ECE trends across Canada and using technology for preconception care

by Melissa Potvin

For four years now I have been attending the Best Start Resource Centre Conference. Sometimes I’ve been helping out at the registration table, other times presenting on social media or recording sessions. No matter in what chair I’m sitting, I always come away from the conference filled to the brim with new learnings and a peaked curiosity to learn even more.

This year’s first day featured keynote presentations by Zeenat Janmohamed from the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development and Dr. Brian Jack, Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.

Early Childhood Education – key in life-long wellbeing
Zeenat Janmohamed from the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development at the University of Toronto presented conference attendees to some of the current trends in early childhood education across Canada. Much has been done in way of improving quality of and access to, ECE, however, as Zeenat explained, much still needs to be done, in fact, Canada does not have a national early childhood education program.  Research tells us that the quality of preschool programs and ECE has a direct impact on child achievement later on in life.

The growing trend to play less and learn more – a sort of overachiever syndrome where we want children to read and write earlier and earlier, is robbing children of the benefits of unstructured play.  And don’t for one minute think that kids need a home full of stuff to play and be happy - what they need is people, affection, play and attention.  

Understanding early child development is also key in avoiding harsh discipline. If we can better understand the development of children, we can avoid frustration and unfair expectations that can often lead to harsh discipline.

Research makes it clear that implementing ECE is an investment not an expense. 

Using technology to support preconception health
Dr. Brian Jack from Boston University Medical Center presented us with the statistics surrounding preconception health in the United States. From this research it was clear that much could and should be done to address preconception health in America.  When you consider that most doctors have little time to go over all the risks that individuals could be exposed to and to also explain them, it’s no wonder that many individuals are unaware of possible risk factors that could make for a challenging pregnancy one day.

In comes Gabby – an online tool created by Boston University Medical Center in partnership with the Relational Agents Group from Northeastern University. Gabby , an interactive computer character , was conceived to act as a risk evaluation tool and to share important health information with those are interacting with her (the tool).  The development team identified 107 preconception risk factors, through a series of responsive questions, Gabby effectively filters out which of these risk factors apply to the person she is interacting with.

We were able to see how Gabby works in real time.  The language of the tool is accessible and consideration was given to her facial expressions, to ensure that they respond to the responses being given. Gabby has been shown to be effective in engaging women and as a consequence, effectively lowering their preconception risks.

It is exciting to think of how more broadly Gabby and soon to be, Gabe, can be used to help with time intensive but invaluable screening and information sharing.

You can learn more about Gabby here.

A big thank you to the Best Start team who continues to bring together such great content at their annual conference!