Need for accelerated action on improved funding for early childhood education as experts, stakeholders list benefits

Posted by News Express | 1 November 2022 | 1,112 times

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By JOHN NWOKOCHA, Managing Editor

At a workshop on Early Childhood Education Development (ECED), jointly organised by UNICEF, Child’s Right Information Bureau and the Federal Ministry of Education, everyone, including education specialists, media and communications experts and participants, agreed that the ECE deserves adequate funding by the federal government of Nigeria. However, the call for improved funding is not their only concern.  The participants also advocate for thorough and careful monitoring and evaluation of all ECE centres across Nigeria. During the two- day media Dialogue held in Sokoto, North West Nigeria, the participants were unanimous about giving necessary support for ECED, because it would cement a solid foundation for standard of education of the country. Besides, the workshop focused on ancillary but crucial topics such as; Promoting ECE in Nigeria: The role of the media and partners; Objectives, methodology & expected outputs of the Media Dialogue; Strengthening Capacity for Play-based learning: Evidence from Nigeria, the Gambia & Kenya and Parental Engagement in Early Learning.

Unfortunately, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), a commission saddled with the supervision of education at the primary and secondary levels, released data from the National Personnel Audit of 2018 showing that overall, progress is slow; therefore, raising concerns for urgent need to accelerate the development of ECE. Still unfortunate, the numbers of out-of-school children are growing phenomenally. Millions of Nigerians, particularly from the Northern part of the country, are out of school. The high number of out-of-school children is already drawing global attention.

According to the United Nations records, one out of three children attends the ECED, which represents 36 per cent of children in Nigeria. This is grossly low.

Thankfully, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged the federal government through the Ministry of Education to do the needful towards ensuring that more Nigerians are sensitized about the ECED, so that more children under the age of five will get into the programme. The organisation frowned at poor implementation of policies to increase levels of enrolment of children within the age bracket into the scheme.

Education experts are of the view that proper implementation of ECED will raise the nation’s education standards which have fallen at all levels.

They bemoaned what has been described as lacklustre attitude of governments towards funding education in the country. The inadequacy of funding manifests through low budgetary allocations for education. Take, for instance, UNESCO has set aside a benchmark percentage for the education sector in the national budget at 26 per cent, for any country.

Sadly, the target has never been met by governments. For the past five years, allocations have been far below the UNESCO’s benchmark. The allocations have hovered around 7.04 per cent. Available records show that in 2022, UNICEF recommended allocation of N1.14 trillion, equivalent of 8.4 per cent of the nation’s total budget. Nevertheless, the allocation for the year was 5.4 per cent.

Revealing is that there are only 500 ECE centres out of 2000 primary schools in Sokoto State.

Decrying the situation, the experts and education stakeholders said the centres are inadequate.

Coupled with unmotivated workforce, lack of or dilapidated infrastructure and insecure learning environment, the sector has continued to receive devastating blows, year on year.

In evaluating the sector, the experts say in moving forward, Nigeria’s fallen standard of education should be rescued if the country must earn respect before the comity of nations. According to the experts the ECE is the way to go to salvage the sector from further collapse.

In a goodwill message, UNICEF Sokoto Chief of Field Office, Maryam Darwesh Said, stated that UNICEF considers early childhood as the most rapid and critical period of development in a human life.

According to her, the Federal Government of Nigeria has an Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) Policy, a multi-sectoral policy that comprises the education, health, nutrition, and child protection sectors.

She stated that the policy aims to create an enabling environment for the provision of integrated ECD services and coordination mechanisms among sectors at decentralized levels.

But, “going by the number of public primary schools, many children are not accessing pre-primary education,” the Chief Field Office states, adding: “Therefore, pre-primary education remains a priority in UNICEF programming with Government in Nigeria.”

Said noted that despite progress recorded by the programme, there are still some challenges.

As Said put it, “Nigeria has made some progress in the implementation of this policy.

