An outpouring of research in the field of early childhood development has made it clear that the first years of life play an exceptionally important role in determining a person’s future prospects. With the launch of its Institute for Human Development (IHD) in 2015, AKU is working to make a significant contribution to this burgeoning field, recognising the potential of investments in the early years to deliver high impact at low cost in the developing world.
Most of what is known about child development comes from research focused on the 10 percent of the world’s population that lives in wealthy countries. Thus there is a vast need for studies aimed at discovering what works in child development in developing-world contexts, so that governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society can make evidence-based investments.
The Institute is helping to fill this need, by bringing together researchers, practitioners and students from across the University and the entire Aga Khan Development Network; by building on AKU’s renowned expertise in maternal and child health research; by creating space for work that crosses the boundaries of disciplines and fields; and by collaborating with partners around the world. It aims to generate new knowledge through basic and applied research; apply the knowledge gained through research to inform programmes, services, and practices within community settings; influence policy formulation and implementation in ways that reap the benefits of the systematic research produced at the Institute and elsewhere; and deliver educational programmes to prepare a wide range of human development specialists and professionals.
With the financial support of the Government of Canada and Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the Institute is pursuing a number of child development studies in partnership with Canadian universities. Among the subjects researchers are exploring are the early childhood education landscape in Tanzania, child care for working parents in informal settlements in Kenya, and early literacy and school readiness in Pakistan.
With funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Institute is delivering an educational programme in the science of early child development that benefits community-based organisations in five African countries providing services to young children affected by HIV and AIDS. University researchers are also investigating the potential of community health workers to enhance child survival and neurodevelopment in rural Kenya by distributing a newborn “toolkit” to parents and introducing them to more interactive childcare techniques.