The emotional, social and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become. That is why understanding the need to invest in very young children is so important, so as to maximise their future well-being. However, underfunding is the main challenge affecting early child development in the country. As Parliament starts deliberations on the 2016/17 National Budget, our reporter FATSANI GUNYA spoke to BENEDICTO KONDOWE, to get some insights on how crucial ECD is to the social-economic development of the country.
How vital is ECD in growing the social-economic sector of this country?
Early childhood development in Malawi is very vital and this is the reason why government and stakeholders should prioritise child development programmes, above all other programmes. Human capital investment is the only sure way to break the intergenerational poverty cycle that Malawi is suffering from.
How do you rate the way the country is implementing elementary education in the country?
Elementary education is not looking good in Malawi with access still at 41 percent. As a coalition, we have made several studies in ECDE with the recent ones being the budget analysis for the year 2015/16 with focus on inclusive education. The other study was on effectiveness of ECDE policies which revealed that Malawi is still not fulfilling what it puts down it its strategic plans.
It has to be noted that international charters on education calls for a three percent allocation of the total national budget, but it has never happened here. For instance, in the 2014/15 National Budget, you would find that only K84 million was allocated for ECD. It was a total mockery to nation building. Of course, the allocation has gone up in the subsequent budget where it jumped to K900 million. But still, this is less than the stipulated three percent of the total national budget.
Why is public financing towards the sector low?
There may be several factors, but I would like to dwell on about three. First, I think it would be fair to say that government has never been serious with growing the sector. It is yet to appreciate the significance of ECD in social economic development of the country. I am saying this because we have seen government allocating more resources to sectors which we feel they could have done better on.
Secondly, there is less commitment on the part of the donors towards ECD. As a poor country, one would easily appreciate that all the important decisions in running government are dictated by donors. That, on its own, is a minus to our efforts in growing Malawi.
And then there is lack of political will in allocating the sector to relevant ministries. We have seen over the years that ECD keeps changing arms between the ministry of education and that of gender.
What major challenges are choking ECD sector growth?
Yes, and they remain plenty. They include inadequacy of capacity at all levels for caregivers, supervisors, managers, service providers, and policy makers; low education levels of caregivers, poor infrastructure for ECD centers, lack of incentives for caregivers and providers, inadequate trained service providers at all levels. There is also insufficient services for children with special needs, inadequate ECD standardised instructional materials, weak monitoring and evaluation system for ECD services, lack of ECD resource centres for professional development, inadequate funding for implementing ECD institutional building; Inadequate coordination among ECD stakeholders at all levels; among others.
So what interventions have you implemented to help promote the sector?
Civil society education coalition is a mother of 84 members who are working in education. As such, these members also have different interventions in the ECD sector. All of us together are working towards a common goal of improving service delivery in ECD. CSEC has been working in the ECD sector by promoting ECD and inclusive education with particular focus on children with disabilities. Among some of the activities, we have promoted availability of play materials, cooking and feeding utensil, just to mention a few. The caregivers were also trained on inclusive education. With some studies done in the previous year, the coalition has engaged education stakeholders on the findings.
Lastly, how best can Malawi make ECD sustainable?
The only way to go is to encourage community participation in the affairs of the ECD centres. This means producing locally made play materials and also finding a way where the communities could generate some funds on their own as way of sustaining themselves.