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Socioemotional Learning in Early Childhood Education: Experimental Evidence from the Think Equal Program’s Implementation in Colombia

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In this article we experimentally evaluate Colombia’s Think Equal program, which teaches socioemotional skills to children ages 3 to 6. Given the context of COVID-19, the original design was adapted as a hybrid model, alternating in-person and remote instruction and engaging families in the implementation of the curriculum. We found that the program had positive effects on children’s prosocial behavior, self-awareness, and cognitive learning. The intervention also had an impact on the education center’s personnel (community mothers) and caregivers implementing the activities. Treated community mothers had higher levels of empathy, lower negative health symptoms, better pedagogical practices, and a closer relationship with the children’s caregivers compared with those in the control group. Treated caregivers had better stimulation practices and lower negative health symptoms compared with those in the control group. These findings suggest that a well-designed intervention has the potential to develop socioemotional skills in children at an early age and, at the same time, to develop capacities in those who implement the activities. Our results have important implications for the design, implementation, and evaluation of early childhood socioemotional learning programs and provide novel evidence about the challenges faced by interventions combining face-to-face and remote learning.

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  1. In some cases, the terms used depend on the research discipline. For example, soft skills are typically discussed in business and management and noncognitive skills in economics. On the other hand, the United Nations focus on life skills. The term socioemotional skills is used more in psychology (Sánchez Puerta et al., 2016).

  2. To be selected as a community mother or father, applicants must meet the following requirements: (i) have resided in the area of the HCB for at least one year; (ii) have completed secondary education or hold a teacher’s high school degree; (iii) be between 20 and 45 years of age at the time of applying; (iv) be fit for work, as certified by a doctor; (v) be recognized in their community for their solidarity, coexistence, and civic values; (vi) have family authorization for the use of the home; (vii) not have a judicial record (this also extends to relatives and nonrelatives who live in the dwelling); and (viii) have enough time to care for the children.

  3. In a so-called traditional HCB, a community mother takes care of the children. An “integral HCB,” meanwhile, has additional social services provided by interdisciplinary teams, such as social workers and nutritionists (ICBF, 2022).

  4. The details about how indexes and variables were calculated, the scales, and the specific questions considered can be requested from the authors.

  5. Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes.

  6. This survey collects information on consumer confidence, subjective well-being, support networks, and knowledge and access to support policies in 23 departmental capital cities and metropolitan areas of Colombia.

  7. Indicator calculated by the Colombia’s research team of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), to measure the cognitive learning of children.

  8. “Pequeñas Aventureras” (“Little Adventurers”) is a multimedia program developed by “Taller Sésamo” with the support of “Dubai Cares” and the Inter-American Development Bank. The program seeks to promote the teaching and learning of mathematics and science at the preschool level with a gender approach.

  9. The results of this analysis can be requested from the authors.

  10. All estimations were implemented with Stata. The specific routines are regress, logit, ologist, and mlogit, respectively.


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The authors are thankful to the Inter-American Development Bank for funding the research presented in this paper through its Early Childhood Development Fund. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Board of Directors, or the countries they represent.

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Correspondence to Emma Näslund-Hadley.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose that are relevant to the content of this article.

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See Table 9.

Table 9 Think equal: key outcomes and related activities implemented in Colombia

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Näslund-Hadley, E., Mateo-Berganza, M., Santos, H. et al. Socioemotional Learning in Early Childhood Education: Experimental Evidence from the Think Equal Program’s Implementation in Colombia. Early Childhood Educ J (2023).

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