Simple, powerful lessons from Colombia

I recently participated in a meeting of the Forum on Investing in Young Children Globally (IYCG), in Addis Ababa. For me, the stand-out presentation was by Constanza Alarcon from the Office of the President in Colombia.  She described how the country has focused its efforts on the national priority of early childhood development, and produced simple tools to gauge progress over time.  Colombia is a country in north-western South America, with a population number close to that of South Africa – and a recent history of internal armed conflict that has cost over a million lives.

Constanza Alarcon presents at the Forum on Investing in Young Children Globally in Addis Ababa, July 2015
Constanza Alarcon presents at the Forum on Investing in Young Children Globally in Addis Ababa, July 2015

Alarcon described how the child- and family centred national ECD policy has been adopted by all the key ministries – with the aim of providing comprehensive family, health and educational services from conception to schooling.  BUT, their commitment to comprehensiveness does not mean that they don’t prioritise specific services, and they have identified 8 priorities for implementation – from birth registration, access to health care insurance, completeness of vaccinations, nutritional assessment, enrolment in early learning programmes and access to children’s books and reading materials.  Eight priorities and just eight indicators – one for each – that are used as a national dashboard to gauge progress.  All ministries are expected to report monthly on the indicators relevant to them.  At local level, this dashboard is replicated – allowing local municipalities to assess their own progress against national averages and all other municipalities.

What’s even more exciting is that they’re trying to analyse these data for each and every child – so that municipalities can identify which children are not receiving the full package of services to which they are entitled.  It’s work-in-progress.  They have to reject many of the records because of their poor quality, but the system is getting better.  By the end of this year, they hope to produce reliable integrated data for a million children every month.

It’s a simple system, implemented without fuss.  That’s the Latin American way which has pushed countries like Colombia, Cuba and Brazil to the forefront of early childhood development.  Let’s learn from them and try their simple systems out.

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