Creating a Better Future: Early Childhood Development in Georgia
By John Mackedon for UNICEF - November 2005
Inside Polyclinic #10, in Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi, Shorena Nozadze and her 16-month old son Ucha sit in a small room lined with colourful posters that offer advice for pregnant mothers and parents of small children. Images of children interacting with their parents and tips on early childhood development are displayed on the large television that rests in one corner of the room.
Khatuna, a physician at the Polyclinic, sits across from the pair and explains various elements of proper child rearing to the interested mother. Ucha momentarily squirms on his mother’s lap before focusing his attention on the playground scene being shown on the television while Shorena inquires about weaning techniques and various advices on how to deal with jealousy issues that Ucha’s five year old brother may experience. The cassette that holds Ucha’s attention, along with the posters on the wall, the brochures on the table and, in fact, the entire centre housing these materials, represent the Early Childhood Development Programme – the very programme that Medea Zarnadze has been waiting for since the Soviet period.
The Early Childhood Development programme is a UNICEF Georgia initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare, that has been functioning since 2003 to help ensure that parents are properly informed about proper physical, emotional and social development of their children at the early stage/years. In addition to educating parents, hundreds of specialists have been trained. Since the programme’s inception, 250 primary health and pre-school specialists have provided information and counselling to 10,000 parents.
“Because people are offered more information, they are now coming to us more often,” notes Medea, “we have tracked results of the program since it began in 2003 and we have seen improvements in every sector – immunization is increasing and illness is decreasing.”
“We have been hoping for a programme like this since the Soviet period – during that period we didn’t have literature or resources; we had a video cassette player but no cassettes to play!” - Medea Zarnadze, Director, Tbilisi Polyclinic #10
Many of the parents and their families who have been involved in this project do so at one of four centres offering early childhood education in Georgia under the auspices of this project. At present, two centres function in Tbilisi – Polyclinics #9 and #10 – one operates in the eastern town of Telavi and one in the western town of Zestaponi. An additional seven centres are also expected to begin functioning by the end of next year. These centres provide information and training for parents and children in regards to proper early childhood development. These centres work to both provide extensive information and training sessions to interested parents as well as offer hands on activities to promote improved childhood development. Inside these centres, pregnant mothers and their husbands are given the opportunity to practice changing diapers on a doll and parents are encouraged to play with toys with their children to help develop cognitive and motor skills while trained staff members monitor the mental and physical development of each child that comes to the centre.
“It is one thing to talk about things, but it is another matter all together to actually participate,” says Maya Teneishvili, Director of Polyclinic #9.
Because virtually all mothers in Georgia visit their nearest Polyclinic to have their children immunized, these centres – which operate within the Polyclinics – serve as the perfect information base from which to disseminate the vast amount of materials produced during the early childhood programme. Interested individuals can gain important information regarding issues of early childhood development through various posters that line the walls of the Polyclinics and in brochures that can be found throughout the centres. Additionally, professionals in many different fields of childhood development collaborated under the aegis of this program to create the manual “An Amazing early Age” which discusses proper child rearing. 20,000 of these manuals were produced and disseminated to parents and experts throughout the country. The simple and engaging format employed by this manual ensured that readers throughout Georgia would be engaged while absorbing all the useful and necessary information provided within this book.
“I read through the entire book at my house – it was very informative, but it was also very interesting at the same time,” says Shorena Nozadze.
“This book really helped me,” agrees Natia Kahelashvili. “This is my first child,” continues Natia, pointing to her 14-month old son Sali who sits on her lap and fidgets with a doll, “so this book helped teach me the correct methods of feeding my child.”
Accompanying these many posters, leaflets and manuals was a series of TV programmes that were also created and aired to further disseminate information about proper childhood development to a wider audience. These 50 minute TV programmes were divided into three segments to best address the issues of early childhood development in a variety of manners. The first part of the programme features an introduction to the programme’s topic and the guest speakers who will coordinate discussions throughout the programme. During this introduction portions of videos and films relating to the featured topic are also shown to better inform the audience and better prepare them to participate during the rest of the programme. Audience members are also given more information during the second portion of the programme, which showcases different experts discussing various issues relating to early childhood development. The final segment of each episode was devoted to answering questions. Audience members, callers and participants in the regions who had previously been taped were all given the opportunity to receive qualified and informed answers from experts to questions about proper early childhood development.
“There was a lot of useful information being aired during these television programs,” says Ketino Aroshvili, who watched these programs during her pregnancy with her second daughter Anna, who is now 8-months old. “I had a question during one of the shows and I wanted to call in,” continues Ketino, “but somebody else called in with the same question before me, so we both received an answer!”
“I had a question during one of the shows and I wanted to call in,” continues Ketino, “but somebody else called in with the same question before me, so we both received an answer!”Although only 13 programmes were originally envisioned within the scope of the project, this program proved to be so successful that an additional 13 programmes were created so that all 26 episodes aired on a leading Georgian television channel once a week during the evening between September 2004 and April, 2005. These programmes – which focused on topics ranging from nutrition and immunization to discipline and psychological development – were also repeated during summer, 2005 so that a wider audience could be reached.
“I could never have imagined that this program would be so successful. The amount of participation was unbelievable,” says Project Manager Maya Kherkheulidze, “I was told that families in those regions of Georgia where there was no electricity during the broadcasting were requesting the local TV stations to record the programmes and later on they were arranging collective watching within the neighbourhood. The content of the TV programmes were also conveyed by a word of mouth. This fact alone proves how much this kind of information is needed.”
This incredible initiative has already ensured an improvement in the early childhood development of tens of thousands of children. And with a growing number of centres providing information and trainings throughout the country, every child in Georgia will be given a better future through proper early childhood development in the present.