Let all counties allocate 10 per cent of their budgets to ECDE

Inside a classroom at an ECDE center in Mwea Constituency. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

As the world marks the International Day of the African Child, we will be celebrating the achievements made to ensure children on this continent get access to justice and quality education.

The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991 when it was initiated by the Organisation of African Unity. It honours those who participated in the Soweto uprising in 1976. It aims at raising awareness of the situation of children in Africa. It also raises awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.

This day comes at a critical time when Kenya is deep in the electioneering period. It is that time when we choose our leaders for the next five years. As expected, politicians are all over making all sorts of promises.

We have heard those who are promising heaven on earth, especially on the education front. In one of the party manifestos, schoolgirls have been promised free pads while some have promised to give children in day schools a hot meal.

Others have made fundamental proposals on providing free education from grade 1 to the tertiary level. It is the season of promises and many more will come our way until August 9, 2022.

The day of the African child also comes at a time the budget for counties is at the critical stage of discussion and adoption. The outgoing MCAs and governors have played their role in setting the ball rolling. Those elected on August 9 must expedite the remaining part of the budgeting process. Electoral promises on children’s education are welcome, but if they are to be met, they have to reflect reality.

It must be recalled that Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) is a devolved function.

According to Theirworld, an international charity that mobilises resources for ECDE, children who go through quality pre-primary education are more likely to have better outcomes in school and are unlikely to drop out.

But how many counties are investing money in ECDE so that our children get the best foundation as they embark on their education journey? Budget for the early learners is lumped together with that of technical and vocational institutions.

Where attempts are made to have ECDE in the budget, the only outstanding part is the construction of classrooms and perhaps an office or ablution block. But this level of education requires much more than physical facilities.

Integrated ECDE learning centres are perfect opportunities for counties and the nation to provide learning materials and resources, teachers, specific health, nutrition and sanitation.

Nutrition is a key component for early learning, especially for children from poor families. It ensures that children kept in school as they are assured of a meal. It also frees their parents and guardians to participate in economic activities that improve their lifestyles.

Integrated ECDE learning centres cannot be achieved with the paltry sums of money counties are injecting into the sector. There is need for long-term investment in high quality ECDE for all children to bridge the gap that currently exists. The push to have counties allocate at least 10 per cent of their budget to this sector is long overdue.

-Mr Ngaira is an early childhood education advocate