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Study Overview

An evaluation of Tostan’s reinforcement of parental education program
Study is 3ie funded:
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In Senegal, few children learn to read - due to the poor quality of education and lack of family support of early learning. To address these barriers to success in school, the non-profit organization, Tostan, has developed a community intervention, the Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) program, with an initial goal of enabling caregivers to engage more effectively in verbal interactions with infants. The program builds on scientific evidence that children who hear more rich and varied language develop vocabulary more rapidly and become more efficient in real-time language processing, a critical skill predictive of later language development. The Stanford-Tostan Evaluation Project (STEP) will rigorously evaluate caregiver's and children’s behaviors and skills using measures developed in the Stanford Language Learning Laboratory. Specifically, we will assess over 480 caregiver-child pairs living in both participating and non-participating communities in rural Senegal. We aim to determine whether the RPP intervention improves parenting practices, and if so, whether more effective parent-child interaction in turn improves children’s early language development.

Registration Citation:

Fernald, A. and Weber, A., 2014. Registry for International Development for Impact Evaluations (RIDIE). Available at: 10.23846/ridie031

Additional Keywords:
Early language development
Secondary ID Number(s):
Grant #2012-8148 from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Principal Investigator(s)

Name of First PI:
Anne Fernald
Stanford University
Name of Second PI:
Ann Weber
Stanford University

Intervention Overview


The Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) Module was launched in March 2013 following a pilot project completed in 2012. The module aims to encourage parents and other community members to create an environment supportive of children's development, in order to help improve children's early development and learning, which in turn will allow children to perform better and stay in school. During the RPP Module, Tostan facilitators share simple techniques with families that enrich interactions between parents and their young children and that are linked to children’s basic human rights to education and health. These techniques include speaking to their young children using a rich and complex vocabulary, asking their children questions and helping them respond, playfully copying their children, telling them stories, and describing objects in detail to them. This module has been implemented in 200 Wolof, Pulaar, and Mandinka communities in five regions of Senegal. The project also works closely with the school system in Senegal with School Management Committees being created or reinforced, as well as teachers and school directors directly involved in the program.

Theory of Change:
Multiple Treatment Arms Evaluated?

Intervention Timing

Intervention or Program Started at time of Registration?
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Evaluation Method

Evaluation Method Overview

Primary (or First) Evaluation Method:
Difference in difference/fixed effects
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Additional Evaluation Method (If Any):
Regression with controls
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Method Details

Details of Evaluation Approach:

The Tostan program was not randomly assigned to communities, so we designed and implemented a rigorous quasi-experimental study to collect data pre- and post- program implementation (allowing for the use of differencing methods in the analysis phase), and from treatment and control groups which were matched on key village-level characteristics that may influence children’s development (e.g., access to public services such as clinics and schools). Detailed household and individual caregiver questionnaires allow us to capture critical information on confounding factors that are more proximal to the child (e.g., breast-feeding practices, parental education and household wealth). We will use state-of-the-art causal inference methodology grounded in counterfactual theory to adjust for confounding and reduce bias in the treatment effect estimate.

Outcomes (Endpoints):

Primary outcomes: 1) Children’s language processing efficiency based on a direct assessment of children’s real-time language processing using a video-recorded looking-while-listening procedure. 2) Children’s vocabulary size based on parent-report (MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory) 3) Children’s language developmental milestones achieved based on parent report (adaptation of inventory style scales from several sources) Secondary outcomes: 1) Quantity of maternal speech recorded during a naturalistic observational video. 2) Qualitative and quantitative assessments of spontaneous social engagement, eye contact, contingency, responsiveness, and referential play based on video recordings of caregiver- child interaction. 3) Focus groups and in-depth interviews with primary caregivers of infants to learn about their beliefs and views on social norms that may influence their caregiving practices.

Unit of Analysis:
The unit of analysis is the child, but we will adjust for clustering at the village level.

Our measures of parents’ behavior and children’s language used in this evaluation will allow us to test the following causal hypothesis: • Parents and other caregivers participating in the RPP module will learn to engage more effectively with their children and thus will significantly increase their levels of child-directed speech and eye contact with the child over the 9-month period of the intervention, as compared to adults in the control group who will not show the same change in parenting skills over the same period. • If this first prediction is confirmed, we would expect to find corresponding differences between groups in the extent of change in children’s language skills. This would be evident if children in the treatment group, whose caregivers participated in the RPP program, made significantly greater gains in processing efficiency and other language skills between the pre-treatment and post-treatment assessments than did children in the control group.

Unit of Intervention or Assignment:
The unit of intervention was the community with delivery of messages in classroom and home settings.
Number of Clusters in Sample:
We have 24 clusters in our sample
Number of Individuals in Sample:
We aimed to enroll 480 caregiver-child pairs.
Size of Treatment, Control, or Comparison Subsamples:
12 participating and 12 non-participating communities

Outcomes Data

* Video-recordings of the looking-while-listening task will be manually coded using eye-tracking software * Transcriptions with word count data from naturalistic observational videos and audio recordings * Household and individual-level survey data
Data Already Collected?
Data Previously Used?
Data Access:
Not restricted - access with no requirements or minimal requirements (e.g. web registration)
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Treatment Assignment Data

Participation or Assignment Information:
Data Obtained by the Study Researchers?
Data Previously Used?
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Data Obtained by the Study Researchers?
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Data Analysis

Data Analysis Status:

Study Materials

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Registration Category

Registration Category:
Non-Prospective, Category 4: Data for measuring impacts have been obtained/collected by the research team and analysis for this evaluation has started

Completion Overview

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Preliminary Report:
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Data Availability

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Other Materials

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Description of Changes:

Study Stopped