Friday, December 8, 2017

Zim 2018 Budget: A case for investment in ECD

Early Childhood Development: A case for increased investment

Reference is made to the recent Zimbabwe National Budget Statement presented by Hon. P.A Chinamasa, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development on the 7th of December 2017. As a staunch advocate of increased investment and expenditure in early childhood development, I noted with dismay the reduced investment on the same by the Honourable Minister.

The first years of life are important, because what happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. It is now common cause that learning starts in infancy, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life. Infact at the World Conference for Education for All held in Jomtein, Thailand in 1990 it was widely adopted that Education begins at birth. The year 2000 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, Prof James Hackman argues that early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure. Thus success or failure at this stage lays the foundation for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school learning. Recent studies of early childhood investments in the developed world have shown remarkable success and indicate that the early years are important for early learning. Moreover, early childhood interventions of high quality have lasting effects on learning and motivation. Reading through the budget statement one gets the notion that the State would want to relegate this responsibility to parents and communities. Whilst parents are indeed the childs best teacher, there has to be a formalized way of ensuring that the gains that the previous administration were beginning to make in this sector are not lost. It would be foolhardy to think that some of the comprehensive strides made by the previous head of the education ministry should be thrown away. Zimbabweans have had various issues to raise against the former minister and rightly so, however I must hasten to say that there was some great work done in order to position the country as a regional model in the provision of early childhood development services in the country.

Over and above the ECD curriculum and teaching standards mentioned by the Finance Minister, Zimbabwe needs to develop and adopt a comprehensive Early Childhood Development Policy that will ensure standardization of service provision and ensure our young children are wholly supported. Indeed parents and communities have provided the backbone supportive services through engaging as para-professional teachers and as community caregivers this still needs to be buttressed by a policy that addresses play material, furnishing of ECD classrooms, pedagogical methods and renovation or construction of ECD classrooms.

Hon Finance Minister, paying salaries for qualified ECD teachers should indeed be a priority for the government if we are to move towards the New Economic Order No one should be left behind, children should in fact be at the forefront as they access what they need to grow to be responsible citizens of the nation and the world. Let not this burden be placed on the parents again, let the government begin to invest more in this, because the long term gains are there and research in this area has proved it time and again. Indeed there are multiple economic returns for the case of investing in Early Childhood Development that Zimbabwe will be able to reap. Whilst I understand the need to be prudent with available resources, also missing from the current budget for is consideration of priorities or recognition of the need to prioritize early childhood development. Unfortunately, in an era of tight government budgets, it is impractical to consider active investment program for all persons. The real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: invest in the very young and improve basic learning and socialization skills.

If we are to move towards a New Economic Order then we need to quadruple the amount of money allocated to ECD. As a country, we cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, or even wait until they are in Grade 1 or 2, we need to start earlier. We cannot leave this to a time when at times it may be too late to intervene.

Patrick Makokoro

Nhaka Foundation

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Improving infrastructure critical in education

Improving school infrastructure in rural Zimbabwe
It was with great honour and sense of commitment that Nhaka Foundation participated in the official handover ceremony of newly built classrooms at Govera Primary School a week ago. Nhaka Foundation has always sought for opportunities that ensure that children attending primary school in Zimbabwe are provided with a clean learning environment that also stimulates their cognitive and motor abilities during their growth phase.

Nhaka Foundations’ approach to ECD recognises that interventions are cumulative and synergistic, that the maximum benefit in one age group is derived from experiences in earlier age groups, and that interventions in one generation bring benefits to successive generations. The evidence is clear: it is in the early years of human life that the fundamentals of a child’s emotional, intellectual, social and physical development are laid, establishing the building blocks for a pathway into the future. Without good parenting, health, nutrition and education, developmental delays can occur that are difficult to correct later in life. Early childhood development (ECD) takes place in a range of settings: homes, schools, health facilities, early learning playgroups and community-based programmes.

Since establishment, ten years ago, Nhaka Foundation has continued to look for ways to improve access to education for our young children in Zimbabwe especially those that fall into the early childhood development space. Whilst we celebrated an entire school that has been constructed, Nhaka Foundation also wants to pay particular focus to early childhood development or what is known as ECD. ECD provides a strong foundation for entering school with the social, emotional, and pre-academic skills needed for learning.

We cannot afford not to invest in ECD. Not investing means a loss of opportunities but also contributes to the accumulation of inequalities and condemns generations to deprivation and under performance.

Here are some links to some articles on the work carried out at Govera Primary school;

Until next time,

Patrick Makokoro

Executive Director

Nhaka Foundation

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Investing in ECD is way to go

Dear Friends,
In this submission, I am reproducing an article that we submitted to a local newspaper earlier in the year where we highlighted the importance of investing in early childhood development. You can also view the original newspaper article here

In a response to "The socio-economic dangers of sending children to school at too young an age" as an early childhood development (ECD) practitioner, I want to provide an informed perspective on the benefits of investing in early education for our children. International evidence attests to the life-long benefits of appropriate early childhood interventions. The evidence is clear: it is in the early years of human life that the fundamentals of a child’s emotional, intellectual, social and physical development are laid, establishing the building blocks for a pathway into the future. Without good parenting, health, nutrition and education, developmental delays can occur that are difficult to correct later in life.

We have to know that ECD takes place in a range of settings: homes, schools, health facilities, early learning play groups and community-based programmes. It includes activities such as childcare, nutrition support, parenting and early stimulation interventions. Additionally, these services can be provided through private, public and non-governmental agencies. Hence, you see the sprouting of ECD centres at almost every corner in the country. The brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life. The ongoing interchange between genes and different environments – within which children are born, grow, learn and live – shapes the developing brain.

During these critical years, the foundation is laid for a child’s physical and mental health, affecting everything from longevity to the lifelong capacity to learn, from the ability to adapt to change to the capacity for resilience against adverse circumstances. Therefore, it is important that the continuum of ECD begins at conception and goes through to the primary school stage. Within this continuum, there are four stages of development, each of which presents specific needs. Interventions at appropriate stages in early development can play a protective role and ensure the wellbeing of young children in the long term. 

That the government has developed a “new” policy is not a true fact. This has already been there dating back to 1980. But, off course, with new developments, there has been need to modify our existing practices in line with global trends.In fact, statistics gleaned from the ministry show that 95-97% of our public schools have designated facilities for ECD. Functionality of these facilities is then another matter for debate.

I absolutely see no commercial basis for the ministry to push for ECD at all public schools.Entrepreneurs have been quick to commercialise this, possibly because they now understand the rationale behind ECD. Would it not be good if the same good standards and resources such as play centres, information communication technology equipment for these children are found in our public institutions? 
We have to have public/private partnerships that support the public ECD centres. The more equipped and resourced these centres are, the greater opportunity for our nation’s children to benefit from great public school based ECD facilities. I am by no means a spokesperson for the ministry, but I am trying to assist the writer to gain an understanding on why investment in ECD is critical for our nation.

Patrick Makokoro
Executive Director