opinionBy Tawanda Ngena
Harare — A LOT of parents are carving and crafting a lifestyle they would want their children to attain by investing in them at an early age.
This they are doing either through exposing them to top "good social etiquette", taking them to places where they believe will leave an impression on their little minds, or spending a fortune on their education.
At two years old, most kids are already socialising heavily.
No doubt with the phrase "Catch them young" in mind, the extent to which some parents are willing to go to give their children that foundation is amazing.
A number of parents are paying as much as US$800 a term for their kids who are in either day care or nursery schools, just to give them that necessary foundation.
"I am paying US$1 600 for my two kids aged two and four, who are both in nursery school, and I am happy with the developments that have taken place in their lives in the last few months," said a mother of four from Borrowdale.
Ten or so years ago, a parent would sacrifice to sell his cow to enable him to pay school fees for a child in secondary school, but this is no longer the case.
Gone are the days when an individual's status was determined by the type of car, house they owned or schools their children attended.
Nowadays parents are spending more money in sending their kids to nursery school than ever before.
Having a child in a nursery school now brings status to the family.
Parents are sacrificing more for their kids to attend nursery school.
And they will tell you they are getting value for money.
For a sum of US$800, one's kid can be acquire such life skills as painting, pottery, oriental lessons, drawing and sketching.
Two-year olds are being taught to play the piano, taking up ballet lessons, aerobics and engage in other sporting activities such as table tennis and swimming.
Most of the children are also becoming computer-literate at an earlier age compared to previous years.
This is so because most nursery schools are introducing these kids to e-learning.
"It's better to send my son to a nursery school where I know that he is well catered getting quality education at whatever cost," said Anesu Muzhingi, who works for Jize Travel & Tours
"In these nursery schools, children are provided with extra-mural activities, among them computers, swimming, gymnastics, music and drama so who can resist such an offer?" said the father of two.
It seems like it has now become trendy and most parents have no problems parting with as much as US$1 000 to get such a bargain, something they would want their kids to have.
However, to some it has become a status symbol.
Nursery school is meant to give the child a foundation from which he/she can learn, socialise and gain some of life's skills.
It has been said that pre-school prepares a child for life as it imparts on him/her the necessary skills.
For instance, at Mothercare Centre along Central Avenue in the capital, for one's child to be registered, a parent needs as little as US$10 before paying a monthly fee of US$120.
Another US$30 is then required for the extra activities that the school provides.
These extra activities include computer lessons and gymnastics among others.
"We are investing in our kids because they are the future, our children need to have the best start in life," said one parent.
At Lucy Ibbortson, another day care centre in the capital, the fee for one child per month is US$150.
Yellow Rose in Avondale, parents need US$650 a term to have their child enjoy such benefits as taking part in aerobics, ballet lessons and learning art with a qualified art teacher.
Brilliant Beginnings, a day care centre in Mt Pleasant, is charging US$400 per term.
A visit to some of these schools like Lucy Ibbortson Centre and Mothercare nursery school, showed that their standards were exceptional.
Even the meals and activities provided show that the parent's money is being put to good use, as the child is well looked after, well fed and attended to.
The environment itself says a lot and so do the activities that the schools offers to one's child.
Of all institutions, the nursery school seems to have gained prominence, as it is the one that nurtures the child.
Most people are of the belief that a child's earliest years are the most important as they gets greatest capacity to learn and the greatest appetite to discover and explore life. Therefore it is what both parents and nursery institutions do during these critical formative years that will lay the foundation for future learning.
The other side of the coin tells a different story, though.
Life on other side of the city is somehow different, with some parents paying as little as US$10 a month for their children in nursery schools.
As, in and around the city most nursery schools are charging anything between US$80 and US$100.
Those in the high density areas are going for as little as US$20 to US$30, while those run by the council are ranging between US$10 and US$15 a month.
At most of these schools the child is required to bring their own breakfast and lunch, usually a snack and a drink.
