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Makueni sends out Covid-19 warnings despite ECDE success

By People Daily
Monday, May 18th, 2020
Pupils in class. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

NAOMI MAKAU 

Makueni county, nestled between Machakos, Kitui, Kajiado and Taita Taveta counties, has one of the highest enrolments for Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE), with 276,000 children in Pre-Primary I and II.

Enrolment has been on the rise since 2013 when Governor Kivutha Kibwana ushered in a new era where ECDE was devovled to county governments.

The growth has been matched by recruitment of teachers, support staff and facilities such as classrooms and learning materials. 

Makueni now has 929 teachers, among them eight graduates. It  also has one of the highest numbers of nursery schools located in all the six constituencies, with 319 in Mbooni while Kilome has the least with 160. The1, 418 centres are complemented with 3500 classrooms. 

To embrace the new national curriculum, 2, 500 ECDE teachers have been trained on the Competency-Based Curriculum and 27,000 books issued to all the public nursery units.

Also developed is a feeding programme which was planned to kick off during second term of 2020.

Each learner has a ‘kiddy chair’, with a table for four learners in all centres. Further, the county government supports co-curricula activities and has seen its ECDE learners emerge the best at the national music festivals.

With Covid-19 disrupting education systems globally, these gains are now under threat. With all schools closed, focus has been on older children, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of early learners.

Young children are especially vulnerable to shock, with the first five years of their lives being a critical window for learning and development.   

To ensure opportunities aren’t lost amidst the current crisis, Makueni has asked parents and teachers to use the KICD programmes on radio and Edu-TV.

The county has also teamed up with Ene FM radio to air programmes for early learners. Yet while teachers and families are doing their best, this is no substitute for the real thing. 

The county government realises that learning begins in the earliest moments of a child’s life.

This is why we have committed to developing bright, colourful high-quality centres where children are free to play and sing, and which are overseen by confident, well-trained teachers.

These are perfect environments for young children. By investing in ECDE, we are laying the foundations for lifelong learning. 

Covid-19 threatens this progress. ECD across Kenya needs more funding, yet there is a risk that already scarce resources will understandably be diverted to the pandemic response.

We fear that initiatives to promote better ECDE outcomes for kids will be pushed aside in the current environment. We cannot let this happen.

Without a strong focus on ECDE, we face the prospect of a lost generation of young children. The economic impact could be devastating for families.

Nearly half of children across the world who attend high-quality ECDE go on to find skilled employment later in life compared to the quarter who are not afforded the same opportunities in their early years. 

There are also immediate economic benefits. Expanding ECDE across   Makueni has created around 930 paid teaching positions, opening up job opportunities.

When not in lock-down, attending ECDE also frees up families’ time, providing more scope for work.

When the youngest children in a house attend ECDE, mothers see a rise in their average working hours. 

This is why we must prioritise ECDE as the country overcomes Covid-19 and looks to the future. 

Makueni has benefitted from Meru county on feeding programme and from Mombasa county’s Maziwa ya Joho  on  benchmarking. The structure of Kwale county’s ECDE system actually ranks as the best in Kenya. 

All this is courtesy of the Maarifa centre at the Council of Governors from where counties can access information on what is happening countrywide.

In 2018, Makueni hosted all governors for a peer learning conference to study the our successful public participation approach. 

Granted, Makueni still lacks adequate teaching and learning resources and facilities.

There is a shortage of tutors, properly ventilated classrooms, furniture suitable for children, kitchen, safe clean water, playground, toilets and play materials. 

But Working together, we can beat back Covid-19 and ensure our youngest learners are provided with opportunities to thrive.

The writer is the Makueni County Executive Committee Member for Education.