An empty classroom at Sinoni primary school in Mochongoi, Baringo south constituency on March 6, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A good teacher is like a candle-it consumes itself to light the way for others-Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

When we were growing up, the teaching profession was revered. It needed passion, dedication and commitment to be a teacher. It was a calling.

Being a teacher for early learners gives one this feeling and makes one retrace their steps to the days they first stepped into a class.

Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) is a calling because one needs dedication and passion to handle the little angels that parents entrust the teachers.

However, this cadre of teachers is also one of the most neglected. Prior to the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, ECDEs were under the Ministry of Education. But this changed with the advent of devolution which handed them to the county governments.

This was a major setback because the history of early childhood education in Kenya is replete with hits and misses. Many will recall that these institutions were scattered all over with some domiciled in faith institutions, primary schools while some were stand-alones.

This complicated infrastructure investment and the allocation of resources such as building age-appropriate classrooms and toilets. There was also disagreement over who was responsible for hiring teachers or even how much they should earn.

While the provision of ECDE was passed to counties in 2013 as part of the new constitutional arrangements set out under devolution, it was not matched with clear quality standards and policy approaches over how these responsibilities should be carried out. Resource allocation to these institutions also shrunk when their budget was consolidated with that of youth and technical and vocational institutions.

The other problem is the ratio of teachers to pupils. While the Teachers Service Commission had the role of recruiting teachers for ECDEs prior to the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, counties have miserably failed in this undertaking. This has led to a huge disparity in teacher to learners ratio.

This is further complicated by the fact that few counties have salary schemes for these teachers and so they end up being paid haphazardly.

How many parents give a thought to the teachers who handle this category of learners who can’t make a difference between head and tail when they first step into a classroom?

During the just-concluded electioneering period, teachers' unions and associations were wooed by the two competing coalitions. None of the associations lured teachers in ECDE category.

Parents should take a keen interest on how the ECDEs are run by the county governments because they are critical in the development of their children’s education.

According to research by Theirworld, a global charity organisation that rallies governments to advance the interests of children and women, children’s participation in ECDE improves long-term cognitive and socioeconomic skills, thus improving labour market outcomes. Participation also builds confidence in openness, grit, patience, and workplace skill use.

The research by the charity further indicates that ECDE improves life chances, with 47 per cent of children (globally) who attend high-quality ECDE finding skilled employment later in life compared to the 27 per cent who don’t.

“Investing in early childhood education delivers significant economic returns resulting in gains for families, communities and economies. In sub-Sahara Africa, it has been estimated that for every dollar spent towards tripling pre-primary education enrolment would yield a $33 return on investment”, the research further says.

Theirworld has been pushing county governments to invest at least 10 per cent of their education budgets on early childhood education as a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure all children receive two years of quality pre-primary education by 2030.

An analysis of budget data by UNICEF in the Eastern Africa region has revealed that Kenya has the lowest investment in pre-primary education at just 1.8 per cent of its education budget compared to Rwanda (7.7 per cent), Tanzania (6 per cent), Zimbabwe ( per cent), and Ethiopia (1.9 per cent).

The theme for this year’s World Teachers Day is appropriately titled, ‘The transformation of education begins with teachers’.

No one has worked their fingers to the bone like teachers to finally get education back on track after the Covid-19 pandemic while overseeing the transition from the 8-4-4 system to the new competency-based curriculum. Since the resumption of schools last year, teachers have fastidiously sought to have everything back on track.

In 2021, teachers hardly rested in their bid to catch up with the syllabus, especially for Class Eight and Form Four. The school calendar was squeezed into four terms.

Thanks to the efforts of the teachers, come January 2023, our school calendar will be fully back on track with scheduled breaks, a confirmation that the transformation of our education begins with teachers and that they are at the heart of education recovery.

Most times, ECDE teachers are recruited randomly depending on the whims of those running education dockets in each of the 47 counties.

One would have expected the Council of Governors to have given this matter priority since 2013. But to our surprise no scheme of service has been devised to mitigate the challenges ECDE teachers face.

As teachers worldwide commemorate their big day, a lot is expected from them on transforming the education system in Kenya.