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To lay firm learning foundation, invest more in ECDE

By People Reporter
Friday, January 24th, 2020
Pupils in class. Photo/Courtesy

Gilbert Ngaira 

Kenyans today join the world in marking the International Education Day, creating an opportune moment to reflect on Kenya’s own education journey; the opportunities and challenges the country faces.

Across the world, an estimated 258 million children are out of school, while more than 600 million teenagers are unable to read or do basic mathematics.

In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than 40 per cent of school going girls will complete lower secondary school, according to studies. 

For many decision makers across Kenya and Africa generally, the priority is often to build more schools in the belief that all children will benefit. And this is a fair assumption, but it masks a complex reality.

To ensure children do well in school, it is important to give them a strong foundation in the early years.

This ensures holistic development and good positioning as far as their development is concerned.

 According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children, education as a basic right and forms one of the most promising elements towards ensuring a brighter future for children in Africa and beyond. 

Theirworld, a UK organisation set up by the wife of former British PM Gordon Brown, highlights the first five years of a child’s life as the most critical for development.

Therefore, investing in high-quality Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE), countries will be providing a  platform for children to thrive throughout their education.

The function of Early Childhood Education was transferred to county governments, bringing the service closer to the people.

This gives each county an opportunity to budget and support the children to realise a bright future. Many counties have achieved a lot so far, while others still have some ground to cover. 

Financial constraints, teacher shortage, poor facilities, accessibility of ECDE centres are some of the challenges facing counties in delivery of quality early childhood education. 

Against all odds, some counties, such as Siaya, Makueni and Kwale are setting the pace in ECDE.

They have put a great focus on early learners and invested in quality learning facilities, properly ventilated classrooms, safe and clean water and, most importantly, age-appropriate learning materials. 

There is every reason to believe Kenya can be a beacon for ECDE, setting the agenda across the wider region. 

With 76 per cent of children enrolled in ECDE nationally, the foundations are already in place. The next step is to ensure vulnerable children—those with disabilities, or affected by HIV/Aids—are prioritised 

Kenya also needs to establish itself as a leader in terms of teaching standards.

Being an ECDE teacher is its own distinct discipline requiring a different set of skills from primary and secondary school learners.

Play-based learning, whether through singing, storytelling, or providing the space for children to explore their own creativity and imagination, is absolutely integral to a child’s development. 

With it, children will develop crucial cognitive and socioemotional, and motor development skills that are the foundations of good literacy and numeracy. 

The imbalance in literacy rates between children in rural Kenya and urban areas demonstrates why children from poor communities need high-quality ECDE the most. 

As Unicef observes, high-quality ECDE is crucial for ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn and thrive.

Just as importantly, ECDE also increases the chance of children completing primary school.  

Kenya has still got some work to do. And this means stepping up investment in ECDE.

At the dawn of a new decade, governors have an opportunity to make their mark, and ensure prosperity of future generations.   —The writer is an education expert specialising on ECDE