Announcing the start of a new fNIRS study of literacy development in rural Côte d’Ivoire

By Kaja Jasinska

How do children learn to read in impoverished environments with high risk of illiteracy? Using the latest tools of cognitive science and functional neuroimaging using fNIRS, we investigate reading development in rural cocoa growing communities of Côte d’Ivoire. Here, the age at which a child enters formal schooling can vary considerably depending on the availability of family funds, ability to obtain a birth certificate, and need for child labor – a significant problem in such impoverished cocoa producing regions. An estimated 1.3 million children between the ages of 5-17 (out of a population of 3.73 million children) are working in cocoa production (Tulane University, 2015) and not attending school regularly. As a consequence of varied school attendance, varied age of enrollment, and grade repetition, a primary school classroom in rural community can have students that range widely in age and who have had inconsistent access to reading instruction. A child entering into formal education is faced with the added challenge of learning to read in a second language (French), different from the community language. Our specific aim is to understand the developmental trajectory for reading in this complex, impoverished, and multilingual environment.kaya1

This newsletter announcement comes to you directly from the village of Moapé, about 2.5 hours away from the economic capital, Abidjan. In fact, I am writing from the back of our testing van, set up in the middle of the school courtyard.

Our team is currently collecting behavorial measures of language, cognitive, and reading development in French and four Ivorian languages (Attié, Baoulé, Abidji, and Bété – newly developed by us!) as well as indicators of school participation and home environment in children during a critical age for reading development. We are awaiting the arrival of our new Shimadzu LIGHTNIRS system in January to continue with the neuroimaging portion of our experiment and track the development of the brain’s reading circuitry.
Just a couple weeks ago, I met with the Ivorian Ministry of Education, Research, and various cabinet members in the Abidjan offices to discuss how advances in educational neuroscience in Côte d’Ivoire can benefit our understanding of development and to introduce portable neuroimaging technologies. Everyone was very excited and eager to proceed with this new (for Côte d’Ivoire) direction!
kaya2One of the most important goals of this research is simultaneously build scientific capacity in Côte d’Ivoire for educational research. I’m proud to share that our research team is comprised of entirely Ivorian graduate students and PhDs who are learning research methods while developing independent lines of research.

Preliminary results, and neuroimaging updates from the field are coming soon…

Kaja Jasinska, Research Scientist, Haskins Laboratories, Assistant Professor, University of Delaware. PI of “Promoting Literacy Development in Rural Cocoa Growing Communities”. Funded by Jacobs Foundation Early Career Fellowship