In 2015, Azidah Nakazibwe took her four-year-old son to start school. She, however, was determined to have him just go to school for two years for Baby and Top classes even though the school advised that the child studies Middle class too. “First of all, kindergarten is expensive. I for example used to pay Shs450,000 per term. I was not going to pay all that money for three years, yet it was possible to just have him study for two years. So, I told the teachers that he was bright enough to study just two years. Good enough, he did well and he was taken to Top Class the following year,” Nakazibwe shares.
On the contrary, Ronald Kironde let his three-year-old son study all the three years of preschool when he started school. “I never got the chance to go to school myself. I used to think kindergarten was optional, but when I asked at the school in my neighbourhood, I was told a child had to study for three years before joining Primary One. Since I wanted to give the best education I could to my child, I enrolled him. He is currently in Top Class,” he explains.
Recently, there was debate on one of the popular women Facebook groups. The issue of contention was the three years of preschool. Most mothers agreed to disagree. Most argued that the three years are a money-making venture for schools while others believed they give a child a firm education foundation. According to the National Planning Authority, the education system was modelled on the British 7-4-2-3 tier. A student had to spend seven years in primary, four years in lower secondary, two years in upper secondary, and three years in tertiary level. However, following independence in 1962 up to 1970, the post-colonial government prioritised the expansion and development of the education system to cater for the rapidly expanding number of school going age children. To offer quality education, pre-primary education was needed though some parents and schools remained adamant to enroll their children for preschool.
It was only later that the National Curriculum development Centre (NCDC) came up with The Early Childhood Development Policy (approved in 2007) that stresses the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECD); the early stimulation of different parts of the brain to provide social and learning advancement throughout life with the aim of producing a child who trusts, is curious, strives to learn new things and is skillful in social interaction, according to the NCDC website. Children then studied two most important years of; Baby Class, and Top class. However, with time, a Middle Class became popular – at first optional and considered a class for slow learners. Today, ECD learning lasts three years.
“I have never understood why my child should attend an extra year in preprimary. Personally, I do not see what an extra year of playing that I have to pay for adds to them. I do not even know whether it is in the government policy or whether it is simply something they (schools) do to get more money. If it was so important, why do some schools allow, at the request of some parents, the children to skip Middle class for instance?” Charles Kaddu, a parent, asks.
Blending with family
Similarly, Sandra Akello believes taking children to school when they are older with a clear picture of what they are learning is better. To her the three years of preschool are some kind of way to have children grow up within a school environment. “At this age, children should be in a family environment,” says Akello.
Samuel Kyeyune, is disgruntled not only by the three years of preschool, but the whole idea of attending preprimary. “In our days, there was no preschool and we were even brighter than some children today who stay longer in school but know less about their world and environment. My last born is currently in Baby Class but I have determined that she will not go to middle class because she is very bright and will do well with just Baby and Top,” Kyeyune says.
But education experts say children who are rushed through ECD are found to be lacking in as far as discovering themselves is concerned. Ismail Musoke an instructor at Madrasa Early Childhood Development Institute notes that apart from cost cutting and the misconceptions around ECD, ideally, every child should go through this.
“There are established learning experiences, competences achieved by the child for each of the three years in preschool. So, when children are rushed through ECD, they lose out on learning important things because we teach children indirectly through play to discover themselves and thus be in position to understand concepts in primary and the rest of their education,” he points out.
In fact Gloria Sanyu Mulindwa says one cannot compare the world we live in today to the one years ago.
“The world today is faster. The things we used to study in Primary One today, children now cover them in nursery school. There is more information and skills now to be transferred to the children and adding more years into their education makes a lot of sense,” she says adding that these are the trends and should be embraced now since society keeps on changing.
Strike a balance
There should be a balance as Prossy Nantume, advocates.
“Although preschool has something to teach our children, I feel the three years are an exaggeration. I do not see why my five-year-old girl in Top class should wake up at 6am to go to school and return home at 4pm, or why she should carry two books of homework everyday,” she says.
However, Justine Namagga, an ECD teacher at Right Care Schools (Mityana), insists that parents should not take these three years for granted. “A child will be completely equipped to go to primary level.
A parent might think they are saving now, but they may incur more costs in the future in coaching expenses for example in the upper classes when the child missed the fundamentals which they would have learned in kindergarten,” she cautions.
Echoing the same is Joy Kemigisha. She is confident that a child who has attended preschool comes out fully equipped.
“We were once in a parent’s meeting and were told that children who have not fully attended kindergarten are those you find do not want to brush their teeth and shower in the morning, have very poor handwriting, do not like to iron their clothes or wear vests. All these skills a child learns during pre-school,” Kemigisha says.
Misuse of instruction
Evelyn Kharono, a counselling psychologist and child development counsellor, believes that the three years of ECD are justified. However, it is what is delivered that betrays their usefulness.
“One of the things that are developing in the life of a child at this age are psychomotor skills. Their little fingers and feet are learning to hold and grip things, so they need to exercise these skills at the time,” she says.
Children should be going to preschool to learn how to socialise, how to be independent of the parent for a while, learn a few elementary items such as writing, numeracy and literacy, dancing, singing and drawing.
It is a time to play and so schools should set up age appropriate play areas so children are able to exercise with things that help them exercise their psychomotor skills, Kharono explains. However, some preschools barely have a compound and space where children can play.
“The appropriate age should also be four years because three years is quite early, but because of the problem of caretakers at home, many parents find themselves taking their children to preschool earlier than they should,” she says.
To add insult to injury, by preschool: a child is given homework, exercises, and notes that by the time children are in Primary One, they are sometimes fed up with school.
“My child joined preschool at three years but it has not been an easy thing. By the time they get to serious learning, they are already tired because they are being taught abstract things not relatable to their brains,” Khanoro says. She also reminisces about the time when they joined school.
They were six years, “But we looked forward joining to school. So, I think the development stages of a child should be left to take its course,” she adds.