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Development and Education in the Vernacular for Infants and Children (DEVI)

Project title: Development and Education in the Vernacular for Infants and Children (DEVI): Learning Cultures in Rural Villages in West Africa.


Development and Education in the Vernacular for Infants and Children (DEVI, the Ewe word for child) is a research project in West Africa that aims to identify the local epistemologies and pedagogies that families in poor communities deploy to support their children's education in the early years. It is funded by the British Academy.

The project will identify local theories about how children's cognitive development is accomplished and embedded in daily practice and interaction, and how this is inflected by a range of social inequalities including gender and generation and shaped by political economy. It will collaboratively design a model to engage communities in strategies for strengthening early years community-based education that scaffolds children’s vernacular education between home and school.


DEVI is a collaborative project between Professor Karen Wells, Birkbeck, Dr Peace Tetteh, University of Ghana, and Professor Erdmute Alber, University of Bayreuth.

The project researcher is Fatou Kiné Diouf and she will be based at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Our partners for the research are Afrikids GhanaPlan BeninPlan Togo and Arterial (Togo).


DEVI's core aim is to identify how families in poor communities support their children's education in the early years and how early childhood development and education (ECDE) interventions made possible by the policy and funding initiatives responding to Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, can supplement and strengthen rather than displace this support.

DEVI assumes that early childhood education happens in organic, intuitive or tacit and culturally embedded ways. We want to make this work of early childhood education in families and communities visible to school educators and policymakers. In doing so, we hope to produce sustainable and viable connections between home and school which will enhance students' learning outcomes.

The research involves in-depth qualitative investigation of how the learning cultures of the home and community in low-resource villages in West Africa impact on child development. It values the epistemological and pedagogical context of West Africa and aims to expand and decolonise the models of learning that are currently being valued through ECDE international policy. It is grounded in gender and generational theoretical framework that addresses the links between political economy and socio-cultural fields (Wells 2019) and learning cultures.


Plan International's longitudinal research, Real Choices, Real Lives, shows that children's growth and development is widely seen in poor communities as a natural accomplishment that does not require targeted or directed support. Furthermore, since adult labour of both women and men is required for farming, selling at market and preparing food, the work of caring for children and stimulating their development and learning is distributed across the family, especially to adolescent girls and to grandmothers.

When the child joins school around the age of five years, the distance between the school's learning culture and the home's learning culture (for example between didactic and experiential learning), provides little scope for the child to scaffold existing knowledge and concepts to the new knowledge the school wants the child to develop. It is this gap that DEVI proposes to close.

In addition, in cultures where older children are tasked with caring for younger children, it is important to recognise not only parent-child interaction but also adolescent and child interaction and grandmother-grandchild interaction as important aspects of the child's development and education landscape. There is substantial evidence that children should be taught in their mother tongue in the early years. We extend that finding to consider the importance of mother culture or vernacular education to early years learning. This focus is also important in countering the tendency for schooling to displace African-centred epistemologies and pedagogies in favour of models imported from the Global North.


  1. To what extent is children's cognitive development viewed as a process of ‘natural development’ or 'concerted cultivation’ (Lareau 2011), and to what extent are differing views about development mapped onto gender, class, religious or other axis of social difference?
  2. How have psychological and neurological discourses about child development been incorporated into local discourses?
  3. How do families identify and respond to infants with ‘atypical’ development in relation to local and/or scientific discourses of typical development?
  4. What ideas do school professionals and other professionals (NGOs, health visitors, social workers) hold about the value of vernacular education and its relationship to school education?
  5. Can documentary film provide a method to engage parents, children and other family members in the practices of early childhood education and development?
  6. What would a partnership model of home-school teaching grounded in community education look like?


  • A documentary film on learning and development in the early years (conception to five years old) in three West African countries.
  • Journal articles on:
    • culture and early childhood education and development
    • language development and child-child interaction
    • teenagers as early childhood development and education ‘providers’ in West African rural communities
    • similarities and differences across three contiguous countries and in similar low-resource rural environments on culture, early years learning and development
    • the cultural context of early childhood education: on storytelling, proverbs, and songs
    • making do and making toys: learning through play and mimesis in low-resource settings.
  • A book contract for a comparative study of early childhood education.
  • A report with recommendations for future developments.
  • A collaborative model of partnership between communities and schools that scaffolds learning by understanding and representing the epistemologies and pedagogies of the child’s home context, its political economy and socio-cultural fields.