In Summary

Don’t confine. Children in kindergartens, homes, schools and elsewhere should be treated as children. Children should not be confined to sleeping at school in the afternoon with no skits to watch as a way of stimulating their imagination.

When Didi’s Amusement Park (Didi’s World) was replaced by other anti-children activities, a blow to the growth and development of children who used to pay for weekend shows as well as school visits, was not only heard but also felt. Parents to date have not gotten the equivalent of the former amusement park as government too has slumbered to put in place some children amusement parks to complement early childhood care and education. This is the dilemma surrounding Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) development in our country.

In understanding the social dilemma further, is the need to reflect the work of Jean Peaget, John Bowlby and Sigmund Freud in a local context. The challenge in addressing ECCE cannot be addressed by hired experts, but rather to demand policy makers and implementers to domesticate and localise many of the local practices that underpin ECCE for it is critical and fundamental in human growth and development. There is need for strategic investment to complement the desired human capital development as a way of debunking the usual talk or procrastination in making right choices for our children. Reasonable human and financial resources need to be prioritised for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of ECCE at all levels.

The policy architecture should be well embraced by the Ministry of Education and Sports as well as that of Gender, Labour and Social Development for they are at the centre of it in playing their symbiotic and constant role of ensuring implementation of their mandate.

The two ministries should ensure safety, security and quality of our children through innovations and thinking outside the box if Uganda is to have a reliable and productive population. While it may sound true that there is need to underscore the ideals that guide investing in children, the real investment in this case is not what we think of doing, but rather what we do daily that impacts children daily.

If we are to realise meaningful outcomes and impact of ECCE, mothers countrywide have to be sensitised to ensure that babies are properly breastfed and cared for. Well structured governmental and non-governmental programmes targeting equipping families with knowledge of parenting, preparing for births, receiving new born as well as feeding, caring and nurturing human kind from conception to birth, school time to adulthood need to be designed and implemented. Since the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) is already developing a ‘parent education curriculum’, the big question to ask is, who has been consulted on such an important matter?

With Section 10(2) of the Education (Pre-primary, Primary and Post-primary) Act, 2008 spelling out that pre-primary education shall be run by private agencies or persons to provide education to children aged from two years to five years and the financing of that type of education shall be a responsibility of the parents or guardians, NCDC’s new curriculum should focus on a model that offers opportunity for public-private partnership to spur human growth and development. There is need to target poverty stricken families in order to permanently mitigate negative effects of human development.

The mitigation measures will require ECCE centres to employ qualified caregivers even when we know that the best care givers are the mothers and not the teachers. Those that handle our young ones need to have a correct child friendly value system. The value system will be the pedagogical compass to guide their knowledge, skills and attitudes in understanding children psychologically to handle them with care. Care givers should help our children recite rhymes with clear syllables, tell stories that communicate reality and imagination, sing songs that communicate messages of love, hope, unity, and education, play games that promote team work and resilience relating it to the local, national, regional and international world through electronic media that is both audio and visual.

If this is implemented, ECCE will mitigate the anxiety, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised behaviour that manifest in children at different levels, including adulthood. Because some children are born to very busy parents who have to make ends meet and fend for other siblings, many of our toddlers are not only left in the hands of caregivers, who to a greater extent, are unskilled to manage our children, but also social terrorists in the name of maids.

Children in kindergartens, homes, schools and elsewhere should be treated as children. Children should not be confined to sleeping at school in the afternoon with no skits to watch as a way of stimulating their imagination. They should be offered more opportunity to develop their curiosity and offered a chance to develop social confidence, empathy and independence. They should be initiated into activities that promote critical thinking like colour differentiation and comparison, learning to differentiate good from bad, application of early mathematical and science concepts to help in concept formation for mathematical intelligence, real life experience and assimilation as part of gradual cognition development.

While to a larger extent this happens un-programmed in most homes, schools must have a programme for it. The programme should aim at developing children’s confidence and self-esteem, but not giving them homework. As long as we continue crafting persuasive themes, hire expensive consultants and spend on benchmarking without sectorwide stakeholder consultation prioritised, no milestone shall be realised. Government should have a budget line for toys for every school and encourage creative teachers to make toys for their children. Schools should have specific rooms with right colours, story boards as well as furniture that facilitate ECCE and not sitting on dusty floors.

Mr Kaboyo is the national secretary, Federation of Non-State Education Institutions.