Developmental potential when designing for children in developing countries
According to UN’s 2010 estimate of population and UN’s 2009 estimate of population under the age of 18, about 54 % of the population in Uganda fall under the category of youth (S.O.S Children, n.d. a). One of the reasons for early deaths is bad health which often is a result of malnutrition. Numbers of WHO between 2000 and 2009 point to that about 16 % of children under the age of five are underweight (S.OS Children, n.d. a). A reason for this can be the amount of care and the situation of poverty that these children are born in. Many mothers in poverty have a desperate situation of tending to family and children and at the same time earning an income to provide her family. Nutritional food is not always a given for them, but they try their best to maintain health - especially of their children.
Poverty is closely linked with poor cognitive and educational performance in children in developing countries. In most developing countries, national statistics of children’s cognitive or social-emotional development are not being registered, which contributes to the invisibility of the problem. But the percentage of disadvantaged children (per definition: children living in poverty) under the age of 5 years old is estimated to be above 60% in Uganda (2004)(Grantham McGregor et al., 2007). Uganda is classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, with the average daily income of less than 1,25 $ (9 DKK) by the World Bank Group’s poverty analysis (2011) (The World Bank Group, 2011).
To define poverty, there are different factors that have to be considered. Poverty is often associated with inadequate food, poor sanitation and hygiene, and further affecting the children’s development; poor maternal education, increased maternal stress and depression, and inadequate stimulation in the home. According to Feed The Future (The U.S. government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative), The percentage of undernourished and/or stunted children in Uganda is estimated to 38 % (Feed the Future, n.d.). Children born into poverty in developing countries are often exposed to malnutrition, poor health and unstimulating environments, which all affect their cognitive, social-emotional and motoric development. They are unlikely to succeed in school and will therefore have low incomes, and not be able to provide for their own children, thus contributing to the transmission of poverty through the following generations.
The first 5 years of a child’s life are of high importance because this is when the vital developments occurs. The development of the brain happens rapidly and in different stages, which all affect and build on each other, meaning that small perturbations in these development processes can have significant and long-term effects on the brain’s functional capacity (Grantham McGregor et al., 2007). The development of the brain is closely affected by the environment, which put a great importance on to designing good stimulating physical and psychological surroundings. But even if the brain has already been affected by early perturbations in its vulnerable stages, recovery is often possible with correct interventions. As a rule of thumb; the earlier the interventions the greater the benefits. Early cognitive and social-emotional development are both important factors to determine the child’s school progress. This is especially important in developing countries, as education is the key factor to break the poverty cycle. Children in developing countries who are not able to reach their full developmental potential are less likely to complete an education and attain good income as adults, meaning that poverty and stunting are closely linked with reduced years of schooling. Fewer years of schooling together with less learning per year of schooling are factors that may further reduce their productivity. According to a study by G. Psacharopoulus and H. Patrinos from 2004, each year of schooling increases wages by between 7-11 % (Grantham McGregor et al., 2007).
There are also other factors that contribute to keeping a lower share of children getting an education in developing countries, - besides the physical and mental development of children. Such factors are inadequate schools, economic stress for the family related to the children’s education, and little knowledge about and sometimes also little appreciation of the benefits of education. In Uganda, poor children are ten times more likely to start school late than the richest children (Grantham McGregor et al., 2007). Loss of education because of the family’s economic situation is another cause for reduced years of schooling. The importance of introducing numeric and literacy skills as early as possible is therefore a great advantage, as there are uncertainties of how many years the child is able to attend school after "graduating" from the new Miles2Smiles center. Their years at the center may, for some of the children, be the only education they will get, so it is important to set a good foundation for these children. By introducing the small children to preschool education, they are also more likely to succeed when starting School.