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School closures good for early childhood development - experts

The ongoing closure of schools has presented an advantage for early childhood development (ECD) and child nurturing which had been greatly abused in the recent past, educationists have said.

Elizabeth Kisakye, the senior education officer in charge of ECD at the ministry of Education and Sports notes that previously ECD had been focused solely on classroom learning where pre-schoolers were forced to cram numeracy and literacy. Yet, she says early childhood development is critical for the wellbeing, and future holistic development of the child. 

She says that with the advent of nursery schools, early childhood development was poorly defined and limited to formal learning that even when the ministry developed a learning framework for children at this level, it was ignored.

“The lockdown has placed the children where they belong. The parents can now ensure that they help the development of their children’s capabilities, health, physical growth, and good social habits. Ideally, this is what must be happening,” Kisakye notes.       

Kisakye, also a child psychologist, says that bad early childhood education has negatively influenced children's brain development.

“Imagine, this young one between two to six years wakes up at 5 am and return home late in the evening. Subjected to routine and rules.”    

Fagil Mande, a senior educationist, shares a similar perspective, stressing that with the lockdown, the infants are being put off the pressure and getting time to stay with their parents to learn life skills and values which will be of great importance at their next stage of development.  

"If you look at it scientifically, each year a child spends at school for a minimum of eight months out of 12. Which means that the parent would have that opportunity to live with the children for four months. And four months is not all the four months. So when you add the first three years of middle [class], nursery maybe the whole learning has been thrown to the school," said Mande. 

"Many parents have not looked at the face of their children even for five minutes. So there is a big estrangement between the mother and father, and the children which means of course that the parents have not actually played their role of equipping their children with the necessary survival skills, living skills, working skills, interpersonal skills, personal skills. They have not equipped their children with those schools." Mande added.

Closed gate at Kings of Kings Junior schools in Kamwokya

He notes that besides the ‘hyped madness’ of taking young children to school for early schooling, the ideal early childhood development should take place at home with parents giving the prime guidance and supervision. He adds that the lockdown has placed everything into normalcy with parents reclaiming their roles in child naturing.      

"Those early first eight years are very very critical, that is when the brain is being wired. Now who’s wiring that brain? For the time being because now we have started sending children to school at the age of three…age of four [but] that should be the time of when the child should be with the mother and the father when they are wiring the brains of this child. Early childhood is the most important stage when the child should be at home," Mande says. 

"Unfortunately now with the blind popularisation of early childhood education, parents think that the child is better off at the day school rather than at home. This is the longest many parents have remained at home with their children, even looking at them, hearing their voices, hearing their ideas. So we can say from the positive angle, the parents can take advantage of the COVID time now to listen to their children more in order to understand them. The parents can spend more time now talking and sharing ideas with their children. The parents can now spend more time now directly teaching skills."

Indeed the lockdown experience is good even in the eyes of the children. Gideon Mwanja, a seven-year-old of two working-class parents from Ntinda is excited about the experience. The joyful boy shares that he had never spent that much time with his parents.      

"I feel good because now I can spend much time with my parents. I know that I spend a lot of time with them, in school, I used to miss them. I used to watch TV [alone] but now in lockdown I watch with my parents at least when I go to school, I can’t think about them too much. Me, I wash the breakfast utensils, I pick these leaves that have fallen down and sometimes sweep there on the grass." Mwanja said. 

However, to some parents spending all that long with children at home has been a nightmare. Diana Akello, a mother of two children all below eight, says that although she was also excited about having her children at home, she later discovered that it a difficult task and wish schools reopen soon.    

Mande acknowledges that some parents have parenting challenges. He rather notes that there was a missed opportunity for the government and non-government organizations to run programs guiding parents on how better they could do their duties to the benefit of their children most especially during such a long ‘God-given’ holiday.  

Although some children have been able to get seemingly better development during this period, some parents are still hunting for reading materials for these learners to keep them busy. Kisakye despises the practice emphasizing that parents should have fully utilized the moment to understand their children, teach them morals among other important life skills fit for their age.      

“Parents think that classwork learning is the only way their kids can get knowledge which is not true. A lot of learning takes place from things that happen at home daily; eating morals, playing with others, housework to develop their tactile abilities among others. All this form better child nurturing and form a firm foundation for future learning,” she argues.             

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