By CLEVER ZULU –
A FIVE-YEAR-OLD child in Kabulonga residential area and his counterpart in George Township cannot be compared socially or intellectually despite the fact that both are expected to enjoy the same rights regardless of the status of their parents.
Furthermore, when both children enrol in grade one the former shows more brilliance than the latter despite being exposed to the same curriculum.
But what could be leading to this disparity in grasping knowledge through education between children from well to do families and those from rural areas or poor urban families? This is the question that this feature will aim to answer emanating from some of the observations and measures made by the Ministry of Education in an effort to correct this situation.
The Patriotic Front (PF) in its manifesto for 2011 – 2016 states: “Under the previous governments Early Childhood Education (ECE) was completely ignored despite the overwhelming research evidence that it is a critical requirement for the later social and intellectual growth of the child.”
The manifesto further reads on page seven on Core Programmes: “With regret ECE has been a preserve of a few well to do urban families along the line of rail and provincial/district centres. The facility is provided by private individuals and entities.”
And now that the PF is in government, what are they doing to provide quality education to both the under-privileged and well to do families across the country, so that we have a socially and intellectually sound population?
Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education Minister John Phiri said the PF Government pledged to the Zambian people that it would increase access to improve the quality of early childhood education by giving itself three major tasks to accomplish: To streamline the operations of the early childhood education sub–sector, provide and facilitate early childhood education centres and teachers in all local government wards in Zambia and to provide teachers training at diploma and degree levels in early childhood education so as to promote professionalism in the sector.
Has the Government achieved that and if not, what measures have they put in place to accomplish the three tasks above?
In the 70s, children used to attend pre-school in welfare community centres that were provided for by the Ministry of Local Government under the Early Childhood Education portfolio which became toothless for over three decades until recently when President Michael Sata moved it to the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education.
The move to transfer the portfolio was aimed at facilitating the speedy accomplishment of the three tasks hence also the Early Education title addition to the Ministry’s title
Education Minister John Phiri explains that his ministry has a huge task to prepare children for entry into grade one upon the attainment of the statutory age of seven years.
“This is a mammoth task to popularise and equalise Early Childhood Education opportunities in the country and to change the mindset of parents and guardians that ECE is not meant to teach children to speak English only and do subject-based learning before they enter grade one,” he added.
The minister observed that many ECE centres run by private individuals and other entities have been pressurised by parents, guardians and others into offering children what he termed “desk–top” activities particularly in relation to reading and writing.
“We need to re–define what we call early childhood education. Many of these private ECE centres are in reality premature primary schools,” Dr Phiri said.
Government has partnered with other stakeholders among them the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in its quest to achieve access to quality ECE by all children.
In 2013, the Ministry embarked on the process to create a regulatory framework within which the delivery of ECE services would be extended. The framework focuses on the development and application of standards and quality control mechanisms.
The government has also developed the curriculum guidelines and teaching materials for ECE while a total number of 1, 000 early childhood teachers countrywide were recruited and deployed to ECE centres, a move that has never taken place since independence in 1964.
This year, Dr Phiri has disclosed that government plans to build ECE centres country wide at a total cost of K4.8 million. The centres will target disadvantaged rural and poor urban children.
UNICEF has also supported ECE service delivery models through supporting Inter-active Radio Instruction, community and school based early childhood education centres implemented by the Ministry through the Education Broadcasting Services, Provincial and District Education Offices and with NGO partners.
A total number of 270 ECE centres have been established and supported through the above efforts benefiting over 13, 000 children.
On top of supporting the development of the ECE curriculum, syllabus and instructional materials, UNICEF recently responded to the Ministry’s request to assist in procuring two vehicles to support the implementation and monitoring of ECE activities by Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) and the Directorate of Distance Education (DoDE).
UNICEF has since handed over two Toyota Hilux vehicles valued at K 300, 000 to the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education for the monitoring and evaluation of the Early Childhood Education activities.
Country Representative Hamid El Bashir applauded the ministry for the work done in the area of early learning despite the challenges it is facing.
“We applaud the great work the ministry is doing in the area of early learning and the progress in 2013, not least the recruitment of 1, 000 early education teachers,” he said.
Dr Bashir hopes that with the motor vehicle support from UNICEF, the ministry will be able to do more to adequately support the ECE sub–sector and roll it out to all parts of the country to benefit more children.
One vehicle is meant to help the CDC with the implementation and monitoring of the ECE curriculum, syllabus and distribution of instructional materials while the other will support DoDE with the implementation and monitoring of ECE activities nationally.
With such investments and dedication from government and other stakeholders, there is need for all to support the ECE sub–sector for the betterment of the nation through the moulding and grooming of a socially and intellectually population.