On February 24, the Early Childhood Development Association of Uganda petitioned Parliament over the indefinite closure of pre-primary schools. This followed a decision by the Ministry of Education and Sports ordering the indefinite closure of kindergartens across the country. According to their statement, the ministry decided this as a step to alleviate the problem of Covid-19.
In their petition, the association stated the decision was unnecessary since children less than 10 years are less susceptible to Covid-19 than the older ones. They further stated that the decision was unfair since international schools were allowed to reopen and operate normally.
Kindergarten children have missed stimulating, learning opportunities and social interactions.
With the reduction in Covid-19 cases and the availability of the vaccine, it would be most appropriate for all actors if the ministry prioritised in the vaccination of the teachers and people in the business of operating the early childhood development centres to allow them to operate.
According to the World Bank’s Capital Index, a child born in Uganda today will be only 38 per cent productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health.
Another report by Twaweza shows that 39 per cent of children could not read a primary two text in 2015. This could be worsened further by the Covid-19 efforts to restrict reopening of schools. Also, surveys conducted by Uwezo in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 consistently found that many children in lower primary school were still struggling to read English and do basic mathematics.
A recent study in Uganda found that children who did not attend pre-primary schooling were more than twice as likely to repeat Primary One as those that did. Furthermore, children who receive pre-primary education are better equipped for primary school and less likely to drop out generally.
By their very nature, kindergartens equip children with academic skills; their programmes are designed to offer a curriculum specifically for children not ready for primary studies. These programmes are building blocks that explore language, numbers, science, and so much more.
A study by the Education Commission of the States reported that “kindergarten is a critical year because it is widely considered a ‘bridge year’ between early learning programmes and primary school, intended to enhance children’s cognitive, physical and social development to smooth the transition into formal schooling.” These skills are critical to developing children’s competencies, subsequent learning and lifelong opportunities. Without kindergarten schooling, teachers are unable to complete the curriculum thus leaving many gaps in children’s education. This will lead to inefficiencies in the education system and low returns on education generally.
Moreover, kindergartens help in children’s social development through daily interaction with peers, educators, and other adults, something many are unable to receive in the family setting alone.
Such social development is vital for children. The learners get the opportunity to make friends, work together in groups, and learn how to play with others in a safe environment that encourages sharing and respect for others.
Given the young children`s nature of learning, the nurturing environment enables them to effortlessly pick up information and develop a love for learning, have an opportunity to engage in activities that build a strong foundation for future academic success.
The ministry’s efforts to control the spread of the virus are of value. However, the increasing potential harm to children caused by long term absences are leading some countries to reopen their schools even where the virus is not well controlled.
The Education ministry needs to prioritize the reopening of nursery schools to prevent the learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe.