There has been significant expansion of ECD programs over the last 15 years. UNICEF and various NGOs, especially Save the Children, PLAN International, and the national NGO, Seto Gurans National Child Development Services, play key roles in ECD in Nepal, often in cooperation with different ministries, local government bodies, and community groups or local NGOs. Early childhood field programs supported by Save the Children in Nepal consist of linked parenting programs and community-based ECD centers operated entirely by local partner NGOs. The centers, run by local women, provide an expanded range of experience for these children, encouraging culturally-appropriate active learning and helping them develop skills that will enable them to make good use of whatever learning opportunities are offered in school and elsewhere. Facilitators lead the children in a simple, planned program using a range of low-cost materials, offering a mix of directed activities and opportunities for free play.
This report describes an early childhood program in Nepal and the dramatic effects it has had over just a few years, not only for young children, but for their families and communities. It looks, in particular, at the impact the program has had on children’s transition to school, a significant issue in a country where many children never start school and where those who do start drop out in large numbers during the first and second year.
The study took place in 38 communities that have ECD centers in an extremely impoverished district in the eastern terai; the research on which this report looked at critical numbers and trends – enrollment rates, passing rates, school retention, gender and ethnic breakdowns. Equally important, it drew on people's experiences, opinions and observations in an attempt to understand the dynamics underlying these trends.
Findings and Conclusions:
The ECD children are described by both parents and teachers as being well-prepared and enthusiastic about starting school. Their confidence and communication skills (including in the case of minority group children, familiarity with the Nepali language), their ease with adults, their propensity for learning, the fact that they are accustomed to regular attendance, all help to smooth the transition. In many cases, teachers make use of ECD children's capacity to encourage and support other children, and note that they are generally raising the level of expectation within classrooms.
Almost all the children who have participated in ECD programs in this study start school. At least 95 percent of the 935 children who have gone through the ECD centers included in this study have ended up on the school lists, and the great majority of these appear to have joined school at the appropriate age (six years old). ECD facilitators and the district supervisor all confirm that it is very rare for an ECD child not to start school.
Differences in school starting rates are especially striking for girls and for children from disadvantaged groups. National figures for the district for 1999 indicate that almost twice as many boys as girls go to school. In the schools the study looked at, there is a 61/39 (boy/girl) ratio for children with no ECD centre experience. Within the ECD group, initial enrollment of boys and girls is about equal. In Siraha as a whole, only 30.5 percent of dalit children are estimated to be enrolled in the five primary grades. Among the ECD group, there is a slightly higher rate of dalit children who have started school compared to their non-dalit peers — over 95 percent have started school.
The parents of the ECD children, accustomed to an active role at the centers, are more likely to talk to teachers, to show an interest in their children's progress, to engage actively with the school management committee, raise issues that concern them, and even to call for accountability from teachers and administrators. Like their children, these parents provide a model and a catalyst, raising expectations and pointing to alternative kinds of engagement within the schools. This increased willingness of parents who have been involved with an ECD center, to engage with the formal school system is an unanticipated, yet highly significant, outcome. It's been established in other settings that the involvement of parents is one of the most robust predictors for a child's success in school.
The success of these programs is testimony to the potential of constructive partnership. The collaborative efforts of community members and ECD centers, of the centers and local Village Development Committees, of Save the Children and local NGOs, have all been critical to the program. Most recently, the partnership with the District Education Office offers the promise of bringing these benefits to many more of Siraha’s children. Such partnerships are clearly the key to reaching hundreds of thousands more children and families in Nepal, helping them, in tangible ways, to recognize and achieve their rights.
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Early Childhood Development
Save the Children, Children's Environments Research Group