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Kenya, 28 September 2016: Working together to spur early childhood development

The National ECDE Conference addresses challenges and opportunities

© UNICEF Kenya/2016/Serem
Cabinet Secretary for Education addresses participants of the National Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) Conference held from 26 - 27 September 2016 in Kisumu County, Kenya.

 
By Daisy Serem-Esinapwaka

KISUMU, Kenya, 28 September 2016 – In August 2010, Kenya ushered in a new dawn. A new constitution was promulgated and celebrated by many Kenyans across the country who held high expectations for a better life. One of the key features of the constitution was devolution, which was an opportunity to equalize the benefits of development to reach the marginalized and forgotten regions in the newly created 47 counties.

Power and resources were devolved to the counties, alongside several key functions of the national Government such as health, pre-primary education and child care services. Despite the teething problems, devolution has realized immense and tangible progress throughout the country.

For early childhood development education (ECDE) this is a step in the right direction; the numbers tell it all. In 2014, there were 40,219 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres spread across the 47 counties with a total enrolment of over three million children. This translates into higher enrolment and performance when the children move on to primary school.

Kenya, with the support of development partners like UNICEF, is fully committed to investing in ECDE as an obligation to its children. Nevertheless, implementation faces management and coordination challenges both at the national and county levels.

The National ECDE Conference that took place in Kisumu County on 26-27 September 2016 was the first consultative meeting between the national and county governments to celebrate the gains achieved for children and to address the key challenges. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, presided over the opening ceremony and commended the County Executive Committee members and Directors of Education for the tremendous work done to establish and manage ECDE centres.

“Some good work has been done so far, but we need to step up our game,” he said. “We must harmonize our capacities and resources for better coordination.”

It is no secret that the early years of a child’s life are crucial to their survival and development. Advances in neuroscience show that experiences in early childhood have a profound impact on brain development and on subsequent learning and health. Children require adequate nutrition, good health and early stimulation in order to experience long-term success throughout their school years, and indeed their entire lives.

© UNICEF Kenya/2016/Serem
Children at the Pandpieri ECDE Centre in Nyalenda Informal Settlement, Kisumu County.

 
At the PandPieri ECDE Centre in Nyalenda Informal settlement in Kisumu County, 72 young children have an opportunity to stimulate their minds by playing, learning and interacting in a child-friendly environment. The alphabet, numbers and all sorts of educational drawings colour the walls of the classrooms and a variety of toys and play materials are available for the children to enjoy.

The teachers at the centre are well-trained to engage the children in creative learning activities whilst also providing personal care and attention to build their confidence. A clean and well-stocked kitchen prepares nutritious school lunches.

UNICEF partnered with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to establish this ECDE centre, alongside two others in Homa Bay and Siaya Counties, implemented by Child Fund. The UNICEF Kenya Representative Werner Schultink, who attended the conference, stated that both the national and county governments should prioritize early childhood development and work together to achieve greater results.

“Early life matters enormously and ECDE is a driver of development,” he said. “A child doesn't think about accountabilities, counties or systems. They just expect, hope and deserve the best in life.”

But early childhood is more than just education. A child also requires good healthcare, nutrition, protection from violence, abuse and neglect, as an intrinsic link to brain development. The National ECDE conference therefore called on integration with other key sectors including the ministries of Health; Labour and Social Protection; Interior and Coordination of National Government.

One county that has made great strides in coordinating and integrating ECDE is Homa Bay County in western Kenya. The ECDE centres are linked to nearby health centres who, through their Community Health Volunteers, closely monitor the health and well-being of children including ensuring that their immunizations are up-to-date.

Eunice Owino, the Chief Officer for Education in Homa Bay County says, “If we want to achieve a lot in education we have to work closely together, both at national and county level. Together we can mould that child we want to see as a better citizen in 20 years to come.”

The Ministry of Education has made a commitment to set up a Directorate for Early Childhood Development Education which would work closely with the 47 county governments in the implementation of quality education. By working together with the National and County governments we can ensure that all children develop and realize their full potential.

 

 
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