The Education sector recognizes Early Childhood Development (ECD) as the first level of education but many youngsters are still missing out on this essential service since ECD centers are largely in the hands of the private sector.
In a move aimed at ensuring that more children get access to ECD services, the ministry of Education and Sports has tasked local governments to review their guidelines for registering and licensing these institutions, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.
According to the commissioner of Basic Education at the ministry, Dr Cleophus Mugenyi, some ECD centers have been erroneously denied licenses by local governments before reviewing their mode of operation.
“We have found out that local governments are not issuing licenses to some ECDs because most of our inspectors have either a primary or secondary background and don’t appreciate the benefits of ECD learning. Inspectors mainly focus on permanent classrooms, which is not what we need for ECD,” Mugenyi said.
He added that teaching in ECDs should be conducted through play in a safe environment not necessarily in huge permanent classrooms. This, he said, can be done through the provision of space in a room or tree shade for children to study using locally-available materials like sticks, straws, and bottle tops, among others.
In some schools, stones are also used but the ministry discourages them as children can easily harm themselves. Mugenyi was speaking at the annual retreat of the Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE), an indigenous NGO that focuses on literacy and basic education interventions, at Eureka Place hotel in Kampala last week. According to the Local Government Act, pre-primary and primary education is a decentralized service.
The Education ministry, through the Directorate of Education Standards, came up with Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards (BRMS) that are supposed to be followed in establishing the ECD centers. Mugenyi argued that inspectors ought to consider the environment and circumstances under which these centers are established to license them rather than strictly following the BRMS as issued by the ministry.
“There’s nothing like uniform standards for operating ECD centers. We have people who establish the centers purely to make money but we have faith-based organizations that are providing an opportunity for children to access education at an early age. Such centers are not aiming at profit maximization – some operate from their places of worship or home-based – and the local governments need to grant them licenses,” he said.
He commended LABE for its non-formal ECD model targets children ages three to five in local communities of Gulu, Nwoya, Koboko, Obongi, and now stretched to Yumbe and Terego effective this year. Speaking at the retreat, the executive director of LABE, Stellah K Tumwebaze, said whereas non-formal ECD learning is the way to go, stakeholders are struggling to get licenses from local governments.
“When you talk about ECD, most policymakers and the general public think about the structured formal primary education with highly trained teachers and materials, studying in English for a week from 8 am to mid-day while others stretch to 5 pm which is all wrong,” Tumwebaze said.
She added: “ECD learning is about the readiness of the child for primary one. Government should scale up non-formal ECD in its policies because we find it more inclusive and not necessarily fee-based but mobilizing the community of about 10 households and create a learning center for the young ones.”
LABE invests in training the caregivers and providing instructional materials but the community has an upper hand in the learning process of their children. In the rural settings, Tumwebaze said children aged four and five are still walking as far as four kilometres to access a nearby primary school due to a lack of quality ECD centers.
Mugenyi also expressed concern about the growing number of ECDs operating illegally.
“The inspectors at the local governments are insisting that they must meet the approved standards but don’t close them. That’s the irony yet inspectors have the power to close any education institution that does not meet the BRMS,” he said.
He appealed to inspectors to ensure that proprietors and foundation bodies of ECD centers are guided on the necessary steps of licensing and registering their institutions.
According to the 2019 report on the Master List of Education Institutions in Uganda (MEIU), there were 28,194 private pre-primary schools with an enrolment of more than two million learners across the country. Of these, 59 per cent of the schools were unlicensed. The report indicated that of the 28,194 pre-primary schools, only 8,531 were licensed to operate for a period of three years and 2,945 schools were fully registered. Most of the unlicensed schools [16,718] were located in South and North Buganda.
The MEIU report called for more government involvement in the operation of pre-primary education.
“There may be a need for a deliberate public investment in pre-primary education and the corresponding teaching staff with enough pool of skilled teachers in ECD programs. This could lead to a reduction in the cost of education at this level hence enticing more parents to enroll their children.”
The national education master list exercise covered all the 128 districts in Uganda existing in FY2018/19.