Expanding access to ECD

At seven, she can read and write well enough to draw applause and admiration from classmates, teachers and parents.

Since she enrolled in Standard One at Chinsapo Primary School in Lilongwe, Edess Jambo has been top of her class.

The Standard Three pupil seems focused on her dream.

“I want to be a bank manager; that’s why I like mathematics and English,” she says, exuding confidence.

Edess reading a book in a class session

Orphaned two years ago, Edess lives with her aunt, Tionge Samson, who uses proceeds from her second-hand clothes business to meet her niece’s education needs and other basics.

“I am so excited about her excellent performance in class. I always encourage her to work hard in class to become a productive citizen,” says Samson.

But as Edess sees herself heading a financial institution, her eight-year-old classmate faces a bleak future as she can barely read or write. Her performance during examinations is always so low that she nearly repeated Standard One and Two.

The performance gap between the two girls is not uncommon in many schools.

However, Letia Chigonam’malunje, a Standard Three teacher at Chinsapo, argues that Edess’ promising start in primary education is largely due to quality  early childhood development (ECD) she got at Chinsapo Community-based Child Care Centre (CBCC).

“Our academic reports have consistently shown that children who went through ECD are more active and they perform better during examinations than those who did not. It’s not surprising that children who didn’t attend ECD are struggling,” she says.

Chigonam’malunje’s remarks are backed by an assessment ActionAid Malawi conducted in 2018.

The ECD evaluation report indicates that children from CBCCs have made tremendous gains in their physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth, which is necessary for national development.

“Although the data to assess the impact of the gains on children’s retention and performance in primary school requires further consolidation, there are indications that the majority of children from the CBCCs are not at the bottom end of the performance ladder,” the evaluators report.

Since 2011, ActionAid, with funding from Roger Federer Foundation, has been implementing a project that supports comprehensive early childhood development of vulnerable children in 10 districts by constructing and supporting CBCCs.

The project, which is expected to wind up in 2021, has constructed 80 model CBCCs and 400 satellite CBCCs in Chitipa, Rumphi, Ntchisi, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dedza, Machinga, Neno, Phalombe and Nsanje.

According to ActionAid, the facilities benefit 52 000 children aged three to five who had limited access to ECD.

Speaking during the handover of Zaonekera Model CBCC in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nazombe, Phalombe District, ActionAid board director Dorothy Nampota said: “As an organisation that works with people living in poverty, we brought this project as one way of creating access to ECD for children from poor backgrounds. That’s why most of our CBCCs are in districts and rural areas where poverty levels are high.

“It is pleasing that since we started the project, enrolment in the CBCCs in the target areas keeps increasing. We call upon stakeholders, including parents, and chiefs to join hands in sending children to CBCCs,” she said

Nampota, however, called upon government to sustain the gains by allocating more resources to the early childhood development and care.

Erica Maganga, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, says government is thankful to tennis  champion Roger Federer and his foundation for contributing to the ECD programme which gives young Malawians a solid start in life.

She wants other organisations to emulate ActionAid.

She said government will soon start constructing CBCCs across the country.

With more model CBCCs located in remote localities where over 84 in every 100 Malawians live, one hopes that the country will have more children like Edess who face a promising future having passed through quality ECD.

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