Early Childcare as a Critical Public Service in Nigeria
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defined early childhood as the period from birth to eight years old. It is a time of remarkable growth and brain development at its peak. Children are highly influenced by societal and environmental factors at this stage and require optimal care and attention. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It is holistic, as it encompasses the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical developmental needs of the child, to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.
ECCE has the possibility to nurture caring, capable, and responsible future citizens. Extensive research from developmental psychologists have demonstrated that a child develops the necessary brain and psychological structures in the early years, which subsequent growth and learning are dependent. Consequently, attention to children from conception onward and multi-level care and support from various sectors can broadly impact the course and development of lives and their future social conditioning and impact. Good care for infants is an effective preventive measure to avoid incapacities and developmental delays, as developmental milestones are monitored, and the needed support is provided. Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world. Research shows that 37% of children under five are stunted. Early childhood care and development is a vital part of the overall sustainable growth of Nigeria. Early childcare and education are a channel through which the country can promote human resource development, gender equality and social cohesion, and an avenue to reduce the costs for future corrective programs.
Image: courtesy UNICEF
Several policy frameworks were developed and implemented to serve as a guideline for early childcare and development in Nigeria. Integrated early childcare requires multi-sectoral input and action to be thoroughly impactful, as developmental domains are interconnected. The National Policy for Integrated Early Childcare and Development (IECD) was enacted in response to the needs of children. The IECD approach views the survival, growth, and development of young children as mutually interdependent. After the enactment of the IECD policy, the National Early Childhood Curriculum for children aged 0-5 years by Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) with the support of UNICEF, as well as the National Minimum Standard for Early Child Care Centers in Nigeria were enacted. The Universal Basic Education act and The Nigerian National Policy on Education also provide pre-primary education in Nigeria. They stipulate that the Government has the responsibility of promoting the training of qualified pre-primary schoolteachers’ inadequate number, contributing to the development of suitable curriculum, supervising, and controlling the quality of pre-primary institutions, and establishing pre-primary sections in existing public schools. Therefore, access to quality childhood care and education in Lagos State is considered based on the available policy framework.
Data shows that Between 2010 and 2018, on average, 36 per cent of children between the age of 3-5 years in Nigeria attended an early childhood education program. Early Childhood Care and Education are given at home by childminders, members of the community, Day Care Centers, Nursery and Kindergarten schools. Private individuals and religious bodies constitute the most significant proprietorship, while public institutions provide about 10 per cent of early childhood care and education. Lagos State does not have a State-specific policy on ECCE. However, along with the national policies and guidelines stated above, it is governed by the Child Rights Law of Lagos State. The law states that no person shall provide daycare for children under six years in any premises within the State unless registered by the State Government. According to the provisions of the law, certain criteria need to be met by all daycare centres and childminders for registration within the State, and a public register of all centres be kept. However, registration is at the discretion of the Government. There appears to be a robust framework of policies on early childhood care in Lagos state.
To assess the implementation strategies of Integrated Early Childcare and Development (IECD) in Lagos State, independent surveys were carried out in two local governments. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted a data collection exercise in the Agege area of Lagos, and a survey was carried out by researchers in the Epe Local government area as well.. Findings from both research studies indicated that although the National Education policy provides for establishing pre-primary sections in public schools, most parents enroll their children in the private sector. The survey findings from IPA showed that an estimated 82% of pre-school students in Agege went to a private pre-school, out of the 50 pre-schools attended by children from the sample. It revealed that in Agege, only 3 of the 16 private pre-schools visited claim to be registered with the Government. Few of the private pre-schools could meet a subset of the requirements for school registration and had underqualified staff with no Early Childhood Development specific qualification or training on the unique needs of preschoolers. Additionally, only 11% of the private pre-school children attended a school where lunch was provided for all children. In 13 of the 16 private pre-schools, no meals at all were provided for the children. Similarly, in Epe, private school enrollment was prominent due to public ECCE centres admitting very few children below age 3. Most of the children enrolled in public early childcare programs are three years and above, whereas private ECCE centres admitted all categories of pre-primary school-age children.
Pre-school participation in parts of Lagos appears to be relatively high. Existing evidence shows that low-income households are more likely to enroll children in lower-quality private pre-schools due to cost factors. This is a problem as Nigeria has a relatively high poverty rate, with over 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. The inspection of daycare centres and nursery schools to modern compliance is rare in practice. As stated above a majority of the schools visited in one of the survey areas were not registered with the government. There is a significant quality concern due to the highly underregulated nature of private pre-schools. The lack of quality control is bothersome as a majority of the children are enrolled in these schools There are available policies for Integrated Early childcare and development and public sector incorporation. However, it does not appear to be effectively implemented in reality as parents will instead send their children to low standard private schools than public schools. Low rates of public-school early year enrollment indicate a wide implementation gap of the IECD strategies in Lagos State.
The statistics above do not demonstrate the complete picture of the State of early childhood care in Lagos, as it is limited to 2 local governments. However, it indicates certain areas of concern and gaps that need to be addressed. There is inadequate data and statistics on early childhood care in Lagos State. Most of the nationwide statistics on early childhood care and development in Nigeria date back to about a decade ago. Given the importance of early childhood care, there is a need for further and current research in this area to determine the availability of quality childhood care centres and access across various local government areas and challenges.
Although there is a robust policy framework for early childhood care, there is a problem with practical implementation. There is a high necessity for effective monitoring and evaluation strategies to determine the effect of the available policies and guidelines on early childhood care and education within the State. Furthermore, due to the high enrollment of children in the private sector, as indicated by the findings, strict quality control standards and implementation protocols must be established to ensure that private early care centres and schools provide the necessary care needed and adhere to nationally set standards. There are a large number of low-income households in Nigeria. Every child has a right to quality primary care and education irrespective of their socio-economic status and background. Practical implementation strategies need to be developed to ensure quality early childhood sections within public schools. Active monitoring and evaluation are required to determine the needs of this sector and areas of fund allocation Ministry of Education.
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