“Despite the progress, there are still some challenges which include low awareness and understanding of the importance of ECD, poor articulation and clarity of the policy, weak coordination among the relevant Agencies, and most importantly, poor funding.”

Speaking, education specialist, Mrs Yetunde Oluwatosin, revealed that about 10 million Nigerian children are not enrolled in ECE.

Oluwatosin noted that rather than engaging in remedial programmes, Nigeria should be spending more on ECE to build a solid foundational education system.

The education specialist maintained that childhood education remained a “critical period of education that must be consciously built to achieve a resilient national basic education system.”

Her words: “Science has revealed that starting education with the ECE addresses the challenge of foundational learning, it is a play-based pre-primary education that remains the bedrock of child development.

“The ECE stimulates child’s domain and it is the foundation that transits children to primary education level.”

Making her contribution, another education expert and Country Representative Early Childhood Development Initiative Nigeria ECDI, Dr Amy Panyi Shalangwa, said there was  need to strengthen early childhood education and strengthen existing curriculum in ECE.

Shalangwa disclosed that the ECDI carried out a research work on strengthening the capacity for play-based learning in Nigeria.

According to her, the research revealed that with ECE, there was improved quality of learners, increased schools participation, increased graduation rate as well as stronger economic and societal development.

For her, the growth strategy includes efforts towards attainment of the ECE primary goals.

Also speaking, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku, identified inadequate resources and non-judicious use of available resources as major challenges facing ECE in Nigeria.

Njoku said the Dialogue aimed at advocating for more attention on ECE.

“The media dialogue was organised to advocate for more attention on ECE because we see that if Nigeria doesn’t pay attention to the early childhood education the country will face challenges in the technology space as well as in other sectors,” Njoku stressed.

Another challenge is shortage of trained caregivers and lack of adequate governments’ support. The stakeholders equally lamented the situation.

Closely related to this is what the stakeholders called ‘limited infrastructure/Materials for early child education’.

Expressing worry over this, Oluwatosin said: “Poor sector analysis planning and coordination, inadequate spending on ECE and lack of data on early learning.”

Another drawback, they pointed out, is that presently, only 154,000 teachers are in the system handling over seven million learners enrolled in the ECE centers.

But the challenges notwithstanding, the experts list some of the benefits of ECE to include, among others; building a resilient future for the country by making ECE the driving force for improve standards.

Speaking on the gains of the ECE, the experts said that Nigerian children are better equipped to compete favourably with their counterparts in the world if they had ECE. Investment in ECE is investment in sustainable future of the future of the country.

The experts were unanimous again, in saying that ECE has great potential if integrated into the education system.

It is pertinent to note that “the importance of early learning is entrenched in the second target of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which seeks to ensure that, by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

“Pre-primary education is now considered an essential tool for achieving Universal Primary Education and the SDGs.

“Ensuring access to quality pre-primary education is a key strategy for improving learning and education outcomes as well as the efficiency of education systems.”

Children who participate in well-conceived ECD programmes tend to be more successful in later school, and are more competent socially & emotionally, as well as show higher verbal, Intellectual and physical development during early childhood than those who are not enrolled into such programme.

It is worthy of note that UNICEF has developed play-based one year pre-primary curriculum in collaboration with the Nigeria Education Research Development Council NERDC and the National Commission for Colleges of Education.

UNICEF is said to be committed to ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education (SDG 4.2, 2030).

However, while noting that a sound education at the foundational level is sine qua non to guaranteed future, enhancing professional competence of the teachers and caregivers is necessary.

Another important issue that should not be shied away from is increase accessibility to ECE.

Alongside with this, the experts proffered there is urgency in addressing the problems around infrastructure and human resource to get ECE on its feet, up and running.

•PHOTO: A cross section of participants at a Media Dialogue Workshop organised by UNICEF on Early Childhood Education Development, held in Sokoto State, North West, Nigeria

Source: News Express

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