By 7am, Nathan Wanzala is on the road with his two-year-old daughter Natalia. Theirs is a trip to a daycare centre in Naguru. His hope is that he is securing a bright future for her.
Wanzala is sure this is the right path toward lifelong learning, a prestigious college education and a successful career for his daughter.
“I am amazed at how she asks for permission to do just about anything.
That was not the case before she enrolled because we would keep guessing what she wanted us to do,” Wanzala shares.
What drives Wanzala is parental anxiety, the anxiety of wanting his children to have every advantage to sail through life.
Wanzala is among many other parents who believe that daycare will deliver better results than keeping children under the full care of house maids.
Almost every residential area today has a daycare centre serving parents who are wary of unreliable house maids.
The push to get young children going to preschool, from a psychologist’s view, is a difficult landscape to navigate for any parent of this generation.
Many hail the growing sector, but others also decry it, saying it takes away responsibility from parents. So, one wonders whether preschool education is worth a try.
“It depends on the purpose, how it is done, why, and the results. It has become more difficult to find reliable maids. So the mother takes the child to an organised place in form of a daycare,” says Mary Butamanya, the president of Uganda Counselling Association.
Demanding careers in this era also dictate that working parents, especially mothers, resume work after two to three months of giving birth, depending on the policies of their employers.
“In the past, mothers had the freedom to sit home and look after their children because the cost of living was not that high.
Two, the fathers then seemed more responsible and provided whatever was needed in the home, unlike today where both parents are required to contribute to the wellbeing of a household,” Butamanya shares.
Evas Kobusinge, the headmistress of International Pre-school and 24-hour childcare centre in Kamwokya, says preschool helps parents fill their children’s childcare gaps following various commitments. In other words, these institutions offer security for children.
“Some parents work the evening shift so it is easier for them to leave their children in a place that is well-founded.”
The growing number of single parents has also influenced demand for daycare centres.
“Naturally a child should not leave a parent very early. But the reality is that no working mother gets time to bond with the children. Whether they leave them with the maid, grandmother, or any other person, they are not with the mother,” Butamanya says.
Butamanya gives parents the option of compensating the bonding time with their children. “Work where you must and try to create more time for your baby.
We are not looking at the physical time. Try to prepare your mind to receive the child as you go home. If you can, you should not take work home.”
Young working mothers are also finding it difficult to adjust to the role of a mother.
“I’ve seen many young mothers craving time for themselves; gym, chatting, among others… I think when you have a young child below two years, you need to sacrifice and plan your time well,” Butamanya stresses.
According to Kobusinge, a child in a daycare centre is better than those at home.
“We [daycare] help a child develop personally, socially and emotionally. We make sure we deal with a child individually, studying how he associates with others.”
Asked how this is achieved, Kobusinge says, “There is a way we punish them; we don’t beat but give simple punishments like time out of that activity depending on the age. If a child is two years, those are two minutes.”
Kobusinge, whose daycare centre handles about eight children per class with an assistant, says daycare centres expose children to different play toys which a child in a home may not have. “Children are supposed to be exposed to an environment of toys.
That might be difficult in a home since some toys are expensive,” she says.
Kezia Tumwineho, the head teacher at Mother Goose Daycare and Nursery School in Ntinda, says the daycare setting acts as a link to nursery school. “We lay the basics for these children.
The daycare setting also exposes them on how to approach authority in case of any trouble,” Tumwineho says.
Much as some parents argue that there is no major difference between a child who goes to daycare and one who stays at home, Tumwineho thinks otherwise.
“A child who has been through preschool right from the word go, speaks fluent English and reads faster than one who didn’t go because of the exposure from that environment.”
Much as the benefits outweigh the risks of preschool education, it is worth noting that it is likely to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots in this country.
This is backed by the fact that its benefits go along with resources. Thus, the lower socio economic group in rural areas who would want to reap its benefits may not, because they cannot afford it.
Ideal age for daycare
The ideal age for a child to start going to preschool, according to Evas Kobusinge, the headmistress of International Pre-school, is based on one’s security concerns.
“Ideally, one and a half years would be ideal. But if a parent does not have the opportunity to be with the child, that would be the time.
In some cases, a mother could pass away during delivery so the father alone would not be able to take care of the baby,” Kobusinge shares.
To assess the benefits accruing from daycares, Nyende advises parents to look out for any changes in the child’s’ behaviour.
The state of pre-school education in Uganda
Although work and family life has changed greatly in recent decades, there are still gaps in Uganda’s actual child care system. Good day cares are available, only if you have the money to pay for them. Yet its overall quality is largely uneven and hardly monitored.
Most of the day care centres are privately managed with hardly any public finances allocated to them. “According to the ECD [Early Child Development] Policy 2007, nursery schools/kindergartens are provided through the private sector, which provides these services for children of zero to five years.
The Ministry of Education and Sports plays a monitoring and regulatory role, in addition to developing the learning framework and producing and disseminating instructional materials,” the report notes.
Apart from the development of the learning framework and development of the ECD Policy, the government’s efforts to promote early learning are not adequate to meet existing gaps and increasing needs.
That the private pre-schools are concentrated in urban areas where the income levels are higher, disfavours young children in rural areas.
Ensuring your child is well-groomed
David Kavuma, a counselling psychologist, says that while these institutions can raise well-groomed children, parents ought to remember, “Teachers can only go up to a certain distance.”
Yet, Tumwineho believes that it is possible for a parent to raise a well-groomed child after subletting that responsibility to a day care.
“All that we think a parent would have done, we do.
Some children are dropped as early as 6am and the teachers are willing to take care of them with the supervision of the head teacher,” Tumwineho shares.
Diana Komugisha Tusiime, a mother whose children have gone through daycare says she has seen the many transitions for the good in her children.
The setting, according to Komugisha, gets the best out of every child. Previously, her son was quiet and preferred to keep to himself. Not anymore.
“Before he joined preschool, he used to fear talking to people but now he expresses himself so well,” Komugisha says.
Preparing the child for the transition
As more parents scramble to turn their under-two toddlers into achievers through preschool, there is a section of parents who could be holding back feelings of guilt at the thought of handing over their children to a pre-school caretaker.
In case one chooses the wrong daycare or fails to prepare a child for this transition, the results may be disastrous.
Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University, points out that some of the brains behind some daycares are more business oriented than concerned about what it is in for the child.
“Some day care centres don’t have a heart for children. So they may get resentful of school and become traumatised,” Nyende explains. This, he says, may cause them to fear school or even drop out.
“There is a way it destabilises their confidence and creates insecurity. When such children start preschool at an early age, chances are high that they feel abandoned and are more likely to withdraw, Butamanya explains.
Parents risk raising children who are detached from them depending on how much time a parent gives a child.
“Some children cry because of being separated from their parents when they are not ready for such environments,” David Kavuma, a counselling psychologist at Adonai Counseling Services, shares.
“If you dump the child there and walk away, there is a feeling of isolation and depression. Children who sit in corners and don’t interact, they could carry it into adulthood.”
Aggression, according to Mary Butamanya, the president of Uganda Counselling Association, may develop in a child due to anxiety.
“A child is never sure of what is going to happen so they develop a defense mechanism; it is like an outburst because that is the only way they can express themselves,” Butamanya said. Nyende believes aggression may crop us depending on how a child is introduced to preschool.
“Young children suffer from stranger anxiety. So the stranger must be as nice as possible,” Nyende says, advising: “Help a child understand why you are taking them there by bringing out the positive aspects about it. If possible, make it a brief stay in the first week.”
To steer clear of a bitter relationship later in life, Nyende says parents ought to prepare children for a change in transition.