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Early Childhood Development faces implementation hurdles

Over the last eight weeks, the education sector has been discussing school lunch, among other things. The education ministry has already expressed itself on the matter. But as FRANK KISAKYE found, this hasn't stopped discussion on the matter.

Ever wondered why with all the talent that Africa has, it has never gone beyond the quarterfinals of the World Cup?

The answer, according to the commissioner for Children Affairs, Mondo Kyateeka, lies in nutrition offered to children under the Early Childhood Development (ECD). Kyateeka, whose mandate is in the ministry of Labour, Gender and Social Development, believes that during the first five years of a child’s life, 90 per cent of their brain develops.

“The first 1,000 days of a child are extremely important”, says Kyateeka. “The families in which we grow up are not the same. Many parents are now [too busy] for their children.”

He is convinced that the early environment and relationships are important to the development of a child’s character and intelligence.

“If you are not ready to parent, please don’t execute [the activity that leads to children] … people are not loving anymore. We need to be ashamed and reposition ourselves to do better,” he said.

The concerns were expressed at a meeting of local leaders in Kabale last month. The meeting was called as part of the regional activation event of National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy of Uganda (NIECD).

School children have a meal at school. Nutrition in schools remains a challenge

NO MONEY, NO PROBLEM

Like many government-backed projects, local leaders were not expected to hear that this one did not have a lot of finances.

“This is not a programme that is going to have a lot of finances, but is integrating ECDs at all UPE schools. You have the leverage to come up with by-laws in your respective areas,” Kyateeka said.

The meeting was developed on the back of a Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) report from 2011, which showed that 42 per cent of children in Kabale were living with stunted growth. Consequently, a nutrition programme has been developed in Muko sub-county (soon to be Rubanda district), according to Immaculate Mandela, the acting district health officer.

Mandela says the problem in the area was not lack of food, but ignorance on how to prepare the food to offer maximum nutritional value to the children and their parents.

Mandela hopes that village nutrition committees will teach parents how to prepare meals with groundnuts, mukene (silver cyprinid) and posho as a single dish, among other varieties.

Minced meat, groundnuts and Irish potatoes is another option, also cooked as a single dish. Meat can also be cooked with groundnuts and rice together.

“The men don’t want to come for these [cooking] trainings, Mandela says. Indeed, during the demonstration at Kabale playground, only one man, a pastor at Kaato Church of Uganda, Dickson Amushabe, turned up.

“I’m going to pass on this information to my folk. I have seen how the children have liked the porridge that was prepared by these [district] people. The children were all asking for more [food], which means [these people] know how to prepare food for children,” Amushabe added.

HURDLES

However, the integration of nutrition into ECD in schools faces a structural hurdle. The coordinating ministry (education) is yet to get involved with the programme.

Officially, primary education starts at primary level and government schools do not offer nursery education. So 98 per cent of all early learning centres (nursery schools) in the country are under the private sector.

Consequently, early childhood education still remains just an option for parents with means, especially in urban areas. The Kabale meeting called for the harmonisation of policy and strategies at all levels of government and private sector from national to community levels.

Only recently, education minister Janet Museveni has insisted that the state will not succumb to calls for government to feed children in schools. She argued that the state was reserving its funds for other programmes, such as improving infrastructure.

Instead, the minister has left the door open for parents to liaise with school administrations to work out viable measures, agreeable to both parties. For instance in Kamuli, parents have agreed to contribute dry rations to be prepared at school for their children. Kyateeka says other local governments can embrace this model.

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