Solid start to child learning

Friday Kambanje is one of few men taking caregiving roles in community-based childcare centres (CBCCs) credited with giving every child a solid start in life.

Every morning, the caregiver breaking the gender divide at Chipiri CBCC near Nansato Primary School in Lilongwe sees 30 children.

The centre lacks trained volunteer caregivers, a common gap that denies children in poverty a solid start before joining primary school.

He says: “Most volunteers quit because they do this job without any stipend and basic training. This lowers our commitment.

“We only know what we are lacking when we get a training opportunity. For instance, we need to learn how to help children with disabilities in a setting where their peers play happily.”

Previously, Kambanje and his colleagues were finding it hard to teach the children due to lack of skills and playthings.

To close the gaps, World Vision, which has been operating in Malawi for 37 years, trains caregivers and equips constrained CBCCs with toys.

Last year, the faith-based organisation trained nearly 1 210 caregivers. This year, 600 have been trained so far.

World Vision communications director Charles Gwengwe says the global investment in improving access to education has largely succeeded, but many children, especially the most vulnerable in hard-to-reach areas still  face waning access when it comes to quality life-learning, including early childhood education (ECD).

He said: “Until recently, most of our education funding went to help communities build schools as well as to provide uniforms, fees and other school supplies. However, analyses showed that children were not necessarily learning while they attended these schools.”

In response, World Vision  has transformed its basic education programming to improve learning outcomes—especially increasing the number of children who can read and write—by investing in quality ECD for all.

“Against this background, we have strengthened our work on ECD centres and another project to unlock and boost literacy. We want to help children learn to read and write at appropriate ages by bringing fun in the learning process and ensuring parents and community members participate in improving education outcomes.”

Joyce Bazwell, from Kalerambewa CBCC, commended the training for helping them realise how they can teach using locally available resources to improve learning conditions in constrained CBCCs.

“Right now, we know how to help children develop in all six categories—physically, psychologically, culturally, language-wise, mentally and how to differentiate things. Now, we use local materials to make educational materials and playthings,” she says.

Association of ECD in Malawi (AECDM) spearheads national efforts to ensure caregivers have appropriate training and playing materials for the benefit of children.

Its executive director Archie Malisita urges government and the private sector to provide adequate resources for the childcare centres.

“The coming in of organisations like World Vision is what we need. On our own we cannot train all the caregivers. For our children to develop holistically, they need to get knowledge from well-trained caregivers,” he said.

Research shows quality ECD improves a child’s readiness for school and performance for children. Children leaving CBCCs or nursery schools with a sound foundation tend to stay longer and perform better in school than the have-nots.

This makes it more likely that children succeed in school, earn higher incomes when they become adults, and provide better education, health, nutrition, and health care for their own children.

But over half of Malawian children are being left behind.

According to AECDM, 55 percent of nearly four million young people aged below five in the country do not go to ECD centres.

However, only about 17 000 out of 37 000 caregivers in CBCCs nationwide received appropriate training. Sadly, the CBCCs keep losing trained caregivers due to lack of incentives or stipends.

Meanwhile, assessments of primary schools by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology show 87 percent of children in the country’s schools cannot read, write or do basic arithmetic even though half have attended school for at least four years in primary school.

A study published in the Lancet Journal estimates that for every single dollar (K780) spent on quality ECD, the return is 17 times higher. The findings show that although it is the poorest and most vulnerable children who are targeted to benefit more from pre-school programmes, they are the least likely to have access to ECD interventions.

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