Most parents have found an alternative in these schools because they are cheap and accessible, as most of them are closer to their homes.
But do these fees that are being charged cover the day to day costs of running such an enterprise?
"I just want my child to learn the basics of life and the rest will be taken care of when he starts Grade One," said Mr Gratwell Nyandu of Crowborough North.
In some instances, the facilities at these centres are limited so much that kids spend most of their time in the playgrounds on swings, merry-go-rounds and rarely get the opportunity to learn some of the activities and skills that are those in up-market and expensive nursery schools enjoy.
"This is what we can afford, we all want our kids to attend a proper nursery school in town, but the economic situation has made it impossible", said one parent from Kuwadzana Extension.
Wikipedia defines a nursery school as a provision of education for children before the commencement of statutory education usually between the ages of three and five.
The framework for nursery schools includes structural (administration, class size, teacher-child ratio) process (quality of classroom, environment and teacher-child interactions) and alignment (standards, curriculum).
All these components are associated with each individual child and have both social and academic outcomes.
Robert Owen arguably opened the first institution of its kind in New Lanark Scotland in 1816.
In recent years the rise in families with two working parents has necessitated the need for child day care centres. A point to note is that day care can be in the home or an organised child care centre.
Day care makes room for older children who can also receive care services when they are not in school.
The service is generally available through, before or after school programmes.
A day care centre is ideal for the working class parent who spends most of his/her time at work and rarely has enough time to tend to his/her children.
It would also better suit parents who can not harbour the thought of leaving their children in the care of an unqualified maid.
Parents need therefore to arm themselves with knowledge on how the school they are sending their children to, is run and what services are offered in return.
Any normal parent needs to know if he/she is getting their money's worth.
But what should the parent be looking at?
Well, one needs to know whether the school has a first aid certificate and that it is staffed with ready-staff who can deal with any emergencies that might arise while one's child is in their care.
The next step would be to look at the facilities at the school from the kitchen to the ablution blocks and particularly the rest rooms.
Parents would then have to ask themselves if they are satisfied and that their children are not at risk, as such factors would have a direct bearing on the health and safety of one's child.
One would also need to look at the teacher-child ratio, whether it is, one teacher to two children or one to twenty. Asking whether the teacher is qualified to to provide enough skill attention to the child.
Will the teacher have enough time to deal with the individual needs of each child?
It is also important for the staff at the centre to be holders of certificates in childcare and first aid from the Nursery School Association of Zimbabwe.
Other factors to consider include drop-off and pick-up points if the school offers transport for the children.
Provided that the school can offer any or some of these qualities, the issue of cost would be minor as one is getting value for their money.
Under the Education Act, Chapter 25:04 lists nursery school as an institution, which provides for early childhood education and care and the physical and social development of children who are not old enough for school.
Registered, in relation to the schools means, registered or provisionally registered in terms of Section 15.
After independence, the Government became actively involved in promoting the establishment of pre-schools throughout the country.
Nursery schools were encouraged as a fulfillment of children's right to education and out of the recognition that they contribute to a child's social development and performance later in life.
The nursery school curriculum is centred on such vital components as:
l How a child develops,
l Models for nursery school organisation and facilitation,
l Child health and hygiene,
l Productions of play and learning material,
l Management of relationships with parents for the children's optimal development.
Development Programmes like the Kushanda Project came about in communal areas as a result of this and were being run by the community as opposed to individuals.
The community paid for the teachers to be trained who would in turn run the community-built school.
The project came about through the Shandisayi Pfungwa cooperative, which urged local women to utilise their spare time and resources.
The Kushanda Project Early Childhood and Education model was replicated in many other communal areas with limited resources.
To most of the parents in communal areas who could not afford to send their children to nursery schools either because of lack of money or their location in relation to the school, this was a welcome approach.
This just goes to show how important the nursery school is and what it means to parents and their children.