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ZCSD’s campaign for early childhood education

WHILE prior to 2011, early childhood education was dominated by private sector providers, Government has in the last five years acted to ensure children aged three to six years get access to early schooling.
Among the initiatives by Government are the development of a national policy and implementation plan, curriculum and teaching materials; establishment of 1, 526 government early childhood education centres with an enrolment of over 70, 000 children; and recruitment and deployment of a total of 1, 025 teachers.
Government has also established the Early Childhood Education Directorate to enhance the growth of the sub-sector; increased the number of grade one entrants with early childhood experience to 15.4 percent by this year; and developed the Early Childhood Education Teacher Training Curriculum, which is being implanted in colleges of education.
Going forward, in order to enhance access to and improve the quality of early childhood education, the government, according to the Patriotic Front (PF) manifesto, shall establish community-based early childhood centres in all provinces and train, recruit and deploy more early childhood education teachers annually.
It will also develop and distribute teaching and learning materials as well as monitor closely early childhood centres.
The good part is that Government is not acting alone in promoting early childhood education.
The Zambia Governance Foundation (ZGF) in partnership with the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) has embarked on promoting early childhood education in various parts of the country.
The campaign has been launched in Chinsali, Mpika, Mporokoso and Luwingu districts of Muchinga and Northern provinces.
ZCSD executive director Lewis Mwape believes that education, if embraced at an early stage, can bridge the gap and end generational poverty.
“There is need to end generational poverty that has characterised various communities in most parts of the country,” Mr Mwape says.
“Education is critical in enhancing a country’s social economic development. It builds people’s abilities in terms of skills and the ability to receive and process information for livelihood choices.”
Despite this recognition, Mr Mwape says Zambia is yet to reach educational standards that are commensurate with sustainable development.
“An estimated 22 percent of the population has had no formal education. Of the total population, only 25 percent have completed lower primary, 27 percent upper primary, 13 percent junior secondary and 11 percent senior secondary,” he says.
It is estimated that Zambia currently has a population of around 14 million people of which six million are children under the age of 18. Out of this number, four million are of primary school age.
It is a young population.
It is estimated that over 250,000 children of school going age, between seven to 14 years, who are mainly from poor and vulnerable families, do not attend school due to a number of reasons.
But Mr Mwape says the situation is even worse for children in the pre-school category.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that there are no government run pre-school institutions in many rural parts of the country,” he says.
Indeed, nearly all of the pre-school education institutions are privately run and therefore demand fees that are mostly out of reach of the poor and vulnerable rural families.
In the past, local authorities used to run community social welfare centres where children of pre-school age attended pre-school education.
“But this has long been discontinued by all local authorities. In 2013, the government initiated a pilot programme to annex early childhood education centres to public primary schools mainly in urban-based schools,” Mr Mwape says.
“But the exercise has performed poorly due to a number of reasons, with several of the selected schools discontinuing the system.”
The biggest challenge in Zambia’s education sector, it seems, still remains improving access to and increasing the rates of attendance and literacy.
“Though there have been increased enrolment levels in primary schools from 2002 when free basic education was introduced, the quality of education has been affected owing to the increased pupil – teacher ratio and inadequate infrastructure and funding to the primary education sub-sector,” Mr Mwape says.
“This is more pronounced in the rural areas where children depend on the available public schools while their counterparts in urban areas have an option of enrolling in private schools which are readily available and since their parents can afford to pay the fees.
“The majority of the 47 percent of the children that fail to complete primary education are from poor families and rural- based children as well as girls and children with disabilities and special needs.”
Mr Mwape says the high pupil-teacher ratio, poor infrastructure, unequal distribution of resources, non-inclusive education governance systems, and the high number of community schools manned by untrained teachers among others, are unlikely to improve the situation soon if left unchanged.
Pascal Bwalya, who is the project co-ordinator at ZCSD, is confident that the campaign to promote early childhood education will prove successful.
Senior Chief Nkula of the Bemba people of Chinsali has welcomed the campaign and hopes it will benefit the girl child and the physically challenged.
The scenario on the ground is that most public institutions do not have the necessary infrastructure such as play parks, classroom decorations and toys that a child requires to be active.
Additionally, early childhood teacher recruitment has to be upped as few teachers were recruited for each district in the last teacher recruitment exercise.
Fortunately, the government is aware of this, and as a priority, it will train, recruit and deploy more early childhood education teachers annually.