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Let’s invest more in early childhood education 

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Peter C Okello

The debate that Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is an essential investment for Uganda’s future carries substantial merit.

This view is underpinned by the belief that the formative years from birth to eight are crucial for a child’s developmental trajectory. These early years establish the bedrock for future learning, health, and overall welfare.

Uganda urgently needs to enhance the provision of quality ECCE. The situation requires a comprehensive review, including better funding, regulatory frameworks, and systematic teacher placement.

The government’s limited investment, supplemented by family contributions and external bodies, has resulted in economic inequalities that demand immediate attention. To address this, Uganda must implement judicious funding and regulatory policies that strike a balance between standardisation and the requisite flexibility and ingenuity for ECCE.

The gains of superior ECCE are significant and numerous. It bolsters school preparedness, cognitive abilities, and educational and health outcomes. Far from being simply cost-effective, it is a prudent investment, with early input yielding greater returns than subsequent interventions.

High-quality ECCE is associated with and directly contributes to higher graduation rates, reduced criminal behaviour, among others. These are not just hypothetical benefits but the tangible results of quality ECCE.

Although the value of ECCE is acknowledged, Uganda’s dedication to its support requires enhancement. Other views suggest that the current emphasis on ECCE might be reallocating resources from different educational sectors such as primary and secondary schooling.

Insufficient funding, poor regulatory structures, and the lack of adequately trained teachers have compromised the quality of ECCE. Moreover, the perception of ECCE as a less skilled vocation has also impacted the standard of education.

Uganda’s net enrolment in ECCE improved to 45 percent in 2016. However, concerns remain about the quality of ECCE, which could impact children’s academic success and community support.

Evidence consistently shows that high-quality ECCE positively influences child development. Addressing these issues is crucial to prevent a generation of ill-prepared learners facing long-term educational and societal challenges.

Investing in quality early childhood education is achievable. It can have a favourable impact on a nation’s educational framework and collective wellbeing, and striking a balance between feasibility and potential effects is crucial.

Formalising ECCE, which entails setting definitive standards, guidelines, and regulations for ECCE delivery through funding and supervision, should preserve innovation and adaptability, endorsing quality and uniformity whilst permitting space for creativity and modification.

Insights from stakeholders in Uganda highlight the necessity for secure educational settings, adept educators, reduced class sizes, nutritional provisions, and robust community ties. Surmounting the hurdles of funding and oversight might involve exploring alternative financial sources and establishing transparent regulatory frameworks.

To elevate the standard of ECCE in Uganda, strategies encompass improving teacher training, formulating quality benchmarks for ECCE establishments, fostering community involvement, and embedding comprehensive developmental methods into the syllabus.

Such investments can yield substantial social rewards such as diminishing poverty and inequality, enhancing health and wellbeing, and promoting social unity. Stakeholders are pivotal in heightening awareness of these benefits, showcasing potential economic gains, and synchronising initiatives with national developmental objectives.

Hence, the affirmative stance on ECCE necessitates championing a comprehensive, well-rounded, and inclusive approach to early childhood development, acknowledging it as the linchpin of a prosperous society.

Peter C. Okello is is a Rotary Peace Fellow and a PhD student in Education, University of Plymouth, UK