Early Childhood Development (ECD) is critical in the wellbe-ing of a child. There is a positive link between early childhood learning and future holistic development of a child which, however, has not been clearly understood as revealed by Uganda’s policy on ECD.Mrs Mary Ojacor chairper-son, ECD Training Institutions Association and director DOT ECD Centre tells us about the state of ECD centres in Uganda are in. Also, infor-mation as shown through research done by the Ministry of Education and Sports regarding the same subject further throws light on the state of pre-primary educa-tion in the country.
ACCESS AND EQUITY TO PRE-SCHOOL IN UGANDA
The level of school ac-cess in Uganda is measured using enrolment figures and the population figures with respect to the official school -going age at a given level of education. In the case of Uganda, children aged three to five years are expected to be in nursery school while those aged 6 to 12 years are expected to be enrolled in primary schools. Pre-school is, however, not accessible to majority in rural areas owing to financial constraints. We have UNICEF to thank for the few ECD centres in rural areas as most of the rural inhabitants find them a waste of money.
PRE-SCHOOL GOING POPULATION AND PRE-SCHOOL ENROLMENT IN UGANDA
Officially, in Uganda children aged three to five years are expected to be enrolled in pre-school such that by the age of six they proceed to primary one. Over the years, there has been a wide gap between the pre-school enrolment and the popula-tion aged three to five years.
The existing gap is enough to explain inadequate funding to boost Early Childhood De-velopment. From 2007 when the ECD policy in the educa-tion sector was launched followed by advocacy across the country, the proportion of children attending pre-school increased from 2% in 2006 to 3% in 2007. Currently, the proportion of children in pre-school expressed as a percentage of the population aged three to five is 9% which translates into a gap of 91%. The existing gap is likely to persist if Government does not come up with affirmative action to avert the status quo.
REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION OF ECD CENTRES IN UGANDA
The distribution of Early Childhood Development cen-tres is highly driven by income levels. Areas whose popula-tion earns a high income tend to attract the ECD proprietors with an assumption that the parents and guardians will afford fees. This pattern of setting up ECD centres has eliminated majority of the rural children from benefiting in pre-school.A regional analysis on distribution of ECD centres shows that the central region had the highest number of ECD centres totalling to 2,858 (39%), followed by the eastern region with a total of 1,640 centres (22%).
The western region followed with 1,098 centres (15%), while the northern region ranked fourth with a total of 831 centres (11%). The south western region had a total of 751 centres (10%) while the north eastern region with the smallest geographical area had the least number of centres totalling to 190 (3%). The central region has the highest share of ECD centres due to the fact that the region has the highest number of urban centres and income generating activities.
WHAT IS THE QUALITY OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT IN UGANDA?
Although the quality has slightly improved thanks to the introduction of guidelines that saw some improvement from when everyone did what they thought was right. However, the quality of learning in most of the schools assessed still left a lot to be desired.
This was compounded by poor learning environment, poor hygiene, poor infrastructure, unqualified teachers and poor quality playing kits all in the name of inadequate resources. Majority of the centres do not meet the mini-mum quality standards. This section gives the status of infrastructure development in ECD centres, average number of pupil’s per class, teachers’ qualification, average number of pupils per teacher and sanitation and hygiene.
In 2000, when Early Child-hood Research & Practice published an article by James Gallagher and Richard Clifford of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Centre, there was expression of the need to support ECD proprietors in infrastructure devel-opment as a prerequisite to boost the quality of structures dominating the likes of centres in Uganda. Majority of the proprietors in Uganda lack adequate financial support to put up permanent and habit-able structures especially in rural areas. Parents struggle to put up structures which sometimes are not adequate or good enough, which is a challenge during wet seasons.
TEACHER QUALIFICATION AND TRAINING
There was an acute shortage of qualified teachers in most of the ECD centres. The man-power gap has been bridged by primary seven and senior four leavers who for known reasons fail to continue with education. A kindergarten teacher should train for two years, after at least 6 passes at O level. This is, however, not the case in many ECD centres. It is about those who are interested, those who have failed to further their education.
AVERAGE MONTHLY PAY TO ECD TEACHERS
The amount of money paid to ECD teachers was very low in most of the centres visited. At district level, Kiruhura and Iganga registered the highest monthly pay while Gulu and Luweero paid the least amount. Nineteen out of 40 schools were paying a salary of at least sh100,000. The least paid teacher was earning sh45,000 per month. The pay is verging on miserable. In ECD centres where it is the parents’ role to facilitate teachers, some take months without getting anything.
Availability of learning materials was another concern observed in majority of the centres that were visited. A few schools mainly in urban centres had laboured to make learning ma-terials available and accessible by learners. However, a number of schools were constrained by availability of learning materials. In one of the pre-school classes visited the teachers did not have any learning materials.
INSPECTION AND SUPERVISION OF ECD CENTRES
All educational institutions in Uganda must be inspected by the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Local Govern-ments on a regular basis. The purpose of inspection is to ensure that high standards are maintained and that there is continuing development of the educational system.
The Ministry of Education has a special directorate called the Directorate of Education Standards esnures quality education and services.Inspection and supervi-sion was only noticeable in a few pre-primary schools and even then, it suffered lack of coordination of supervis-ing agencies. One of the DEOs attributed this to lack of funds. Of the four districts visited, none had a budget for Early Childhood Development. The state of nursery educa-tion in the country under-scores the value attached to early childhood learning in the country and calls for immediate action from all the concerned authorities.
FINANCING OF ECD IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR IN UGANDA
Devoting more resources especially to the most disad-vantaged children should be the “first step” of a broader national early childhood care and education policy. The returns to investing in early childhood programme are extremely high, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged yet the least likely to be in-volved in these programmes. Poor financing of Early Child-hood Development is evident in majority of the ECD centres in Uganda by virtue of the sole state of operation.
GOVERNMENT OF UGANDA EXPENDITURE ON ECD
The education and sports sector budget is allocated at two levels (headquarter level and local Government Level). Over the years, the pre-primary and primary budgets have remained consolidated. However, almost 100% of the entire budget goes to the primary sub-sector leaving almost nothing for the pre-primary sub-sector.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO TAKE ECD TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
If Early Child Education is made a priority like say primary education. It should be a must not only a right. It should be a prerequisite to join primary school.Caregivers should be sup-ported to develop profes-sionally through training and constant refresher courses. Communities still need a lot of sensitisation regarding ECD because many still believe school before primary is a total waste of time.