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Tips for reporting on early development: Find the children behind the data

Tips for reporting on early development: Find the children behind the data

Jerri Eddings | September 19, 2016

Global experts report that a child’s early years are critical to the rest of life. Proper nutrition and brain stimulation improve physical growth and learning ability, while the absence of proper care and feeding in the first 1,000 days can lead to stunting, poor school performance and lower earnings as an adult.

What is the role of journalists in bringing these stark facts to light? How can reporters best translate the available data into compelling stories that show what can be lost or gained through decisions made in a child’s first few years?

Two leading experts on early childhood development shared insights and tips for journalists covering these issues during a September 8 webinar hosted by the International Center for Journalists and the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF).

The experts: Roger Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent who is now a senior fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs specializing in global food and agriculture; and Sophie Naudeau, Global Solutions Group Lead for Early Childhood Development at the World Bank Group.

Thurow, whose new book “The First 1,000 Days” was published in May, drew on his experience to offer these tips during his presentation:

Personalize the data

Data can be a journalist’s good friend — because statistics and data points represent people. Go out and match some of these statistics and reports with people on the ground. For instance, find out what it means that 40 percent of children in Uganda suffer from anemia. What’s the impact of that? How are people overcoming it? What are the government programs to overcome it? What are businesses doing? What are NGOs doing? As readers come to care about the people that you’re reporting on, they also come to care about the issues.

Keep track of your subjects

If you have the ability, follow people and issues over time. With early childhood development, that’s really critical. If you’re meeting moms, dads, children and families at this time of early development, go back and visit them over months and years and say, here’s how that intervention mattered. Or here’s how it didn’t matter. Or with lack of intervention, here’s what’s happening. What’s the situation in this village, or in the schools where the kids aren’t learning? Stunting is a sentence of under-achievement and under-performance. How can you illustrate that? There are so many issues that you can illustrate by following people.

Naudeau, who has worked on early child development in Africa, East Asia and the Middle East for the World Bank, offered the following advice to journalists:

Keep an eye on both quantity and quality

For example, scaling up pre-school education is a great thing to do but only if the quality is good. We know that poor quality pre-school education does not generate positive impacts for children. Quality is fundamental. So when you report on the quantity of services being provided in a community or country, look at the quality of those services and reflect that as part of the story.

Don’t just write about the problems; write about solutions, too

These are two sides of a coin. On one side, if you don’t do anything – don’t invest in proper nutrition, don’t empower parents to engage in early stimulation – then you get dramatic negative consequences. On the other hand, if you do invest in proper nutrition, stimulation and protection, those children are set on a much more promising trajectory and they can reach their potential in life. It’s good to keep the balance between the two stories – the dramatic and the positive – and keep those two sides of the coin in sight.

To see their full presentations, watch this video of the webinar:

To learn how you can enter ICFJ's reporting contest on early childhood development, click here.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Nevil Zaveri.

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Comments

My father, who in his

My father, who in his retirement went back to his first love of teaching, was substituting in a first grade ESL class. By the way, my father spoke no Spanish, but every child in that class understood him without issue. The day he was there was the day for standardized testing to see if the children could progress into a regular classroom. The test these 6-year-olds took was 2 hours without any breaks, including no bathroom breaks. My father complained that it was impossible for 6-year-olds to sit for so long, making it patently unfair, dooming the children to failure. Apparently the families were not given the right to put the children into a regular classroom either. I am also not surprised by that. When I first moved to NYC, I knew a family where the father was from a Spanish speaking country, and the mother was a 3rd generation Italian-American. The school tried to insist that the daughter, who was born in the US, and who spoke English at home and spoke no Spanish, would be placed in ESL. (They were going by her last name and the fact that she had a foreign born parent) Luckily the mother threw enough of a fit to stop this shenanigans. 
 
We came to the conclusion that failure was exactly what the school district wanted. The more children in ESL the more federal money the district could access. It wasn't about the children who should be in an English speaking classroom so they could learn and develop into the American culture and education system. It was about some money-grubbing administrators who wanted to make sure their worthless jobs were continued. 
 
This is no different than the end to appropriate early childhood education and the push for that monstrosity called Common Core. it is all tied up in federal money. It has nothing to do with what is best for the child or how children actually learn. CC is merely about some "professors" and their accolades at DOE deciding they know best. Ironically major STEM educators have condemned CC for setting STEM backwards.

Best.

this service expert

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