On the occasion of the second national early childhood care and education symposium
It is an honour and a privilege for me to be here today at the Second National Early Childhood Care and Education Symposium.
Today I am speaking with you, not only as a UNICEF Representative, but as someone who cares deeply about the wellbeing of children and families in Uganda and as a parent of both boys and girls.
The theme of today’s Symposium “Mobilizing collective effort to accelerate access to quality and inclusive Early Childhood Care and Education” is of great importance, not only to the development and learning of young children, but also to the social and economic growth and development of Uganda. Research shows that investment in integrated Early Childhood Development and the provision of nurturing care, including opportunities for early learning/early childhood education yields a high return on investment. Investment in quality early childhood education produces significant effects on child’s achievement, encourages primary and secondary school retention and has long term positive impact on individual and country’s economic growth.
On the other hand, poor access to quality early learning experiences is often reflected in poor developmental outcomes for children which calls for an urgent need to expand access to and quality of early learning services. A recent study conducted by RTI International noted that in Uganda the extent of actual repetition in Primary One is around 50 per cent against official estimates of 10. Among other factors, the study attributed the high repetition rates to the absence of public pre-primary options, prompting parents/guardians to enroll young children in primary school, expecting them to repeat till they are developmentally ready to successfully complete Primary One.
As many of you may know, in Uganda, pre-school/early childhood education is exclusively provided by non-state actors including many of us gathered here today. The net enrolment ratio for pre-primary education is 16.4 per cent for girls and 14.9 per cent for boys. (The only time girls’ enrolment is higher compared to girls!) While access remains low country wide, the latest data shows a rising trend. We are making progress so let us continue on that pathway!
In addition to access, we must also address issues pertaining to equity and inclusion in Early Childhood Care and Education as vulnerable children from disadvantaged households, low-income communities, post-conflict areas and isolated communities cannot access pre-primary education given that most services are concentrated in urban areas and serve better off children (Education and Sports Sector Annual Performance Report, financial year 2016/17).
In order to support young children’s development and learning we must look at children holistically and also focus on the eco-system in which they live, including supporting their parents (mothers, fathers and other primary caregivers) and ECD caregivers.
While the number of qualified ECD caregivers has almost doubled from 16,741 (88 per cent female) in the FY 2015/16 to 26,363 (85 per cent female) in the FY 2016/17, there is an overall shortage of qualified ECD caregivers in most ECD centres, exacerbated by high turnover prompted by low or no pay and poor service conditions.
With regards to parents and primary caregivers evidence suggests that more and more caregivers are seeking early learning opportunities for their children. Unfortunately, they themselves often do not have opportunities to gain knowledge and skills related to developmentally appropriate childcare practices and may even need support to better care for their children.
Furthermore, there is high social acceptance of the use of violent and harsh means to discipline children, which indicates an urgent need to promote positive parenting practices and increase support for primary caregivers “caring for the caregiver”.
The availability of early childcare services is closely linked to adolescent development and empowerment. About 25 per cent of girls have their first child by the age of 18. Given the high fertility rates of their parents and cultural family practices, most of today’s adolescents are caregivers to their younger siblings and many of them are parents themselves.
I have spoken about the many challenges but let us not forget that there is always hope for improvement including increased access to ECCE. We are gathered here with a common vision and mission of increasing access to Early Childhood Care and Education in Uganda.
Under the Government of Uganda leadership, there has been attention and progress made on further support ECCE including the daft ECCE policy and the National Integrated ECD Policy of 2016 with a new costed action plan to be developed. ECD is also included in the National Development Plan III under the human capital development pillar. I would like to recognize and appreciate the government of Uganda for these achievements.
Let us continue striving for success by keeping in mind the positive impact access to Early Childhood Care and Education services has on children. Helping these young boys and girls reach their full potential and supporting human capital development with a focus on equity and quality of care and education for a peaceful and prosperous society.
I would like to ask that we consider some of the following six clear and doable recommendations to help us increase access to quality and inclusive ECCE in Uganda:
- Consider one year of pre-primary for all children aged 5 to help ensure their preparation for entry into primary school and to help support retention and efficiency of our collective investments.
- Alternative and Innovative Financing Mechanisms to help increase access and quality.
- Focus on a system strengthening approach through dedicated planning and resource mobilization and allocation, promoting developmentally appropriate practices with an emphasis on learning through play.
- Skill and tool ECD caregivers and provide adequate incentives and standards to help support retention.
- Further engage communities, families and parents/primary caregivers to help support their children’s development more effectively.
- And last, but not least, provide support for primary caregivers including psycho-social support with a focus on young or highly vulnerable mothers of young children.
UNICEF remains committed to working with the Government of Uganda and partners to support the transformation of the ECCE sector.
Together, we can shape the future of Uganda’s girls and boys by investing in Early Childhood Care and Education and lifelong learning.
 Education Management Information System, 2016.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/uganda