The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: Blow to Public Nursery School Plan As Uhuru Fails to Give Cash

Nairobi — Efforts by the Ministry of Education to make Early Childhood Development Education part of the primary school system has been hampered by lack of funds.

To increase access to quality primary education, the ministry had planned to integrate more than 2.5 million children aged between four and five years into the primary school cycle. But funding levels for the sub-sector have remained low despite earlier projections of effecting the far reaching proposals at the beginning of this year.

This vision has been dealt a blow by the recent Budget estimates read by Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Kenyatta allocated the Education ministry a combined vote of Sh140.5 billion, of which Sh131 billion is for recurrent expenditure. The ECDE sub-sector has benefited from a Sh200 million over and above its previous financial year's allocation of Sh196 million, according to the director of Basic Education, Mrs Leah Rotich.

Early Childhood

Now, the ministry is locked in negotiations with the Treasury over the possibility of hiring one teacher for each of the more than 18,000 Early Childhood Development centres attached to public primary schools. "We would have wanted the teachers hired like yesterday. But we are talking with Treasury to see what is possible," said Mrs Rotich.

She said her ministry estimated that at least Sh1.6 billion would be required to hire the teachers. According to the ministry, the aim of integration is to create a reception classes for the 4-5 year olds for enhanced school readiness preparation, increase transition from ECDE centres to primary schools, improve learning environment and enhance their participation in primary education.

The government plans to spend Sh9.3 billion on the Free Primary Education this financial year, an increase of Sh2 billion on last year's funding. "The increase is mainly due to the teachers' salary review, enhanced provision for Free Day Secondary Education and FPE and mainstreaming of Early Childhood Development Education," says the Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure for the ministry.

For many years now, the ministry, through the Directorate of Basic Education, has been grappling with the challenge of making the early education segment part of the primary education cycle. Government commitment to the sub-sector is articulated in the National Development Plans and the Sessional Papers No 6 of 1988 and No 1 of 2005. These statutory documents provide a broad policy framework for the provision of ECDE. Further, ECDE is one of the 23 investment programmes being implemented by the Ministry of Education under the Kenya Education Sector Support Programme (KESSP) running from July 2005 to 2010.

Also, under Vision 2030, the country is committed to providing a globally competitive and quality education, training and research. Among the strategies towards achieving this goal is integrating early childhood education into primary education. "It's generally agreed that the problems afflicting the education system in terms of quality stems from poor foundation. This is can be addressed through making ECDE part of the system instead of treating it as less important," says Mrs Rotich.

Private sector

"The government has really not done enough in the first and left the sub-sector to the communities and the private sector. Through integration, we are playing our role," she admitted. Until now, the financing of ECD services is mainly borne by parents and communities. A situational analysis conducted by MoE and United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) on levies in ECDE centres across the country shows that school fees range from Sh50 to Sh15,000 per child per term.

Consequently, government financial support has increased significantly from less than 0.01 per cent in 1996 to about one per cent currently. Comparatively, however, government financing of ECD services remains low to that of primary and secondary education. But Mrs Rotich says there has been increased support to communities through disbursement of ECD Community Support Grants. So far, Sh1.2 billion has been disbursed to 8,000 ECDE centres countrywide.

In addition to negotiating for hiring of teachers, the ministry is also exploring the possibility of funding the ECD programme along the lines of the FPE through investment in teaching-learning facilities and learning-play equipment. This will involve provision of grants of Sh1,020 to cater for 2,504,110 children enrolled in public primary schools and community ECDE centres.

If the figure for the grant remains the same as that of primary school, the cost of this investment will be about Sh2.6 billion. Each of the 8.6 million pupils in primary schools is allocated Sh1,020 per year under the FPE programme. According to ministry assessment, despite the significant gains in enrolment and community initiatives, there is still wide variation in the type and quality of services provided.

The key issues include: low access to services particularly for the lowest-income groups; wide variations between ECD centres in terms of physical facilities, trained personnel; lack of a clear policy and service standards for children up to three years of age (although children in this age group are increasingly getting enrolled in pre-schools and much developmental damage may occur during this period); inadequate supervision and enforcement of standards due to commercialisation of services and the weak linkages between pre-schools and primary schools.

For many years, efforts to strengthen the ECDE segment have been fragmented across different ministries and private providers with little collaboration and coordination. To address the ECD policy challenges the government through Sessional Paper No 1 of 2005 committed itself to develop a comprehensive ECD Policy Framework incorporating a legal framework.

As a follow-up, a National ECD Policy Framework and Service Standard Guidelines was developed and launched in February 2007. The policy provides a coordination mechanism and explicitly defines the role of the various stakeholders including parents, communities, government ministries and departments, development partners in the provision of ECD services.

One of the critical results of the policy has been the establishment of the National Committee on ECD housed under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, Department of Children Services. The committee has representation of the key ministries, NGOs, Development partners and the private sector. The ministry estimates that 80 per cent of the 18,000 public primary schools in the country have established a pre-primary class.

Trained teachers

In 2008, ministry figures revealed that there were 54,177 ECDE trained teachers against 1.7 million children, translating to 32 pupils per teacher, which is higher than the recommended ratio of 25:1 in the services standards guidelines. Class size in ECDE has long been an issue given that teachers handle children at different developmental age in one room.

It is with this in mind that the Dakar Framework of Action and the 3rd African ECD conference emphasised the need to focus on quality in ECD and other education programmes. Overall, 56 per cent of teachers in public and private ECD centres have been trained. However, there is a very high attrition rate (40 per cent annually in public ECDE centres) due to the poor terms of service.

Additionally, many teachers also require refresher courses to induct them on emerging issues and the changes in the curriculum and new pedagogical skills, says ministry documents. This situation is what informs the decision by the government to develop a scheme of service to harmonise the ECDE teacher's salaries and improve their terms and conditions of service. The scheme of service will also include guidelines on teacher recruitment and salary harmonisation to iron out the wide disparities of earnings among the ECDE teachers.

The target was to have 80,188 teachers on the Teachers Service Commission payroll beginning 2010 to 2015. This would be achieved, says the ministry proposals, by TSC paying salaries for at least one teacher in each of the 40,304 community and public ECDE centres, translating to hiring 40,000 teachers by 2010/11 at an estimated cost ranging from Sh4.8 billion to Sh7.3 billion and bring on board the second teacher the following financial year. Already, the TSC has established a cross-sectoral committee to develop a scheme of service for the ECD teachers.

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