KATHMANDU, June 17: The future of every child is largely influenced by their early childhood development (ECD). ECD experts and researchers concur that the early stage of a child’s life is very critical.
Young minds are quick to grasp knowledge and skills, thus making them sensitive to good teaching. To this effect, many countries around the world have started recognizing the role of ECD in sustainable development.
According to Dr Kishor Shrestha from Global Family Village, there are around 34,000 ECD centers—public and private—in the country. ECD teachers or facilitators are provided with trainings from district education offices which are supplemented with trainings from NGOs and other organizations.
Twenty energetic young children occupy the one-room ECD center of Shree Himalaya Lower Secondary School in Sipali VDC, Kavre. This is where they play and learn to their heart’s content, surrounded by bright posters and interesting learning materials. Their teacher Rajani Lama uses music, fun activities, and art to tutor them.
The room has been divided into different teaching areas which encourage children to learn about science, mathematics, geography, and explore their creative sides with painting, acting, and building activities. Lama, who has been facilitating ECD classes for 10 years, says no child is forced to go to any particular area.
Their choice of learning is supported.
Both Lama and Bal Nath Upreti, the school’s principal, are positive about the changes in the locality brought about by the ECD center. Upreti says, “Most of the children stayed home till they were seven years old after which their parents would send them to school to be admitted to class one directly. But we had a high rate of dropouts. Upon reaching class three or four, students stopped coming to school for various reasons.”
He continues, “Now we have happy parents and children who are willing to come to school even if it takes them one hour.”
This center has certainly made parents happy. Sharmila Upreti is pleased to see how her young son has developed his speaking skills since coming to ECD classes. Parents are invited for monthly meetings where they learn the importance of hygiene practices.
Another parent, Pasang Lama says, “I find my children more obedient now which makes it very easy for me to instruct them. Having a good ECD center in the village is definitely an advantage for all of us. We can go about our daily work secure in the knowledge that our children are safe and actually learning and developing their skills.”
However, not all ECD centers are as well equipped as the one in Shree Himalaya School.
Urvashi Mainali teaches 18 young children in Thakursthan Bal Bikash Samiti in Sipali, Kavre. Her students are not as fortunate where learning materials are concerned. Mainali says, “Our ECD center was destroyed in the earthquake. I’m currently teaching my students in a makeshift room in the school. We also lack teaching/learning materials.”
It’s not just the lack of materials that bother ECD centers around the country. The pay is measly for the teachers at just Rs 3,000 per month which does not encourage skilled human resource in this department. Toward the end of the year, teachers are entitled to Rs 1,000 and Rs 100 per child but these sums either goes toward buying classroom materials or they don’t receive them at all.
On June 15, the Ministry of Education and National ECD Council in partnership with UNICEF organized a national conference on ECD which was attended by government officials, representatives from national and international organizations, and ECD facilitators.
At the conference, Dr Shrestha spoke about the importance of regular monitoring of every ECD center. He said, “In Nepal, janajati and dalit children have less access to education. ECD is extremely important for all children because it helps in holistic development as well as preparing them for entry to class one. It’s time we fully realized that earlier the intervention, the better impact it has on the child. There is need for long term investment for long term development.”
Serving as the key resource person at the conference was Prof Dr Frank Oberklaid from University of Melbourne. Dr Oberklaid also emphasized on the value of early intervention. He said, “The longer we wait, the more expensive and less effective the intervention becomes. Money spent on children aged eight years and below should be considered an investment.”
Dr Oberklaid pointed out that a lot of adult problems like crime, poverty, and poor literacy have roots in early childhood development. A stimulating environment where a child has the opportunity to explore and develop his learning faculties is highly essential.
“It’s time we focused on prevention and not just treatment. We need a major shift in public policy. Give every child the best start in life,” he concluded.