The Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care in Nigeria
Early Childhood development is the sequential development of a child, physically, intellectually, and psychologically; during the various stages, the child passes through child development. The study of child development deals with personality, characteristics, and environmental factors which help to sharpen an individual during childhood. For young children, care and education cannot be separated. MacEwan (2013), concluded that a child who develops well physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally during the early years of life is likely to produce a productive member of society.
Early childhood care education is the first level of education a child attends before the primary school level. It is the first step of introducing the child to formal education; apart from home, being the first agent of socialization is vital in building an individual's character. It is essential to recognize that high-quality education at the early stage of life gives children a good start.
The Federal Government of Nigeria recognizes the importance of early childhood education in Nigeria, and as a result, it was given prominence in the National Policy of Education. Despite the well-articulated goals and objectives of early childhood care education as specified in the National Policy on Education, the actualization of these goals does not seem successful. For early childhood care education to actualize its goals, factors like adequate instructional materials should be made readily available, appropriate funding and techniques should be made public, and the level of provision.
In line with the National Policy on Education (2012) on Early Childhood Education, the following implementation guidelines were given:
To establish pre-primary sections in existing public schools and encourage both community and private efforts in the provision of pre-primary education.
To make provision in teacher education programs for specialization in early childhood pre-primary education.
To ensure that the medium of instruction is principally the mother tongue or the language of the immediate community.
To ensure that the main method of teaching at this level shall be through play and that the curriculum of teacher education is oriented to achieve this, regulate and control the operation of pre-primary education. To this end the teacher, the pupil ratio shall be 1:25.
Set and monitor minimum standards for early childhood centers in the country
Ensure full participation of government communities and teacher associations in the running and maintenance of early childhood education facilities.(FRN, 2012)
Critique of National Policy on Pre primary Education
The federal government aimed for the National Policy on Education’s development plan in pre-primary education to be distributed effectively. Still, there are many flaws in the plan’s process and implementation, one of the main issues was the federal government’s decision to facilitate the objectives of pre-primary education by granting permission for private establishments of pre-primary education in the country, but not the participation of the public schools in their establishment. There are currently many substandard, ill-equipped pre-primary schools all over the country. This results from a lack of supervision and inspection to ensure that standards and quality are maintained.
Lastly, the government’s input in terms of the financial aspect of pre-primary education has been very negligible, as stated by Obiweluozor (2015). The federal government recognizes pre-primary education in the National Policy on Education, which says that financing education should be a collective effort responsibility of the three tiers of government. Still, it is found that there is no financial provision for education at the pre-primary education level. The only time the government-financed education at that level was through the Early Child Care (ECC) project of the NERDC, founded through UNICEF and the Federal Government of Nigeria, and other international agencies before 2001.
The importance of early childhood education
The importance of pre-primary education cannot be overemphasized; it enables children to improve their self-confidence since they are given the opportunity to interact with their peers and adults too. Pre-primary education enhances independence and helps curb the tendency of children that are highly aggressive during group activities.
Access to early childhood care and education institutions can be fundamentally restricted, and this has detrimental consequences to the moral health of a state like Nigeria, where there are cries of domination of some ethnic nationalities and regions due to inequitable access to education and where peace is constantly threatened almost on a split-second basis. No one can doubt the ability of early childhood care and education to heal any perceived wounds in Nigeria in particular and humanity in general.
Early childhood care and its outcomes are neglected mainly in Nigeria. This article examines the availability of adequate learning facilities, teachers-pupils ratio, funding of early childhood programs, and access to early childhood education across Nigeria.
Availability of adequate learning and sanitary provisions
A study conducted in Gombe and Bauchi states on the Assessment of Community Based Early Childhood Care Centers in Improving Enrolment, and Quality Learning found that basic facilities like toilets and potable water sources were lacking in most CBECCs used for this research. This agrees with an investigation carried out by Oluwafemi et. al in Niger state on the implementation of early childhood where only 30% of the schools had furniture suitable for ECE, and in these schools the classes were overpopulated. According to the study, 10% of the schools had no furniture for both teachers and pupils, while in some 10% of only the teachers had furniture to use; the researcher also found out that essential teachings and learning materials were indispensable for effective teaching and learning in the ECE level of education in most schools. Resources including television/computer systems, nature table/corners, toys and models, charts and wall drawings, and even playing equipment like a see-saw, merry–go–round, slides, etc., are almost entirely unavailable in the schools.
Jacob and Olakunle’s (2022) investigation on the assessment of community-based early childhood care centers in improving enrolment and quality learning noted that the number of teachers per center was not adequate, bearing in mind 1:25 teacher-student ratio. There were only two and three teachers per center in Bauchi and Gombe, respectively. This finding agrees with Ibhaze (2016), who noted that the policy position of a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:25 is also not implemented due to a lack of supervision or monitoring.
Funding of Early Childhood Education Programme
With the emergence of public Early Childhood Education integrated into public primary schools, the government’s participation and ownership are expanding, courtesy of the UBE Act (2004). Funding is mainly through FGN-UBE counterpart funds, where both federal and state governments supply funds to Basic Education. According to UBEC (2009), this is the first time that Basic Education has a quantum of funds being pumped into it. Sources of financing are both external and internal. The UBE law stipulated that 5% of these grants are allocated to Early Childhood Education and Development in 36 states and the FCT. However, the drawback here is that many forms have been found wanting to honor the system of counterpart funding put in place to boost UBE implementation.
Access to early childhood education program
Jacob and Olakunle’s (2022) investigation on the assessment of community-based early childhood care centers in improving enrolment and quality learning noted a positive attitude by the parents in rural areas to enroll both male and female children with 4,808 children enrolled, from this number, 2376 (49.4%) were females while 2432 (50.6%) were males. The males had a higher difference of 56 (1.2%) which is very insignificant. This is in agreement with a study conducted by Owojori and Akanmu (2021) on the Government commitments and teaching strategies for effective quality early childhood education in South Western Nigeria where the establishment of pre-primary sections in existing public schools has been moderate (68.3%).
Conclusion and Recommendations
The Federal Government of Nigeria has no doubt demonstrated more commitment to Early Childhood Education and Development (ECCD). This is evident from the inauguration of the ECCD policy in 2004, backed up by government financing and supported by the community, individuals, and foreign sponsorship. However, more still needs to be done regarding adequate funds for quality teachers/caregivers, supply of facilities and learning materials, and monitoring of ECCD programs. To achieve success in any public service, the issue of finance/funding cannot be overlooked. If education is poorly funded, it will affect the staffing, pupil: teacher ratio, the provision of infrastructure, and the like, which would have a grave effect on what is likely to be the quality of the output. There should be effective implementation strategies, not just a policy on paper. If the pre-primary education is to benefit from this national policy there is a need for the federal, state, and local governments to ensure that the necessary educational facilities are available in both rural and urban areas. Through the various departments of the Ministries of Education implementation of effective monitoring, supervising, and inspecting of pre-primary school facilities should be mandated.