I n 2007, the government of Uganda approved the Early Childhood Development Policy after several World Bank reports stressed the importance of infant early training.
The World Bank reports said children who attained ECD performed better in future academically and stand higher chances of completing school.
The policy emphasises observable and measurable skills, competences and values to be acquired by children and strictly condemns examinations given to infants.
But according to Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, the Director of Basic Education in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports (MoESTS), few of the mushrooming early learning centres are complying with the policy.
“Why should infants be given exams, taught hard things as if they are adults on top of waking them up early to school?” Dr Nsubuga asked recently.
While officially launching the Madrasa Early Childhood Development Institute (MECDI) and its first graduation ceremony last month, Dr Nsubuga singled out Madrasa Early Childhood Programme- Uganda (MECPU) as such a model that was equipping children with life skills and not necessarily forcing them to cram things as other pre-primary schools are doing.
“Our children are learning to know, to do, to be and to live together. It is the best practice in early childhood development,” Dr Nsubuga noted.
The institute, born out of the MECPU that has been in existence for 30 years, is run under the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), and held its first graduation where 188 pre-school teachers graduated with certificates in early childhood training.
In approval of the of the programme’s proficiency, Mr Shafique Sekalala, the MECDI programme director said, a teacher trained at the centre is holistic and able to cover all the aspects of a child different from what is offered in other ordinary ECDs.
“Most of the ECD centres focus on cognitive aspects other than the intellectual,” Mr Sekalala said. “The institute’s model of teaching is built on principles that a child’s brain is young and thus needs to learn in a way not similar to the adults.”
Having had the desire to work with children, a tip from Amira Faiswal’s close friend about the MECDI made it a God-sent opportunity to equip herself with the social learning skills necessary to stimulate the young brains.
“The simple skills based on teaching while rounded by children are emphasised. With the technic, I am able to monitor every child, have their full attention to the teacher, and be able to use their senses to learn and put into practice whatever they are taught, by seeing and repeating from the teacher,” says Faiswal.
Apart from teaching, the trainers at the institute are taught how to make from paper, clay and other simple materials, items such as plants, car toys, baskets, and paper houses among others that are used for learning around play by the children.
These, according to Faiswal have made the institute’s graduands unique from their colleagues in other institutes in the job market.
“I did not look for a job. I was employed at one of the nursery schools- Wiggles Day and Nursery School even before graduating because of the practical experience I had. I had all the desired skills to handle any child between 0-8 years,” she says.
How curriculum is structured
The Madrasa curriculum, Mr Sekalala notes, is built on the premise that all senses of seeing, listening, smelling, touching and tasting are applied in a class.
Mr Sekalala explains that when a teacher tells a story to the young learners, after listening to it; the children then demonstrate by drawing a picture about the story. By doing so, the teacher is inclusively involving the children in learning and in future, preparing them to be critical thinkers. The institution also emphasise brain development, language development, and how to interact with the children. More emphasis on learning around play is also central in the curriculum.
Other than developing ethical and compassionate leaders, the programme aims to empower women and men as highly competent leaders and ECD teachers, Mr Drisa Matovu, the principal of the MECDI says.
“MECDI cultivates high moral and spiritual values in our students by promoting quality, culturally relevant and pluralistic services to all, including Muslim, Christian, and other communities” Mr Matovu says.
Dr Hasib Takuba, the chairman governance board of the MECDI’s main campus located in Mengo, Kampala, highlights the importance of quality early childhood development, teachers and education as one that would help to break the cycle of poverty in Uganda.
“Through such an intervention, we present an opportunity to open up new opportunities for the numerous impoverished groups in our country who are able to maximise their potential,” says Dr Takuba.
He adds that “We are here for one goal, to invest in the next generation of Ugandan children, employees and employers, leaders and innovators.”
Ambassador Mahmood Ahmed, the Resident Representative of the Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN) Uganda, acknowledges the importance of private partnership with the government in ensuring the quality training for teachers and also ensuring that more children attain early education.
In Uganda, only 9.1 per cent of children who joined P1 have the benefits of ECD training. Such centres are very vital to development and determines the child’s readiness to learn and also determines their success.
“We express our gratitude towards the government of Uganda for its support,” he said.
How ECDs work in Uganda
Enacted on August 26, 2008, the law identifies pre-primary also referred in government policy guideline as early childhood development, primary; post-primary; and, tertiary or university education and training, as compulsory formal education in Uganda.
Proceeding to the next levels without completing the previous levels is therefore illegal as per the law. For example, the law meant that for someone to skip pre-primary or any other level could in future find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Also, as an early stimulation of a child’s brain to provide social learning and other advancements throughout life, the technocrats refer to the early childhood education as more than simply teaching children facts and figures.
It is upon the same manner that, they recommend it be provided at home, a tailored community or any other institutional centre.