In Uganda, Global Action for Education Week highlighted by a call to expand Early Childhood Development programmes
By Ijuka Agnes Barongo
“I can sing, I can dance, I can play and I can learn!” chorused the young children from Wakiso Muslim Early Childhood Development Centre. With smiles, clapping and jumps, they sang with joy, basking in their moment in front of a large audience of teachers, ministers, parliamentarians and caretakers.
The children were joined by Lilian Mbabazi, the well-known Ugandan musician, in marking the launch of an ECD Communication Pack by the Ministry of Education. The pack, which contains DVDs, fact sheets and other advocacy materials, was developed with support from UNICEF, the National Council of Children (Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development) and Plan International.
The event coincided with this year’s Global Action for Education Week, and included a special guest of honor, the First Lady of Uganda.
First Lady of Uganda calls for increased investment in ECD
The First Lady, Honourable Janet Kataha Museveni, who is also a Member of Parliament and a vocal advocate for children’s rights, asked that communities and parliamentarians alike do their part to help improve access to quality ECD.
“The Early Childhood Development Communication Pack should be strategically used to inform the public about the need to take children to ECD Centres, and I call upon communities to get involved in such programmes,” she said.
She called on Members of Parliament to accelerate support towards the efforts of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children, to increase annual investment and financing of Early Childhood Development in the Education Sector, and improve on the numbers of children enrolled into ECD Centres that are based in rural communities.
Progress made, but challenges persist
In collaboration with UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Sports and partners have made major strides in the development of an Early Childhood Development policy, standards, baseline data collection and capacity building.
Currently the policy and operational guidelines for ECD Centres are available for use in all 112 districts of Uganda. But participation in ECD remains low and certain challenges persist, including a lack of trained teachers and insufficient facilities.
Communal effort crucial to reach more children
ECD programmes play an important role for young children at the critical ages under 8 years, but many Ugandan children still lack access. Recent Ministry of Education figures show that only 6.2% of children aged 3-5 years old nationwide access ECD.
Yet children who are well nurtured and cared for in the earliest years are more likely to survive, and to develop thinking, language and social skills. They’re also more likely to enrol in primary school at the right age.
In the focus districts in which UNICEF works, around 15.5% of children are enrolled in ECD Centres, up from 2% in 2006 when UNICEF begun supporting Early Childhood Development in these districts.
Speaking at the event, the UNICEF Deputy Representative May Anyabolu emphasized the need for a renewed communal effort to expand access to and utilization of Early Childhood Development programmes.
“Children grow and learn the most when they receive affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition and health care. When more caregivers and communities take an active role in integrated Early Childhood Development, more children will be reached,” she said.