Improving ECD classroomsThe history of Nepali Montessori education, which focuses on Early Childhood Development (ECD), traces back to 1949 meaning it started concomitantly with modern schooling in the country.
The history of Nepali Montessori education, which focuses on Early Childhood Development (ECD), traces back to 1949 meaning it started concomitantly with modern schooling in the country.
Conceptualised and practised by Maria Montessori in early 1900, the teaching method entered Nepal during Rana regime. KU Bhanmara and Mohandevi Bhanmara from India were hired to teach Montessori schooling in Durbar High School. Currently over 36,000 pre-schools called Montessori or ECD have been set-up across the nation with private sectors having some 20% shares. It has been scientifically proven that a one dollar investment on a child in ECD gives returns of six dollar to the economy. Prioritising ECD is very important as over 90 percent of brain development (which shape cognitive, physical, emotional and social aspects of a child) is developed in this early period. This is important for nurturing critical thinking, self-directed learning and independent thought among young children as it promotes children to learn through experiences. It is basically a construction of a framework for knowledge within a child by introducing them to different concepts and experiences in carefully prepared environments.
A study of recent data from the Department of Education shows that around 60 percent of students enrolled in grade one had come from a pre-school background and their retention rate was over 80 percent. Similarly, their performance in grade one was significantly better than those who did not go to pre-school or early childhood development classes. Lately, the number of pre-schools has gone up in Nepal as many parents nowadays believe that such institutions help in creating a good foundation for their children’s education and thus ensure a comfortable career in future.
Despite having a long history and an immense importance in terms of shaping the future of a child, not much has been done towards promoting ECD. While the ECD run by the government often don’t have qualified teachers and lack education materials and infrastructure, many pre-schools operated by the private sectors also don’t actually follow the precepts of ECD. Pre-schooling needs to avoid any kinds of pressure among the children and has to be focused in learning by playing. “We have found many schools teaching alphabets and asking the children below five years of age to write. This is against the true spirit of ECD,” said Mana Wagle an education expert.
The government on the other hand hasn’t truly embraced ECD as a crucial part of learning. The facilitators in the government run ECD’s are paid very low wages, which contributes to their huge turn over rate. The classrooms aren’t child friendly nor do they have the required educational and play materials that are crucial for a pre-school to have. The government hardly provides funds to maintain the material and their efforts are always short of ‘enough’.
The Article 39 (3) of the Constitution of Nepal has ensured that every child has a right to ECD while the Education Act in ninth amendment has further incorporated the provision. The Local Level Governance Act endorsed a few months back setting the background for the implementation of the statute authorizing the local governments to manage the sector. Kunti Rana executive director of Setogurans Child Development Services, an NGO which has been working in ECD for more than three decades, says now that the issue has been addressed legally and it needs to be translated into proper implementation.
She believes there should a programme in place to make aware the elected representatives of the local government on the value of ECD so that they can prioritise it in their policy. Similarly, separate programmes targeting the principals, school management committee and teachers are fundamental for progress. “The local governments now should make available nutritious food in schools while also providing ECD training at the local level,” she said adding there should also be a provision outlining to parents the importance of caring for the children from the time they are in the womb to the age of five. Arguing that the monitoring and supervision in government schools is too weak, she suggests that the local government should have strong monitoring policy in place to make sure the children in ECD programmes are being cared and nurtured properly. “A strong local government if want can bring about a massive improvement in the education sector. As every activity within their area are clearly known to them, they have an onus to make the best use of that,” Rana added.