The State Of Early Childhood Education In Rural Malawi

MZIMBA, MALAWI – Hilda Kamanga, a child from Moses Maunda village in Mzimba, is expected to set her foot in a classroom for the first time this year. She now qualifies to start school having reached 6 years, the recommended age to start primary education in Malawi.

Two years ago, Hilda could have been enrolled in a school due to the availability of Community Based Child Care Centers (CBCCCs), which are key Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centers available in rural areas. However, the only center in the area recently closed its doors.

“Two years ago by this time I could have had an idea how my child will catch-up in class as I did with her elder brother who had the privilege of attaining early childhood education before starting primary school,” Hilda’s mother, Masozi Kanyasko told Rural Reporters.

“Of course she is clever but my worry comes because I don’t know how she will cope with someone she doesn’t know. If she had the chance to attend nursery school I [would be] certain she will perform as she will have already been used to interacting with other people she doesn’t know,” Kanyasko explained.

The State of Early Child Education and Development in Malawi

In Malawi, even though there is an increase in primary school enrollment in the country, more than 70 percent of eligible children still lack access to early childhood education.

To tackle this issue, between 2005 and 2015, EveryChild, an International Non-Governmental organization implemented a ‘Child Protection Project’ and through the project, Malawi saw the establishment of a number of CBCCCs.

With the establishment of CBCCCs, children in the area had access to early childhood education for the first time. But following the phasing out of the project, many CBCCCs in the area are no longer operating leaving Hilda and thousands of other children with no other option but wait until they turn 6 years of age to access education.

There are a number of challenges that are contributing to poor early childhood development services – ranging from, CBCCCs operating in dilapidated structures and in worst scenarios under trees, the absence of formal training institutions for caregivers, caregivers not being motivated as they work for free, the absence of a curriculum, inadequate funding to the sector as well as leaving establishment of the centres in the hands of NGOs thus affecting sustainability of the centres once an NGO leaves the area.

“The current state of affairs leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, there seems to be lack of commitment from the government in the way the services are being rendered in this particular sector,” Chairperson for Mzimba District Education Network (MZIDEN), Teckson Amadu said.

“If you critically look at the sector it is mostly dominated by the private sector of which if you look at the social contract or the modalities at which we are supposed to work, the CSOs or NGOs are supposed to merely complement the government’s efforts but you see that the primary duty bearer which is the government seem to be running from its responsibility,” Amadu said.

He added, “ECD services currently are not taken as a priority but we would like it to be prioritized. The government has to allocate more resources towards the ECD sector, the resources to be used in motivating caregivers through incentives as well as training for caregivers and also ensuring the availability of all necessary materials needed.”

Increasing demand for ECD services

Despite these challenges, the demand for ECD services is rising.

“It is really helping us as those children graduating from CBCCCs are already prepared for education making it easy for them to catch up,” Martin Nzima, Head Teacher at Chiseng’ezi Primary School said. “They are already clever and they know a lot of things let alone are used to interacting with an [older person] who is not their relative.”

“For learners that have never attended preparatory education, it is very difficult for them to catch up and even very difficult for us as teachers to assist them because the learners are many as compared to the staff making it difficult for us to offer individual assistance,” Nzima said.

“With us failing to offer individual assistance it results in those students that have difficulties to catch up to continue in that state, as a result, we have a lot of students not performing well in higher classes,” he said.

Formalizing ECD services in Malawi

Bent on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which states that children need to receive preparatory education before starting primary education, the government of Malawi has stepped up efforts to formalize and improve ECD services in the country.

A $44.9million grant was awarded to the government by Global Partnership for Education, an international organization committed to improving access to education in the world’s poorest countries. The grant which runs between 2016 and 2020 would support the Malawi education sector improvement (MESIP) and ensure equitable access to qualitative education for early grade levels, according to the information on their website.

“My ministry is very committed [in] ensuring the g provision of quality ECD services.  We have revised our ECD policy, which now is awaiting full Cabinet approval. This is an indication that there is the political will to invest more in ECD services,” Malawi Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Dr. Jean Kalilani said.

“Currently, three authorized training institutions for caregivers have been established for the formal training of ECD Caregivers with the training offered at various levels ranging from basic, comprehensive, mentorship, supervisory to the training of trainers of ECD Caregivers,” Kalilani said.

In addition to establishing training institutions, Kalilani said the curriculum for children is under development through the development of Early Learning Development Standards (ELDS).

“Content validation of the ELDS has been finalized and we have embarked on the process of finalizing the age validation of the ELDS,” she said. “This is essential because, at each age, there are some critical developmental milestones for children that need to be reached, which caregivers and parents/guardians ought to be aware of.”

Kalilani said they are also mobilizing NGOs to construct model ECD centers in addition to what the ministry is constructing through local councils.

“This year we are committed to building at least 30 model ECD centers using funding from the government. NGO partners such as Action Aid International in Malawi, Save the Children, World Relief Malawi and World Vision International just to mention but a few will also continue building model centers in their impact areas in line with their targets,” she said.

Kalilani also explained that the government would continue training at least 2,000 ECD caregivers and 30 Regional trainers annually to ensure the provision of quality services.

“We are mobilizing all stakeholders in ECD through the ECD Week of Action, which is commemorated every year around September/October to establish and construct quality ECD centres. We are increasing the financial contribution from government resources. Since 2014, the level has increased from a budget of MK50 million (about US$67 114) to MK615 million (about US$825 503) in 2017/18 financial year,” Kalilani said.

The increase in funding towards ECD services in Malawi is a welcome news among activists but they hope the funding will keep on increasing as the current funding is not yet enough.

Sustaining ECD services in Malawi

In order to sustain the centers, Kalilani said through the implementation of quality improvement of services for vulnerable children, they are building the capacity of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in collaboration with NGOs.

“This will ensure that when NGOs projects phase out, the CBOs would manage to sustain the interventions. As for the CBOs that are already managing ECD centers, we are encouraging them to establish more centers alongside strengthening their capacities for managing ECD services,” she said.

Kalilani said they are currently intensifying efforts on raising public awareness on the importance of ECD services in the development of children and prosperity of the country and they are heading into making ECD services compulsory.

“The Sustainable Development Goal number 4 target 2 compels UN Member States to provide ECD services to all 5-year-olds so that they are ready for schooling. Fortunately, in some districts some communities have made attendance of the children at an ECD Centre prior to enrolling in Standard 1 compulsory,” Kalilani said.

“Progressively we are heading towards making ECD services compulsory as the country continues to make more investments in this phase of child development,” she said.

Kalilani further said that they intend to start paying some honorarium to ECD caregivers as part of raising commitment to reduce the rate at which caregivers who serve on volunteer basis drop out of the program.

“We conducted a mapping exercise, where it was revealed that 43 percent of trained caregivers had dropped out of the programme due to lack of motivation. In response to this challenge, my ministry has proposed to the government to consider paying some honorarium to ECD Caregivers to raise their level of commitment to the programme,” Kalilani said.

I am Kelvin Tembo, a 29-year-old male independent professional journalist from Malawi. I am a holder of a Certificate in Journalism obtained in 2010 from the Malawi Institute of Journalism. I have also had special media training on covering infectious diseases by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) in collaboration with Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA), Climate Change and Development Training by the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), etc. I have been in the media industry since December 2011 covering health, environment, human rights, agriculture, politics and development. My work has also been featured on www.capitalradiomalawi.com, www.eufrika.org and an online fashion magazine www.welum.com. I like reporting on rural livelihoods and events. I believe in journalism being a ‘calling’ to serve the interests of the voiceless. Connect on Twitter: @kelvinvitima

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