than twice the increase in cognitive development of others. There was also a significant improvement in the literacy skills of disadvantaged children.
Boys had larger improvements in their socio-emotional skills compared to girls. However, girls – on average – had larger improvements across most of the socio-emotional domains. Health benefits included a decrease in acute malnutrition, and an increase of children’s mid-upper arm circumference (a proxy for overall weight and health) by 21mm on average.
Benefits to parents include improved general knowledge about child development and pre-school quality. For example, mothers better recognized the importance of praising children when they try to do something new, and are more likely to believe that play based learning is better for kids than rote based learning. Parents spend more ‘productive’ time with their children and are more likely to practice productive teaching strategies.
 Results publication forthcoming; https://www.poverty-action.org/printpdf/33336