We have received email enquiries in the past weeks concerning our decision as an organization to put emphasis and focus on Early Childhood Development in Zimbabwe. I promised to give exhaustive feedback and in this blog I am seeking to give a bit of background and a brief Zimbabwean country context on ECD as well as what drives our involvement in this work.
The recent history of ECD in Zimbabwe reveals that in 2004 the provision of two years of pre-primary education in Zimbabwe (named ECD A and B) was instituted as a policy directed at all primary schools in order to insert at least two ECD classes for children in the 3-5 years age group. The basis for the formulation of the 2004 policy was a recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry into Education undertaken in 1999. The Commission found that many children in rural and poor communities did not have access to Early Childhood services. The aim of the 2004 policy framework is to make official the ECD programme under the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture. MoESAC, increase equity and access to ECD provisions, and enhance quality education.
The National Early Childhood Development (NECD) programme was addressed primarily to pre-school children in rural areas who had never had access to these services. A community development approach underpinned the roll out of the ECD centres. With limited focus on minimum criteria and lack of capacity at community level to make significant contributions, the standard of facilities and activities varied substantially. In 2004, a national review of the education system recommended that ECD be integrated into education structures rather than running parallel to them.
Most schools have no classrooms for the ECD children. Moreover, the number of children in each class was too large failing to meet the required teacher-pupils ratio of 1:20. Our experiences in some of the schools show that some of the teachers in ECD have as many as 40 children! In most provinces of the country a critical deficit of trained teachers with ECD qualifications has been discovered. Overall, the ECD A and B classes have been manned by untrained staff (para-professionals) and this practice militates against attainment of quality education. We are then involved together with the Ministry of education in the training of these para professionals so that they provide quality care and education to the children.
The analysis on health and nutrition revealed that many ECD centres in primary schools did not give food to children in school. In fact, children had to bring their own meal from home and in some cases the children had no food. Some of the children were infected from the ringworm/soil helminthiasis (STH) and bilharzia/ shistosomiasis (SCH), worm-parasites affecting their growth and development.
As Nhaka Foundation, we want to ensure that the children in the rural areas access these ECD centers. Our programs are not in competition with the government but are complimentary! We work only in schools that have demonstrated willingness to participate in the renovation, cleaning, upkeep and maintenance of the classrooms once refurbished. These are government schools some built as early as the 1930’s. We are there to make sure that the classes are of a modern standard, have safe equipment for children to use and that the children also get a meal each day.
Nhaka Foundation also then works with nurses from the local clinics who come in to check on the children’s health ensuring that the above mentioned worm parasites are contained and not spreading to other children. This work is not done overnight but is a continuous process of community engagement; activism and lobbying so that they learn the importance of early education, balanced diets and healthy children. That is why our programs are designed with a sustainability model so that these communities are able to move forward after we have moved on from their community to another.
I hope this gives more insight and understanding into how and why we are passionate about early childhood education and development.
Until next time,
When, indeed, shall we learn that we are all related one to the other, that we are all members of one body? Until the spirit of love for our fellow men, regardless of race, color, or creed, shall fill the world, making real in our lives and our deeds the actuality of human brotherhood ˜ until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each others' welfare, social justice can never be attained. -Helen Keller