‘ECD struggling under COVID-19’


EARLY childhood development (ECD) is key for development and deserves funding from government and stakeholders to ensure children are well groomed. In Zimbabwe and other third world countries, governments are not adequately funding ECDs.

NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Moses Matenga spoke to Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA) national co-ordinator Naison Bhunu (NB) on this and many others issues.

ND: Briefly take us through what ZINECDA is and its objectives?

NB: ZINECDA was formed in 2012 as a result of a project in leadership development for the young ones in ECD. That leadership course was attended by then Patrick Makokoro who took it that there was no rallying forum or common interest for that cause among Zimbabweans and took it upon himself to try and put together a network or group to deliberate on policy and improve their own practice on different areas of ECD be it health, nutrition, child protection, learning and also safety and security.

Our focus is that most of ECD activities were concentrated the capital, but  Harare is not Zimbabwe so there was a need to spread the wings, hence the coming up of provincial chapters.

All these 10 chapters focus on capacity-building of ECDs be it skills, development and attitudes. Capacity-building is not only for membership, but also for critical stakeholders for them to participate and understand ECD issues and changing policies on ECD into government and community processes.

We want our members to be in the forefront in terms of policy advocacy and capacity building.

ND: Are you happy with what the government has done to promote ECDs?

NB: We have to celebrate first steps just like we do with babies. We are not saying it is all, but it is a journey; it is a long process. There was a recommendation in the 1990s which were taken up in 2004 to say early childhood had to be formalised not to be taken as crèches or just holding centres for mothers who would be at work. It come out of the Beijing conference. It was more for women rather than for the children. That should be applauded. In 2014, there was a secretary’s circular that said no child will go to Grade One without going through ECD B.

The other issue was the alignment amendment of the Education Act to the 2013 Constitution where they have put ECD as part of basic education. Basic education is now nine years from ECD A to Grade 7 and I know they are plans somehow to say that it needs to be free and State-funded. Those are landmarks and hopefully it means all ECD teachers have to be paid for by the government just like other teachers.

Investment in ECD is very important in that for every dollar invested, the return is between $12 and $17 because later on you will be thinking in terms of improved learning outcomes.

Unfortunately, I think many decision-making positions not only in Zimbabwe, but in many third world countries are still focusing on higher education where more investment is required in order for that person to learn other than a few dollars required for ECD children to learn so we still have lopsided policy preferences where we put more money in tertiary education and also in secondary education and not so much in ECD.

In terms of policy, I think our government has not shown much enthusiasm to supporting the ECD budgets and it has not established institutional co-ordination mechanisms for ECD.

Our government also has not shown political will in championing the needs of ECDs. The Primary and Secondary Education has not been supporting ECD programmes. Any programme to be successful it needs the support at the highest level.

ND: How are ECDs in rural areas faring under  the current system?

NB: If you look at the education management information system, they say Harare as a province has a net enrolment of 12% to 13%. It is children who are in schools at the appropriate age, but you find the national enrolment is 32% and it has been stagnant for the past five years and it is a worrisome development.

Yes, what it means is a lot of underage and overage children are in ECD A and B. That means it’s almost like a third of Harare. We know reasons for that and some reasons are that there are many private ECD centres where children are going which are not registered. Why are they not registered? It is because there are a lot of cumbersome policy requirements within the registration of ECD centres. Some have gone for more than three years due to huge registration fees charged. People need only to satisfy the requirements. There is policy failure and there are in those centres because government has not provided schools for that.

In terms of provisions, we have more qualified teachers for ECD in Harare than in rural areas and for those registered, you find they are more in the  capital than outside and there are several issues to that.

ND: In your view, what is the impact of a situation where some of the pupils, as highlighted in a recent Auditor-General Mildred Chiri report that they were learning in beerhalls and other unsuitable places? What is the impact of such circumstances to ECD?

NB: Children, young as they are, cannot concentrate for long period and that is why their lessons are a maximum of 20 minutes and they are easily distracted by any passing thing or noise. If they hear any song, they jump sky high. They are bound to see the not so good models. They think role models are those with cars, but those with cars some of them have criminals.

I think the use of beerhalls is an issue of policy failure and we are saying bad learning and bad environment produces undesirable results. It come out when Members of Parliament were saying we have lot of resources lying idle that we can utilise including churches, community halls and even tents that were suggested and to have awareness as communities. Beerhalls no, yes they protect them from the sun, rain, cold, but at the same time it is not a conducive learning environment.

ND: There have been lots of disturbances because of COVID-19, what is your assessment and what needs to be done?

NB: Education in a pandemic has been an issue we have been grappling with and it has not only been COVID-19 which has presented that challenge. We have droughts, cyclones, health disasters among other things. COVID-19 is adding on that and sadly it is adding to a situation in Zimbabwe which is dire in terms of economic decline which has happened.

Families are stressed in trying to meet demands of life, including food, health, education and also with that you see that even without COVID-19, mental health issues have been increasing and no wonder abuse is also increasing not only among children but also among adults as witnessed by number of divorces.

Not many children were affected, but in terms of learning, ECD is the worst affected in that others can learn on their own without support if they can read or write and research on their own. ECDs would need assistance to learn and focus on developmental milestones either to speak fluently or read, develop relations among others. COVID-19 came in and curtailed those relations.

Interventions that came in including radio programmes and learning, you find that an ECD child cannot remember that it is time for radio.  Somebody has to take the radio and put it on and there is a need for parents or caregivers to be there otherwise nothing comes out. It is a national disaster.

Follow Moses on Twitter @mmatenga