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Early Childhood Development Chanuka! Enhancing high quality early childhood development and holistic care of children in semi-arid areas of Mbita constituency in Kenya

The early years are a crucial period in human life. It is then, through direct interaction with one’s immediate environment, that 90 per cent of brain development takes place. The quality of our adult lives – expressed through our health, level of prosperity, educational qualifications and our propensity for criminal behaviour or lack thereof – is heavily dependent on the quality of care and the developmental stimuli we receive in our early childhood. The plasticity of the child’s brain in the first eight years of life is so great that the period is characterised by extraordinary capacity for development. This is when we acquire most of the universal skills we subsequently use throughout our lives. Unfortunately, it is also a time of particular vulnerability: one that carries the risk of running deficits that are irreversible or hard to eliminate in adulthood.

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) have demonstrated that it is particularly important to provide quality preschool education and care for children living in poverty. Such children lack access to the stimuli of multidimensional development in their homes, such as books and creative forms of game playing, and they also frequently lack access to healthcare and a balanced diet. Children living in poverty and without access to quality preschool care are slower to develop, often have health problems and are poor achievers in school. Children who benefit from proper care and age-relevant education are statistically higher earners as adults, are better educated (and themselves invest more in their own children’s education) and are healthier. High-quality preschool care contributes to prevention of poverty and hunger, improved access to primary education, increased equality of opportunities for girls and better health. This is why the Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in 2015 includes a declaration on ensuring access to pre-primary education for all children by 2030.

Despite the fundamental role played by education and preschool care, the Kenyan government supports that sector to a minimal degree. Even though the Ministry of Education is allocated more than 20 per cent of the national budget, the majority of those funds are spent on maintaining the free primary education programme. Despite the huge challenges Kenyan primary schools face, students usually study in brick buildings and have basic access to benches, chairs and blackboards. Younger pupils, whose life and health are impacted by their environment to a far greater extent, take their first steps in facilities built of corrugated sheet metal or mud, lacking furniture and with earthen floors. Many children study under a tree, without classrooms as such.

The identification-of-needs exercise that Fundacja Partners Polska carried out in semi-arid rural areas of the Mbita district showed that 90 per cent of the 30 kindergartens operating there either do not have any classrooms or have classrooms located in buildings constructed of mud or recycled corrugated sheet metal. The youngest children thus study under conditions that not only stand in the way of effective learning, but also endanger their health. The huge infrastructure needs of these kindergartens far exceed the financial capacity of the Homa Bay County government, which allocates the majority of the funds earmarked for kindergartens towards teachers’ salaries. Classrooms can be constructed there only if and when external support is provided.

Early Childhood Development Chanuka! Enhancing high quality early childhood development and holistic care of children in semi-arid areas of Mbita constituency in Kenya

The project was implemented by Fundacja Partners Polska and its Kenyan partner Education Effect Africa, a non-governmental organisation, between 1 March 2016 and 31 December 2016. The project was aimed at 10 schools that offer pre-primary education to children in the semi-arid rural areas of the Mbita district. The main purpose of the project was to provide the youngest children with a safe environment, conducive to health, that would stimulate their development. This objective was achieved through:

  • Construction of four preschool buildings adapted to the age and needs of the children and improvement of the infrastructure in six existing preschool facilities. All facilities included in the project were equipped with appropriate toys and teaching aids.
  • Training preschool teachers in methods for teaching and childcare suitable for children up to eight years of age. The training course, which was provided by experts in the field, and the regular consultative and coaching sessions contributed to a lasting change in the teaching methods practised in the kindergartens included in the project.
  • A shift in the attitudes and behaviours of caregivers working with preschool children and of members of the Mbita communities, particularly towards the development, rights and needs of the youngest children.
  • Institutional strengthening of pre-primary education providers in the fields of advocacy and securing of alternative income sources, which has enabled them to cover their current operating costs.

Early Childhood Development Chanuka! Enhancing high quality early childhood development and holistic care of children in semi-arid areas of Mbita constituency in Kenya

Four new kindergartens were built (with a total of 12 classrooms), and six preschool centres were renovated in the rural areas of the Mbita district. Nearly 1,000 children attend these.

Ten preschool centres were equipped with educational materials that are relevant to the needs of their attendees and that stimulate development.

Twenty-nine teachers from the ten preschool centres involved in the project gained advanced knowledge of child development and holistic care through participation in a four-day training course, three coaching sessions, and three reflective practice sessions.

Five preschool centres initiated economic activities, the proceeds of which are used to operate a meal programme for the youngest children.

Through participation in thirty seminars, 937 parents and legal guardians increased their knowledge in the field of proper care for young children.

Teachers and volunteers visited 262 rural households (representing 1,000 people) in order to promote early childhood education and sending children to school. Every person visited was familiarised with a leaflet promoting early childhood education.

The percentage of children with birth certificates increased in these ten schools. In May 2016, only 47 children held birth certificates, while at the end of the project that number had risen to 360.

Attendance rose in all ten kindergartens: in March, 748 children were studying in the kindergartens, while at the end of the project that number had risen to 951.

The number of vaccinated children increased in all local communities near the kindergartens:

  • polio vaccination: 2,459 at project start; 3,057 at completion;
  • rubella vaccination: 2,509 at project start; 2,852 at completion;
  • measles vaccination: 1,845 at project start; 3,253 at completion.