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Preschool in rural Africa boosts children and their families, says new study.

BOSTON — Education is seen as crucial to boosting Africa's economic and social development. And preschool programs in rural Africa stimulate children to do better in school. Early education has a positive ripple effect on their families, too.

That is the finding of a new World Bank report which evaluates a preschool program in Mozambique run by Save the Children that was funded by a donation from American Idol's charity campaign. 

“The study, rare in Africa, has thrown light on the possibilities that we in developing countries can explore to give our children a much better future," said Mozambique's Minister of Education H.E. Zeferino Martins.

The pioneering study of early child development programs in Africa was funded by the World Bank and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Save the Children's preschool program was also among the first of its kind in Mozambique, where only four percent of children under the age of 5 go to preschool, according to Mozambican government officials. 

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Here are some notable findings from the study by World Bank researchers Sophie Naudeau and Sebastian Martinez:

- Children in the preschool were 24 percent more likely to enroll in primary school and were significantly better equipped to learn than kids not enrolled in preschool.

- Children attending the preschool were much more likely to show interest in math and writing, recognize shapes and show respect for other children than those who are not.

- Preschool has a positive ripple effect on a child’s wider family; parents of enrolled kids were 26 percent likelier to work, while some older siblings were able to go to school themselves.

“This evaluation provides us evidence of the convincing results in preschool program thus revealing the great potential for improving the health and learning outcomes of children in Africa," said World Bank Vice President for Africa and former Nigerian Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili.

"I therefore urge leaders, policy makers, communities and parents to take advantage of such programs that help young children, because they also help break the vicious cycle of dynastic poverty in families,” Ezekwesili said

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The study covered 2,000 households in 76 rural communities of Mozambique's Gaza province, which is close to the capital Maputo and has relatively higher human development indicators than the rest of the country, according to Save the Children. Mozambique's low development means there is an urgent need for preschool programs in other parts of the country, according to the organization. 

Save the Children’s program helped build preschool centers to assist orphans and vulnerable children. With the help of trained volunteers from rural communities, the preschool centers reached about 5,000 kids ranging in age from three to six years.

A large part of Save the Children's preschool program was funded by American Idol fans.

The 2007 American Idol Gives Back charity event donated $13.5 million to Save the Children, and the organization used $1 million of those funds to start preschool programs in 30 communities in the Gaza province in 2008. The donation was also used to build classrooms, latrines and playgrounds, provide school supplies and training for teachers and volunteers.

“We are delighted that our early learning program in Mozambique offers a model for low-income countries across Africa,” said Carolyn Miles, Save the Children president.

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