14 February 2018

Nigeria Lags Behind in Early Childhood Development

Osogbo — It was break time and the pupils of AUD Elementary School, Isale-Agbara, Osogbo in Osun State moved around the 'playground' full of excitement, energy and happiness. Their school bore a resemblance to an expensive private school given the aesthetics and the serenity of the environment. There were many play materials for the children and they were enjoying themselves. Some teachers stayed near them to ensure that the pupils were safe as they played.

One of the teachers in the school who preferred anonymity told Daily Trust that the children love the break time more than anything, just because they would be able to play and have fun. "They like break time because they will be able to play and enjoy themselves. The pupils are always happy in the break time. We monitor them when they are playing so as to prevent them from danger. When they return to the class after the break, they are more active in learning, because they are still happy."

The observation of this teacher justified the global strategy for Early Childhood Development (ECD) and the progress made by Nigeria's education policies. According to the Universal Basic Education Commission, as at 2014, at least 518,000 instructional materials on social norms, literacy and numeracy were supplied to schools nationwide, while play materials such as swings, merry go round and slides were supplied to schools across the country, and teachers trained on how to handle those materials.

In Osun, the Universal Basic Education Board, (SUBEB), distributed instructional materials and play materials including sports equipment worth N200 million to all the schools in the state. The Deputy Governor, Otunba Grace Titilayo-Laoye Tomori, the Executive Chairman of SUBEB in the state, Chief Felix Awofisayo and the Permanent Secretary of SUBEB in Osun, Alhaji Fatai Kolawole presented the materials to head teachers of the schools. The Deputy Governor said the state government was investing in the instructional materials and play materials because the governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola recognised the need to key into the global strategy for Early Childhood Development.

The Secretary General of the United Nations Mr Ban Ki Moon in his speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015 said "The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that Early Childhood Development can help drive the transformation we hope to achieve over the next 15 years." The United Nations linked Early Childhood Development (ECD) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goals 1, Eradicate Poverty, Goal 2, End Hunger and Improve Nutrition, Goal 3, Ensure Healthy Lives, Goal 5, Achieve Gender Equality, Goal 12, Ensure Sustainable Consumption and the Goal 16, Promote Peaceful Societies.

Speaking on the benefits of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Nigeria, an Education Specialist with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Ms Swadchet Sankey said the development would occur as a result of the interaction between the environment and the child. "A stable environment is one that is sensitive to children's health and nutritional needs, with protection from threats, opportunities for early learning, and interactions that are responsive, emotionally supportive and developmentally stimulating. The key aspect of this environment is nurturing care," Sankey explained.

She noted that all young children (including in humanitarian settings), from conception to transition to primary school achieve their developmental potential when they have equitable access to essential quality health, nutrition, protection and early learning services that address their developmental needs. She also emphasized the need to ensure that parents and caregivers are supported and engaged in nurturing care and positive parenting with their young children.

Sankey said the early childhood development entails the nurturing care which comprises all essential elements for a child to grow physically, mentally and socially, particularly in the area of nutrition, health care, love and security, protection from danger, opportunities to learn and discover the world. She added that the Early Childhood Development is also very essential to brain development of a child. According to her, "there are remarkable advances in neuroscience that show that a child's development (including development of the brain) is fundamentally shaped by its environment in the earliest years of its life. The brain develops most rapidly in the first years of life, where neurons form new connections at the astounding rate of up to 1,000 per second. The science underlines that while genes provide the blueprint for the brain, it is a child's environment that shapes brain development. And this shaping occurs in a relatively short period of time - to establish the capacity to learn, adapt to change and develop psychological resilience."

She also said that with the ECD strategy, there would be efficiency in the education system in the country as children are more likely to complete school and less likely to drop out. She added that ECD will also help the nation's Human capital development, because the cognitive and socio-emotional skills acquired by the children during the early years would form the basis for future learning and success. According to Sankey "there would be lifetime earnings, gains of $15-$34 billion if global pre-school enrollment increased to 50% for children in low and middle-income countries."

"From a cost-benefit perspective, there is now broad consensus that benefits derived from ECD investments far outweigh costs. The returns are actualized in reduced poverty and income gaps and increased prosperity and competitiveness of economies. Quality integrated ECD programmes have the potential to boost individual adult earning by almost 25 per cent," Sankey quoted a Jamaica study.

However, in spite of the efforts of the Universal Basic Education Commission in the country, Nigeria seemed to lag behind in Early Childhood Development. The UNICEF education specialist said Nigeria does have the fundamentals in place for a comprehensive approach to ECD, no integrated multi-sectoral ECD policy and that the key indicators of child development outcomes in the country remain very low. Sankey said the current policy needs to be reviewed to contain current thinking, and an improved approach to delivering ECD across various platforms.

"250 million children under the age five in the world are unlikely to reach their potential because their development has been stunted by stress, lack of early stimulation and poor nutrition. Nigeria is amongst the top 10 countries contributing to 250 million children under five at risk of not reaching their potential. Over 60 percent of children under age five in Nigeria are at risk of not reaching their development potential," Sankey stated, quoting a recent survey.

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