Build the basicsComprehensive early childhood care and education should be enhanced and bettered
The endeavour to generate a productive workforce starts early. The first six years of a child’s life is decisive for effective development.
A healthy, happy and caring environment contributes to sustainable growth and development. And a comprehensive approach to creating such an environment is possible through the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme.
ECD centres in Nepal have a vital role to play in the transition to school, resulting in higher promotion rates in Grade I and lower dropout rates later on. Research has shown that children with playgroup experience not only have greater literacy and numeracy skills, but also demonstrate enhanced social skills.
The history of early childhood education in Nepal is not so old. In 1999, an Early Childhood Development Section was established under the Department of Education to look after the country’s ECD development needs.
The National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Development was developed in 2004 to speed implementation of the National Policy on ECD. The goal was to promote a comprehensive approach to ECD programmes for children aged three to five years to safeguard their rights to fully develop their physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, spiritual and moral potential.
At the national level, a National Early Childhood Development Council was formed in 2005 under the Ministry of Education and Sports.
This council provided a broad base to harmonise ECD activities and ensure coordination among national and local level programmers. It was further focused in the School Sector Reform Project. The new Education Act has embedded ECD education in mainstream formal education.
There are around 35,000 ECD centres in operation in the country. Privately run Montessori and playgroup classes are similar to preschool education in several respects. These centres serve more than one million children aged three to six years.
At the local level, the Village or Municipal Education Committee is responsible for coordinating child development activities. Apart from government efforts, non-governmental organisations are also expanding their programmes in early education.
Most of these organisations support midday meals, educational materials, playthings, classroom renovation and teacher training.
There has been satisfactory expansion of ECD centres in the country in recent years.
However, there is no information about the actual learning situation and the quality of services provided. Field visits have revealed that the under- and over-aged children are being enrolled, and children of Grade I and ECD age are studying together in the same classroom. ECD teachers lack technical skills and knowledge to address the psychosocial aspects of young children. Lack of a baseline survey, random organisational support and little coordination between stakeholders and parents are added challenges in raising the quality of early education in Nepal. All these factors affect the holistic development of children.
Enrolment in a preschool is not the complete solution, parent education and student retention are also required. Monopoly in running preschools, poor infrastructure, varied teaching methods, seasonal ennoblement, irregular attendance and inadequate nutritious midday meals are still pressing issues in ECD education in Nepal. Despite efforts by the government and INGOs and NGOs, the quality and sustainability of ECD programmes leave a lot to be desired. The government claims that almost all ECD teachers are trained, but the presence of an effective and joyful learning environment is repeatedly questioned. There seems to be laxity in the use of locally available materials and food. There is also the issue of overlaps in support and support-seeking trend of community schools.
As preschools are the foundation of a good education and healthy social development, it is necessary to enhance and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Teachers should keep their distance from political influence and traditional pedagogy. The greater the use of local materials and products, the greater the improvement in children’s learning and health there will be. It is equally necessary to look into the quality of ECD centres and streamline the ECD programme in terms of remuneration to encourage teachers and build their capacity. The need to provide refresher training and monitor the utility and use of training is often recommended. More focus should be given to student retention and learning achievement than to enrolment.
It is necessary to establish a clear target and objectives for the ECD programme. These aims and objectives need to be openly and regularly discussed with all those involved. Parents and community people have to be aware of the needs of children.
The capacity of local governments to properly manage and operate preschool classes needs to be enhanced. National policies and frameworks have to be flexible and accessible to children from low income groups and disadvantaged sections of society.
In order to bring uniformity in services, it is urgent to invest in the foundation stage. The government and non-government sectors should work in collaboration to create the best ECD model in Nepal. At this point, a desk review of the present policies and practices undertaken by the government and development sectors would be advisable.
- Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation