EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

ECDE question as Nairobi prepares for budget-making

When it comes to a child’s education, it is best to start early.

In Summary
  • It is not enough to wait for children to start school once they turn four.
  • If we do not act sooner, then we are missing out on a crucial window of opportunity.
ECDE question
ECDE question
Image: OZONE

With the Budget Policy Statement submitted to Parliament on February 15, residents of Nairobi have an important opportunity to influence how money will be spent in the city for the next year.

This is an important civic duty that has become an integral part of Kenyan democracy since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. With the budgetary sittings due to take place in the coming weeks, we should be asking ourselves how we can best secure the future of our city’s children. This means we should focus our attention on ECDE and call for significantly more investment to ensure every child, no matter their background, has the same chances in life.

The creation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services came as a sigh of relief to dwellers who have been yearning for prudent management of their resources. This should give impetus to residents to engage the county government more robustly on what is available for early learners.

Why is ECDE an issue that Nairobi residents should care about? The answer is simple. When it comes to a child’s education, it is best to start early. As advances in neuroscience clearly demonstrate, children’s brains undergo rapid development in the first five years of their lives.

It is not enough to wait for children to start school once they turn four. If we do not act sooner, then we are missing out on a crucial window of opportunity.

Ensuring that children are provided with every opportunity to do well at school means starting early. This begins in the home and the community. Caregivers, whether it’s the mother, father, or even an older sibling, all play an important role when it comes to nurturing a child’s learning, whether it’s through playing, singing, or telling stories.

From age three, the provision of high-quality ECDE with trained teachers and bright, colourful classrooms packed with books and toys will further stimulate children’s learning.

From age three, the provision of high-quality ECDE with trained teachers and bright, colourful classrooms packed with books and toys will further stimulate learning. This is what it means when we say everyone has a responsibility in raising our children—residents, MCAs and Governor Mike Sonko.

This is what it means when we say everyone has a responsibility for raising our children. This responsibility falls on residents, MCAs and Governor Mike Sonko.

By pushing for greater investment in ECDE, we can achieve so much more for children. We have already seen some evidence that Sonko understands this. Last June, the governor launched an initiative where every child attending a public facility would be allocated a capitation grant of Sh3,815. This has the potential to reach just under 14,000 children.

The 2019-20 county budget process has also earmarked the refurbishment of 15 ECDE centres to the tune of Sh50 million, while a further Sh40 million has been allocated for the acquisition of learning materials and equipment.

In 2018 Sonko terminated a contract for the construction of 17 new ECDE centres estimated to cost around Sh60 million as the contractor was taking too long. 

Much more investment is needed to ensure our every child’s future. With the transfer of powers for health, transport, public works and planning and development passing to the national government, education is the perfect avenue for Sonko to leave a legacy for Nairobi’s children.

This is also not just about bricks and mortar. An ambitious ECDE investment drive would focus on training more teachers and ensuring the salaries of skilled educators are good enough to keep them in the profession.

This is a smart investment with a healthy return. For every $1 (Sh106) spent on ECDE, decisionmakers can expect a return of more than $7 (Sh741). Across sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio increases to $33 (Sh3,495) for every $1 invested. This is why the UK NGO Theirworld is calling on governments across the world to dedicate at least 10 per cent of their education budgets to ECDE.

The goals of early childhood education in Nairobi, and indeed the whole country, will never be successful if proper attention is not given to this sector. The financial support provided by the government should be accompanied by good nutrition services and learning materials.

As Nairobi residents battle the coronavirus they must find time to raise queries on how much will be set aside for ECDE centres, the provision of classrooms and learning facilities as well as feeding. Residents should be banging on the governor’s door and that of NMS boss Maj Gen Mohamed Badi Ali to make their voices heard.

Consultant and educationist