EA states urged to pay attention to ECDE for education quality – The East African

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For nearly two decades, East African countries have invested heavily in primary and secondary education through targeted financial and policy interventions. And the results are illuminating. Most countries in the region have nearly achieved universal primary education, recording 80 percent enrolment in primary schools, on average, and at least 60 percent in secondary schools.

While this is commendable, it is paradoxical that the investments have been made at a cost to early childhood education, which, though, is the foundation upon which other learning levels are premised, is grossly underfunded and least accessible to the eligible learners.

Early childhood education (ECDE) programmes record low enrolments, on average 30 percent, meaning the bulk of children in this age group are kept at home and denied a chance for a better start in life.

Moreover, East African countries spend on average 2 percent of the education budget on early childhood education. Yet, the broader education accounts for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product of most countries in the region.

Read:Underfunding to blame for slow progress, cuts in basic education

And now, evidence is showing that the poor investment and low participation of children in early learning is impacting negatively on other levels of learning. It is affecting children who have been left out and this is contributing to stunted development for a whole generation.


Children who miss out on early learning record difficulties in language acquisition, social interaction, emotional development and intellectual stimulation. This was the thrust of discussion at last week’s Eastern African Regional Early Childhood Conference that was hosted by the Tanzanian government at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre in Dar es Salaam.

Researchers, experts and civil society representatives were united in calling for prioritising early childhood education, which means increasing funding, reviewing and reforming existing policies or creating new ones where none exists. Further, the conference called for redesigning the curriculum to provide for a holistic approach that integrates health, nutrition, safety and security, social and academic dimensions.

In the new scheme of things, early childhood education is offered within the ambit of nurturing care, which entails creating conditions where children get good health and nutrition, are protected from threats and have opportunities for early learning.

Nurturing care elevates ECD beyond the ministries of education to incorporate others — health, agriculture, gender, security and environment. The import is that providing quality early childhood requires a multi-sectoral approach that involves various government departments, county or regional governments, communities, religious organisations, civil society and households.

In a communique at the end of the conference, the delegates urged governments to renew and strengthen their commitments to ECD and demonstrate that by increasing budgetary allocations to expand the infrastructure, improve teaching and learning resources, and improve learning outcomes.

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They called on national governments to raise public spending on early learning to the internationally recommended standard of 10 percent of the education budgets. Moreover, the budgets should be opened up to show categorically the allocations made towards child development, instead of hiding them under some miscellaneous or block accounts, to allow for public scrutiny. Participants also called for innovative approaches to delivering ECD programmes.

Tanzania’s Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, Dr Dorothy Gwajima, who opened the conference, stated that in reforming and redesigning ECD and basic education curriculum, Africa should not lose sight of its heritage and remain true to their roots to give children a strong foundation.

Accordingly, the participants called for a rethink of the policy paradigms, with the accent that Africa should not blindly follow what the West prescribed without scrutinising their impact. Notably, major funding agencies such as the World Bank indicated there was new thinking in education and that sub-sections such as ECD were taking the centre stage because of their centrality in the learning process.

The World Bank’s lead on early childhood education, Ms Amanda Devercelli, said the institution was rolling out a range of funding models, with a cumulative sum of US100 million, to support countries to develop ECD programmes.

Closing the conference, Zanzibar’s Deputy Minister for Education, Mr Ali Abdul-gulaam Hussein, said Tanzania was ready to lobby through the EAC for creation of a ministerial committee to champion the cause for ECD in the region.

AfCEN ‘s Executive Director, Dr Lynette Okeng’o, called on the civil society, the private sector, religious organisations and other stakeholders to advocate for governments to expand early childhood education programmes. She alsomcalled for effective coordination to ensure that the various players played their rightful roles in promoting early learning in the continent.

The four-day conference brought together various stakeholders, including government officials, civil society representatives, academia, development agencies and the media across the continent.

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