For several decades, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has made early childhood development (ECD) a key focus throughout its work in India. Supported through our Family Philanthropy Initiative’s Global Education Fund, AKF helps children get a head start in life by bringing together best practices in ECD with local needs and challenges. AKF’s ECD programs are currently implemented in the states of Bihar, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh.

A UNICEF report released in June 2020 revealed that 28 million children in India had been impacted when early learning centers closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Bihar’s centers shut down in March, AKF had to quickly figure out how to support its staff and families from a distance. A community survey was conducted to learn how children spent their time at home. The findings suggested that a technology-centered approach to distance learning would not be helpful to families in Bihar, as many parents are not adept at using web-based technology, and consistent internet access is a challenge.

One of our partners in India, Aga Khan Foundation, created a series of posters (delivered via a mobile app) containing parenting tips and at-home learning activities to support children’s growth and development during the pandemic.

Instead, AKF decided to develop 30 posters on parenting tips and at-home early learning activities and distribute them through WhatsApp. This proved to be an appreciated and effective approach. Through this collective effort, the posters have reached more than 9,000 parents/caregivers in the three target districts in Bihar directly served by AKF. The Integrated Child Development Services — the government department responsible for ECD services — also shared the posters over its internal WhatsApp group, reaching program officers across all 38 districts of Bihar.

But AKF’s efforts haven’t stopped there. Partnering with the Vroom parenting app, AKF has been translating Vroom’s parenting tips and ECD activities into Hindi — while adapting and localizing the content so it will have the biggest impact toward behavioral change in the families they serve. Keeping its audience top of mind, AKF will broadly share these tips and activities in a similar manner to the posters — as audio, images and text over WhatsApp, and via physical posters and displays at centers and community spaces for parents who cannot be reached virtually.

In addition, to support its workers, AKF held small-group conference calls about the ECD content as an alternative to in-person training sessions. In total, 585 workers in Bihar received this training. As the training was passed along various WhatsApp groups, an additional 650 workers received these modules.

AKF’s creative and agile approach gives families in Bihar steady access to ECD resources to support their children’s growth and development, even as India continues to struggle with the impact of the pandemic.