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UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 6 | June 4, 2009

Childhood development maps go Web 2.0

By Sean Sullivan

A unique tool that measures early childhood development in British Columbia is moving to the web to make its data more accessible to parents, educators, policy makers and researchers province-wide.

The UBC-based Early Childhood Development Mapping Project creates maps illustrating data about children’s development and connects this data to the socio-economic characteristics of communities where the children live. The maps demonstrate how children develop differently across B.C.

Leading this project is the UBC-based Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), a research network of more than 200 faculty members, researchers and graduates from six B.C. universities.

To date, these thematic maps have only been available as PDF files. Now, they’re going online as easy-to-use, interactive maps that users can customize to meet their community, school district and decision-making needs.

“We’ve developed these maps to make them easier to read and absorb,” says Jay Douillard, Geospatial Technical Lead for HELP’s mapping project. “This tool has the potential to revolutionize the ways in which educators and policy makers approach early childhood development through its accessibility and ease of use.”

HELP’s data comes from its Early Development Instrument (EDI), which measures the state of children’s development when they enter kindergarten.

Kindergarten teachers complete a checklist for each child in their class, creating an overall picture of physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills.

By pooling this data at the neighbourhood and school district levels, researchers can see how well communities and governments are supporting young children and their families in the early years. The online maps allow users to see the EDI results combined with the other data.

The maps also illustrate inequalities that emerge over the first five years of life, according to such factors as family income, parental education, neighbourhood safety and stability, neighborhood socio-economic differences, and access to quality child care and developmental opportunities.

For example, the maps can show in which Richmond neighbourhoods children are most limited in social development or how residential stability – i.e., the number of families moving in and out—influences the development of children living in and around Victoria.

“By launching web-based maps, our goal is to bring all this information back into these communities where children are being assessed, and to make it relevant for community champions and government ministries,” Douillard says.

Kathy Basaraba, manager of Children First in Prince George, says HELP’s EDI data has heightened her group’s awareness of the differences that exist between neighborhoods in the community.

“The EDI data gave our community specific information that we used when developing community gardens, Preschooler Health Day screening circuits, and early literacy programs,” Basaraba says. “The EDI also helped our community receive capital grants that established new early-learning child-care facilities and family resource centres.”

Children First is a community directed initiative that works to improve the health and development of young children (0-6 yrs) and their families.

Douillard, a UBC Geography alumnus, renders all the maps in-house using free, open source software such as Mapnik and OpenLayers.

“The open source software ties in with our philosophy of keeping our research accessible and participatory,” he says.

Users can share the maps, bookmark them, and email links to those specific to their community. Because it’s all online, the yearly EDI results can be rolled out much faster than before.

“Sometimes it’s hard to make the connection between what happens at a neighbourhood level and what happens at a provincial level,” says Douillard.

“Our web-based maps make this information more accessible.”

For more information visit maps.earlylearning.ubc.ca

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Last reviewed 04-Jun-2009

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