Early childhood centres give hope to children in West Nile

A nursery pupil entertains guests, who include State Minister for Primary Education, Dr Joyce Moriku, at Jojoyi Nursery School in Madi Okollo District on November 24. PHOTO/FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • As part of its humanitarian response, Brac Uganda with funding of $5 million is targeting enrolment of 4,050 learners through construction of 34 classroom blocks at ECD centres, with 19 in Terego and 15 in Madi-Okollo. 

About 200 metres away from Jakisa Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre in Imvepi refugee settlement, we are welcomed by melodious voices of children. 

When we arrive at the centre, we find the youngsters singing and dancing in cycles.

While some do not have school uniforms or shoes, they are eager to learn under close observation of caregivers, relatives and Good Samaritans.

The jolly mood at the centre is a sharp contrast to what transpired in the refugee settlement about three years ago when the children were learning in mud-wattle grass-thatched shelters. Some studied under trees and on rainy days, lessons were suspended.

The construction of the ECD centres in the settlement and in many rural areas in some parts of West Nile Sub-region hasgiven hope of acquiring education to thousands of children who cannot afford nursery education that is in the hands of private proprietors

One of the children at the centre said she is now able to read numbers from 1 to 20 since joining last term.

“I can now count numbers and read some. I know with time, I will be able to write like other children. I thought I would not step in a classroom because of the war [in South Sudan],” she says.

At the school, the children are guided with materials that are locally made by their teachers. 

One of the parents, Ms Christine Awekonimungu, says: “Before, we struggled to have these children learn under trees and in churches because we know the importance of education. I am not educated, but I want my child to learn because illiteracy is bad.”

She says there is a need to provide more learning materials for the centre so that there is quality learning. 

“I feel happy that my child is learning. And I know he will learn more things. He is able to sing and I am hopeful he will study. I will work hard to ensure that I pay his school fees and provide food for him at school,” she said.

Community-based ECD centres receive little state funding and often lack the bare essentials such as clean water and toilets, and are managed by untrained volunteers.

Jakisa ECD centre, which has about 300 learners, was uplifted from grass-thatched to a permanent classroom block by Brac Uganda. 

The other is Belia ECD centre in Ewadri Village, Odupi Sub-county in Terego District, which has116 learners.

Ms Immaculate Oridriyo, an ECD teacher, says: “At the beginning, children were not able to read and write. But now they are able to do all these things. That means they are learning and they are fighting illiteracy.”

She says it is not easy to teach the children. “Some will be crying, falling asleep during lessons. But we have to be resilient to teach them. Eventually, they are learning,” she said. 

As part of its humanitarian response, Brac Uganda with funding of $5 million is targeting enrolment of 4,050 learners through construction of 34 classroom blocks at ECD centres, with 19 in Terego and 15 in Madi-Okollo. 

The Brac Country Director, Ms Spera Atuhairwe, says: “We want to ensure that the centres are registered and licensed because they are helping rural children to learn.”

Ms Atuhairwe added: “We still have children who have not attained education. Their parents are struggling. Some of them are in despair, lost hope and want to revive that lost hope so that they achieve their destiny.”  

The State Minister of Education for Primary Education, Dr Joyce Moriku, emphasises the importance of ECD centres.

“We should not ignore the role ECD plays in the brain development of a child. It is not only fighting illiteracy but a path to transformation of a child. Let us think about the life of a child who is growing without education. Let us ensure they progress and complete the primary cycle,” she says. 

The Assistant Commissioner for Pre-Primary Education in the Ministry of Education, Ms Elizabeth Mbatudde, says there was a need to register the ECD centres in order to guard against compromise of quality education.

“The education department at districts should register and license centres to enable proper planning by government and other partners,” she says.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy of 2018 indicates that to increase equitable access towards universal provision of education, the government will allocate targeted subsidies towards provision of ECCE in vulnerable communities.

It also states that the government will also develop a strategy for developing ECCE centre infrastructure, learning materials and other inputs in under-resourced communities.