We are getting it wrong; childhood education isn’t about buildings
BY DR TERIA NG’ASIKE
Quality, access and performance in ECDE do not happen automatically in modern classrooms but in the use of sustainable programmes that directly impact on the
and the parent.
Devolving Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) to the county level of government is a fair constitutional argument and key in the transformation of the life of young children. Historically, ECDE has been a programme local authorities, even though the national government has been involved in the training of teachers. The new constitution envisaged that ECDE continued to be a community project, and the counties were better placed to offer this service to the youngest citizens of Kenya. Indeed, it would have been fair to devolve most educational functions to the counties, as parents, churches and NGOs have been involved in the management and infrastructure development in schools in Kenya. In Turkana, for example, a majority of the schools (primary and secondary) have been put up by churches. It would have been fair for the constitution to recognise this role in education provision, especially in marginalised communities.
However, the challenge is the vision driving devolution of ECDE in the counties. The provision of ECDE appears to have been misunderstood to mean the provision of model classrooms. The holistic aspect of the ECDE has been disregarded and the focus has been on education. Although the Ministry of Education has been keen on pre-primary education, it will be a mistake for the counties to adopt a purely education approach in the provision of ECDE service to young children. It is easy to score political mileage by
constructing classrooms for school children at any level of education. Many politicians, parents and education stake holders easily associate schools with modern classrooms.
In Turkana County, politicians reward their political supporters by giving them contracts to build classrooms for school children, even though the quality of the work is usually questionable when cracks soon emerge on the walls and floors of the newly finished classrooms. The buildings do not necessarily attract children, as most of them end up as empty halls without learning materials and furniture. Why then construct more classrooms when the existing ones have not been adequately utilised. A huge chunk of development funds go into the pockets of individuals through corrupt and underhand dealings. The rest go into wasted empty classroom constructed in isolation from the reach of children and families. Turkana people have no room for wasteful projects, considering that the county is among the poorest in Kenya, as it suffers from persistent and endemic droughts, hunger and insecurity. Ng’iturkana have continued to live at the margins of survival as they lack basic needs like food, medicine, security, education,
water and others. In Turkana, sustainable development is key in the provision of education and other services. For example, in the past, classrooms have never translated to better performance in examinations or an increase in enrolment in schools. I know that many so-called permanent classrooms are empty halls in Turkana with only handful of children sitting on a dusty cracked floors to receive direct instruction from a poorly trained teacher or a volunteer teacher. Sometimes in these dusty cracking and windy classrooms, young children in an ECDE centre teach themselves. Lack of teachers is endemic in Turkana County. The ECDE centres I have visited have permanent classrooms, but the teachers are volunteers whose highest level of education is Standard Eight at a local primary school. I am arguing that ignorance about the meaning of education and the temptation to make money through corrupt deals might be responsible in driving the ECDE vision in Turkana. Implementation of ECDE in the county should not be an expensive project to demand expensive infrastructure. The county will be less likely to attract the support of partners and well-wishers if construction of modern model classrooms becomes its key strategy in the implementation of ECDE. Quality, access and performance in ECDE do not happen in modern classrooms but in the use of sustainable programmes that directly impact on the child and the parent. For example, children in Turkana grow and develop in structures existing in the family environment and community settings.
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