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Power of dad. Fathers have a huge impact on how society develops

It’s playtime. Eleven-month-old Amani, is watching TV. But TV can be boring so he crawls to a nearby drawer full of plastic bowls, spoons and empty cooking pans.

He opens the lower drawer and brings them all to the floor in a resounding clunk. He claps. Lifting and banging the bowls and spoons on the floor, enjoying every clash and clang. He grins and compels his dad, Amos, to do the same.

Amos joins in and plays with him for the next 15 minutes before the toddler moves to play at another corner of the house. Children love to play.  Play is a natural and inclusive component of a child learning that helps them make sense of their world. According to early childhood experts, play promotes learning that shapes a child’s creativity and independence.

As Kenya joins the rest of the world to mark Father’s Day today, 17th June, it is a fitting time to appreciate the critical roles fathers play in shaping their child’s early development. These early moments matter; a chance to listen, see the world from their perspective and influence their learning.

Over 80 per cent of a child’s brain is formed by their third birthday, a critical time for fathers to connect and get involved through play at home. Play between a father and his child is not only a great bonding activity but also nurtures the child’s development and fulfils a baby’s inborn need to learn.

Paternity leave

Fathers in Kenya get two weeks paid paternity leave.  While this is a good start, it is insufficient.  National family-friendly policies that support early childhood development – including increasing the duration of paid paternity leave – help provide parents with the time, resources and information they need to care for their children.

Earlier this year, Unicef modernised its approach to parental leave provisions, with up to 16 weeks of paid leave for paternity across all of its offices worldwide – the first United Nations agency to extend such leave beyond the standard four weeks. The aim is to break down financial, time and cultural barriers that prevent fathers and caregivers from taking up their irreplaceable role.

The role of fathers in the first years of life is significant and life-changing. The presence of a father at an early start strengthens not only the bond between him and the child, but also the family links.

Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development and consequently, children have better psychological health, self-esteem and life satisfaction later on in life.

When fathers nurture their young ones in their earliest years – by providing love and protection, playing with them, and supporting their nutrition – their children will learn better, have less behavioural issues, and become healthier, happier human beings.

Fathers and Education

Parents are children’s first teachers and the father’s role is important in ensuring get a good start. On 20 June 2018, the Ministry of Education will launch the Early Childhood Education, National Pre-Primary Education Policy that focuses on the need for a sound foundation in preparation for the child’s future and life-long learning.

The policy urges parents, communities and the government to provide an environment that is safe emotionally secure, loving and safeguards children’s rights.  The effective implementation of this policy needs a multi-sectoral involvement of all partners with child-centred programmes.

Way forward

The Early Childhood Education Policy will provide an official guide for the 47 County Governments on the implementation of quality and relevant early childhood education, in line with the provisions of the Constitution that assigns Early Childhood Development to the County Government.

Investment in early childhood development is the best decision any country can make.  Early childhood years, starting from conception, are the most important duration for a child’s survival, growth and development.

When children thrive in their early years they are able to reach their full potential as adults yielding long-term benefits. For many children, though, lack of support and an enabling environment remains one of the biggest obstacles. We need to urgently invest in services that give young children, especially the most deprived, the best start in life.

This can start by supporting effective and essential early childhood development at home, in schools and within the community.

Child-centred policies should be implemented and all partners, both in the public and private realm, actively involved. Dedicated leadership for ECD programmes at the national and county level should be provided to coordinate efforts more effectively. Prioritising ECD at the national level is also a way for governments to stimulate economic growth. Evidence suggests that for every dollar invested in quality ECD programmes, a return of between $6 dollars and $17 dollars is delivered.

At community level, parents need to be supported to understand their collective yet unique roles in the child’s optimal development. We have to ask more of both the government and employers if we are going to give fathers and mothers the time and resources to successfully nurture their children, particularly in the first years of life.

Above all, we appreciate that fathers have the enviable role to shape their child’s social skills early in life. Let’s support them.

Ms Amina is Education Cabinet Secretary and Mr Schultink is Unicef Representative in Kenya

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