UNICEF: Experts Link Early Childhood Education To Better Outcomes In Adulthood

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...As Nigeria Records 36% ECE School Enrolment  1 In 3 Children Exposed To Play Groups

Experts drawn from the Nigerian education sector, and civil society groups have harped on the need to strengthen Early Childhood Education (ECE) among children as a means of developing their full potentials.

The experts while reviewing antecedents in Early Childhood Education at a two day Media Dialogue, jointly organised by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Child’s Right Information Bureau under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, as well as Sokoto state, North West Nigeria, observed that unhindered playing among children especially within the age brackets of 1-5 helped in no small measures in developing their cognitive and creative abilities.

They noted that Early Childhood Education in Nigeria was at 36%, an indication that 1 in 3 children between ages 3-4 are actually beneficiaries of ECE.

The Experts equally observed that allowing children to play either in formal or informal setting was impactful as it helps in exploration, building their self esteem, arose their curiosity and helps in eliciting critical thinking ability in them.

One of the resource persons, Yetunde Oluwatosin, Education Specialist, UNICEF said the concept of building strong foundational learning among children is rooted in early childhood education, adding that stakeholders at all levels should see it as a priority.

She noted that the 36% children enrolment in Pre-primary (Early Childhood) Education in Nigeria represents a commendable figure, noting that it could get better with more advocacy and enlightenment programmes.

According to Oluwatosin, there was nothing as too much play for children because while they are actively engaged in such playful exercises, they are developing their capacity for social relationships as well as problem solving techniques that come handy much later in their adult life.

She however noted that there were some barriers to ECE which manifests in social inequalities as only 8 percent of children from poor homes are exposed to ECE as against 78 percent from wealthy homes.

Other barriers come in form of poor sector analysis, planning and coordination,inadequate spending on ECE and lack of data on early learning.

She disclosed that UNICEF has developed play based one year pre-primary curriculum in collaboration with the Nigeria Education Research Development Council NERDC and the National Commission for Colleges of Education

UNICEF’s Chief Of Field Office, Sokoto State, Maryam Darwesh corroborated Oluwatosin’s position, when she said, the Federal Government of Nigeria has an Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) Policy, which is a multi-sectoral policy that comprises the education, health, nutrition, and child protection.

According to her, “this policy aims to create an enabling environment for the provision of integrated ECD services and coordination mechanisms among sectors at decentralized levels.

“Nigeria has made some progress in the implementation of this policy. Despite the progress, there are still some challenges which include low awareness and understanding of the importance of ECD, poor articulation and clarity of the policy, weak coordination among the relevant Agencies, and most importantly poor funding”.

Darwesh also stated that UNICEF as an intervention agency views early childhood education as the most critical stage of development in a human life, especially between the age brackets of 1-5 years.

She further noted that parents should dedicate greater time to their children by observing them while playing, stressing that children develop at their individual pace, mostly through a sequence of physical, cognitive, and emotional growth.

“Development of the brain in the early years is a pathway that affects physical and mental health, learning, and behavioral patterns throughout the life cycle.

“Children who participate in well-conceived ECD programmes tend to be more successful in later school, and are more competent socially and emotionally, as well as show higher verbal, intellectual and physical development during early childhood than those who are not exposed to such programme.

 

“Going by the number of public primary schools, many children are not accessing pre-primary education.

 

“Therefore, pre-primary education remains a priority in UNICEF programming with Government in Nigeria,” the ECE expert noted.

 

Meanwhile, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku also stated his opinion on Early Childhood Education, noting that children who are denied the opportunity to play end up lacking the requisite intellectual capacities needed in their adulthood.

 

He noted that the media remains an indispensable tool in raising awareness and setting the agenda for Early Childhood Education, creating platforms that will prompt Government and other stakeholders into taking actions that will change the tide and make sure that Early Childhood Education becomes the norm and practice nationally.

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