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Early Childhood Education and Early Child Development Across Ethnolinguistic Majority and Minority Groups in Myanmar

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Emerging evidence from low- and middle-income countries indicates that participation in early childhood education (ECE) programmes benefits children’s development (Britto et al., 2017). Research also suggests that in some cases ECE participation can be more beneficial for children from ethnolinguistic minority groups than for children from the ethnic majority group (Gibbs, 2014). However, in many countries, ethnic minority groups have lower ECE participation rates than other groups (UNICEF, 2016). Further, the language(s) of instruction used in ECE programmes may be a key issue in ensuring equitable outcomes for children from different ethnolinguistic groups, particularly in countries with large ethnolinguistic minority populations. However, there is a dearth of robust research examining relations between ECE programme participation and children’s outcomes taking into account variations in ethnolinguistic background and language of ECE instruction. Against this background, this study considered relations between participation in ECE and child development in Myanmar, and whether relations were moderated by ethnolinguistic group, the language of ECE instruction (LOI), and children’s age.

A representative sample of children from Myanmar (1,494 children, including 759 girls), ranging in age from 36 to 71 months, and their primary caregiver participated in the study. Child development was assessed using the East Asia-Pacific Early Child Development Scales (EAP-ECDS), a psychometrically robust tool (α = .97) developed specifically for the East Asia-Pacific region. Caregivers provided information about ECE participation in individual interviews. Hierarchical Linear Modelling (HLM) was used to analyse associations between ECE and overall child development and across 7 individual domains. Interaction terms were used to assess whether these associations varied between ethnolinguistic groups, by LOI, and across different ages.

Results indicated that ECE participation was associated with higher overall developmental scores (β = an increase of .41 SD), and across all 7 individual domains (largest in the Language and Emergent Literacy domain, β = .47 SD). Overall scores increased by .42 SD for ethnolinguistic majority and by .37 for ethnolinguistic minority ECE participants compared to those who had never participated. Ethnolinguistic group did not moderate ECE-development associations, suggesting that ECE participation was beneficial to a similar extent for both majority and minority ethnolinguistic children. However, for ethnolinguistic minority children ECE participation was only significantly associated with higher developmental scores where a minority language was used as a medium of instruction - either minority-only (β = .27 to .48 SD) or bilingual (β = .26 SD) - and no significant differences between participants and non-participants were found where Myanmar-language was the sole LOI. Further, developmental scores for ECE participants varied by LOI for 3-year-olds (β = .84 SD) but no significant differences by LOI were found for 5-year-olds, and differences in variations in scores by LOI between 3- and 5- year-olds were significant.

Findings highlight the benefits of ECE participation in Myanmar for all children, and the importance of delivering ECE in children’s native language at the youngest ages. ECE policymakers in Myanmar should consider the potential benefits of delaying Myanmar-only ECE instruction until ethnolinguistic minority children are aged 5 years.

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