Written by: Guillaume Michels
UNICEF’s Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR) Communication and Early Education sections teamed up with UNICEF Office of Innovation’s Global Innovation Centre team to build and promote Early Education information, activities and Care Practices for Child Development with the Internet of Good Things (IoGT) mobile service.
Children’s early experiences shape how their brains develop, and early learning sets the stage for school success. Providing knowledge, guidelines, and tips on early learning to parents, families, caregivers and healthcare providers equips them with practical tips and activities that they can put into practice at the point of care, foster an environment for children to develop and reach their full potential, and improve children’s health and wellbeing.
One of the most promising ways to promote healthy child development for the youngest children, even in resource-poor communities, is the use of responsive caregiving and sensitivity to infant behavioral cues. An expanding body of evidence on neuroscience and epigenetics highlights caregiving skills – such as sensitivity to the child’s cues and an appropriate response to those cues help caregivers meet the health, safety, nutritional, protective, and emotional needs of children, as well as reinforce the development of the child’s motor, cognitive, social, and affective skills through interactions with responsive adults.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization has developed an evidence-based approach: Care for Child Development (CCD) that supports early infant-caregiver(s) interaction. CCD is an intervention package consisting of materials to equip health workers and other counselors on how to help families build stronger relationships with their children and solve problems in caring for their children at home. Conventional in-person CCD focuses on training community health workers (CHWs) and health clinic professionals (HCPs).
Reaching the end user.
In a large number of communities in Eastern and Southern Africa, it was observed that limited interpersonal communication skills amongst health workers have led to poor communication of important early learning and CCD intervention information to families. There also seems to be a gap in getting this early learning information to the “end-user” – parents and caregivers who have the opportunity to talk, sing, and play with their young children, daily.
To improve early learning and CCD information dissemination, build capacity, and assist professionals and communities on the ground, IoGT was brought in as a solution. Through utilizing the Internet of Good Things to disseminate early learning tips and CCD materials, parents are now able to directly access important information and use them during their daily interaction with young children. We’ve also discovered that parents who received CCD information pass it along to their friends and family.
A closer look.
The Internet of Good Things (IoGT) aims to connect the most marginalized communities to essential information, completely for free. This also addresses a key insight (seen below) – according to the GSMA Intelligence Consumer Index, the affordability barrier is the second most reported barrier to getting online in South Africa.
To further strengthen this insight, a round of user interviews were conducted with a specific target audience in South Africa. User interviews with specific target audiences in South Africa showed 1) they can only avail limited airtime and data (which means – accessing it only for vital communications); 2) how expensive accessing the internet is (with browsing and access to information impeded by data costs.)
“Also the convenience of having a dynamic platform being updated and enriched over time is greatly appreciated as posters and pamphlets made available in communities offer shorter, less detailed, information and that information available in the clinics is not always updated regularly.” – IoGT user, South Africa
How does it work?
Thanks to the partnership with Free Basics by Facebook, early learning messages and care practices embedded on the Internet of Good Things are accessible for free across all of South Africa through the Cell-C mobile network. This means that accessing IoGT will not deduct credit from users’ phones.
To reach a larger population, and disseminate information at scale, UNICEF ESAR Communication team together with UNICEF South Africa deployed digital media campaigns and offline activities (including SMS and TV). Between October 2016 (when early learning was first integrated with IoGT) to July 2017, close to 400,000 people accessed early learning material on Internet of Good Things in South Africa alone.