By Christine Kabahuma, RA 2017 Young Leader
Early childhood is a special and crucial period during which the brain develops fastest, is most malleable, highly impressionable and most adaptable to change. However, early childhood development in education initiatives among many Ugandan children is often hindered; with malnutrition still causing nearly 60% deaths among of infants and unbalanced diet hindering brain development causing severe diseases such as kwashakor that sometimes leads to death.
Looking at vulnerability of children, media reports estimate that 8% of children in Uganda are critically vulnerable. Unknown number (and undocumented in demographic) of children are on the streets of major towns in the country, especially Kampala. The lack of proper infrastructure with accessible structures such as buildings, play centres and class room blocks means children do not get a chance to fully development their learning potential in school; especially those in rural areas where many study under tree shades and others with no proper toilets and sanitary space for the girls. It even becomes a daunting task for instructors to use these centres especially in wet seasons.
There is also acute shortage of qualified teachers in most of early childhood centres. A kindergarten teacher should train for two years after at least six passes at ordinary level. This is however not the case in early childhood development centres. For example, the Principal of Victorious Education Services, Barbra Buyondo Ofwono points out that she chose nursery education because it was a sector that was left to old retired civil servants and school drop outs, yet children needed sharp people who would listen and give them a good foundation.
A few schools mainly in urban centres have laboured to recruit qualified teachers and make learning materials available and accessible. However, a number of schools are constrained by unavailability of learning materials.
Overall access is limited, as mentioned earlier; early childhood centres are concentrated in urban areas with assumption that only a select few can afford the services. This highly affects the rural marginalised children who access poor or no early childhood education. The absence of instructional materials and specialists in the field of early childhood education means that trainers are forced to equip theoretical knowledge rather than practical ways of working in early childhood education programs.
There has been coverage of the issue by the media, NGOs, private sectors, government and this is what they are doing to address it. The government coverage on early childhood education has been through putting up a National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy of Uganda, under Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, 2016 where government of Uganda ensures that children’s early learning at all different stages of development is implemented and supported. This focuses on increasing equitable, quality, integrated, inclusive and developing appropriate early learning and stimulation opportunities and programs for all children below eight years in Uganda. Clearly, implementation of this policy has been flawed.
Early childhood care and education should be financed better by the government to enable better childhood development and reduce all forms of inequality and discrimination within peer groups. It will enable all disadvantaged and vulnerable children have equal access to quality education.