Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences.

Monday 10 June 2019

Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences. 

With training, parents can become even more effective providers of the care and stimulation that babies and young children need to develop properly.

(Kigali 10th June) Launched today,the research conducted in Ngororero District by Save the Children and Umuhuza organizations, in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies, showed the impact of parenting education programs in rural Rwanda. The research found that parents who received parenting trainings had positive and significant impact on time investment on increasing practices of engaging in ‘learning’ caregiver-child activities, such as singing, telling a story, playing with toys, reading and naming objects.

The study shows that compared to mothers from the same District who didn’t receive the interventions, mothers who received the basic package intervention invested 41% more time on learning activities. Mothers who received a more advanced package invested 52% more time than those who didn’t. In the medium-term, although gains were reduced, they remained high, with mothers who received the basic package invested 22% more time than mothers who didn’t receive. Meanwhile mothers who received advanced package investing 27% more time than those who didn’t. 

The research shows that men who received the basic package of the intervention increased over their investment in learning activities with children by 81% in the short-term and 32% in the medium-term.

In the recent report by Save the Children that ranked Rwanda as the biggest mover of change for improving children’s lives in the region and the second-biggest in the world showed, Rwanda is one of the countries making good gains in education. The Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) 2014-15 reported that 92% of children age 36-59 months are on track in physical domains of child development. However, only 7% of these children are developmentally on track in areas of literacy and numeracy; these figures are even lower for those in rural areas, poorer households and children of less educated parents.

Save the Children is launching these research findings ahead of the International Conference on Early Childhood Development (ECD), which will take place on 11th -12th June in Kigali. The conference will bring together experts from different countries to share evidence on local and international findings of research on early childhood development, increasing knowledge on best practices for ECD implementation, strengthening advocacy for ECD investment at government and community level and strengthening multi-sectoral, regional and international partnerships for research and implementation of ECD amongst others.

Sofia Cozzolino, Program Development and Quality Director, Save the Children Rwanda, said:

“The first 3 years of life are critical in shaping a child’s future; it’s in this time that children’s brains are growing the fastest and are most susceptible to change. Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences.”


Abdul Kalim Ndimurwango, a father who participated in the First Steps parenting sessions said:

“I didn’t know that a child needs parental care even when they are still in their mother’s womb. It is not only me, but so many other parents, especially husbands have this understanding. In the trainings, we got to know that caring for a  baby begins from when s/he is in the womb of their mother.”

Abdul Kalim became a trainer after observing that there are many families who do not know how to care for their children.  He commented, “My last born Gisa is very bright. He is still very young but does things that I didn’t see his brothers doing when they were still his age. I think he will be very intelligent. We started caring for him when he was still in his mother’s womb. This came after attending First Steps trainings which opened my mind,” Said Abdul Kalim. “Every day I have to find time for him. I read books for and with him, play with him. We became friends.”





  •  An estimated 279 million children from low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their development potential due to extreme poverty and stunting.  Early Childhood Development (ECD) interventions can help to tackle this challenge.
  • Parents are the first educators of their children. They can play a key role in making the most of these moments, but many parents don’t know about or understand the importance of engaging in activities that will promote improved children’s development, especially those that promote learning and socio-emotional development.They need knowledge and skills in order to provide effective care and stimulation.
  • Mediation analyses showed that 20% of positive changes in child development indicators can be attributed to the increase in time mothers spend engaging with their children on different activities
  • Children of parents that attended both basic interventions and advanced interventions groups scored significantly higher on the child development index than children from the control group (those who didn’t attend) in the short-term, 12 months follow-up study.
  • The First Steps implementation particularly improved children’s performance in domains of communication, problem solving and personal social skills.
  • Parents who participated in First Steps were more likely at Follow-up to feel confident in their ability to respond to their children’s emotional needs, support their children’s play activities, exercise control over their children, discipline their children and not succumb to pressures relating to parenting.
  • For children to reach their development potential, they require holistic, nurturing care from their parents, including in the areas of health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning.  Each of these aspects of child development is important and should be given equal attention.
  • Parenting education can be effective in many forms and settings and doesn’t require infrastructure investment or highly skilled trainers.
  • Save the Children and its local NGO partner, Umuhuza, has been implementing a 0-3 Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme to particularly address language, communication and wider cognitive development deficits, while simultaneously highlighting holistic child development in all domains.  First Steps seeks to improve child development outcomes for children in the early stages of life by encouraging parents to adopt practices supportive of child development and increasing literacy promotion in the home.The programme was designed to target parents of children aged between 0 and 36 months in the Ngororero District of rural Rwanda from 2015-16

 According to the Statistics from the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey 2014/15

  • 63% of children age 3-5 are developmentally on track in at least 3 of 4 domains; however, only 7% of children age 3-5 are developmentally on track in literacy-numeracy.
  • 49% of children age 3-5 had an adult household member engage in 4 or more activities over the past 3 days that promote learning and school readiness
  • 1% of children under 5 have at least 3 children’s books in the home
  • 19% of children under 2 play with two or more playthings, including homemade toys or household objects
  • 35% of children under 5 were left alone or under the care of another child under the age of 10 for at least an hour in the previous week
  • Socioeconomic status and parents’ education levels are highly correlated to children’s scores on an ECD index, access to play materials, and household engagement in learning activities