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KEY TOPIC: EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT (ECD) Last updated: 16-March-2012


Homeless child
A homeless & hopeless child like this one requires comprehensive policies and programmes from birth to eight years of age aimed at developing his full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential. Photo: By George Mwika Kayange ©

Introduction

Early Childhood Development (ECD) is a comprehensive approach to policies and programmes for children from birth to eight years of age, their parents and caregivers. Its purpose is to protect and promote the child’s rights to develop his or her full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential.

ECD presents many benefits, as follows:

bullet Children who have gone through ECD are “school ready”, excel in class, and have higher chance of completing their school cycle compared to those who have not and are successful in life.
 
bullet Children who have gone through ECD services are more productive in socio-economic development and lead a better quality life. 
 
bullet The country benefits by saving resources used in remedial education, healthcare and rehabilitation services.
bullet There are also higher earnings for parents and care givers who are freer to enter the labour force.
bullet ECD has a central role in the attainment of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy Goal of reducing poverty through sustained economic growth. This goal is also in tandem with the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, ensuring that all children live healthy lives, attain gender equality, are protected from the effects of HIV and AIDS, and complete primary school education.
 
 

Background to Early Childhood Development in Malawi

downlod now
bullet1 The Malawi ECD National Policy (PDF)  
bullet1 The Children's Manifesto (PDF)  
According to the Advocacy and Communication Strategy for Early Childhood Development in Malawi dubbed "Mmera Mpoyamba", a collaborative initiative of the Malawi Government with support from UNICEF, the early childhood development activities in Malawi in the 1950s were focused on the provision of care to young preschool children. Mostly operated by missionary groups, these centers enrolled children for two years before they proceeded to Standard One.

The first conventional ECD Center was established by the Church of Central African Presbytery in 1966 at the Henry Henderson Institute in Blantyre. This initial effort was soon followed by a mushrooming of centers taking many forms, some operating
as day care centers and others as preschool play groups. Community-Based Care Centers (CBCCs) were later introduced in the late 1980s.

Pre-school play groups were the most common. As their numbers swelled, the Association of Preschool Play Groups in Blantyre was formed in 1970 to coordinate their activities. It was later renamed the Association of Preschool Playgroups in Malawi in1972.

Chronic malnutrition and the increasing numbers of children orphaned by AIDS led to demand for community-based child care. CBCCs mushroomed in 1998 to provide comprehensive care to orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC). The need arose for a policy framework to guide ECD programmes and activities in the country and in 2003, the Government launched a National Policy on Early Childhood Development to ‘provide guidelines and coordination for implementation of ECD activities in
Malawi.’

Current Key Issues & Challenges in ECD

A national ECD Network of stakeholders and child care professionals was soon formed to coordinate ECD programmes and a core team of national and district trainers identified. Parent committees have been established to mobilize resources and provide leadership and guidance in the management of ECD services. An inventory of existing community-based care centers was undertaken in 2008 to create a database of all CBCCs operating in Malawi. The inventory shows that there are a total of 5,665 CBCCs operating in Malawi.

Overall, the growth in the number of ECD centers operating in Malawi suggests that there exists a sustainable demand for these services. From 649 centers catering for 32,000 children (aged 6 years and below) in 1996, the centers had mushroomed to
7,800 by 2007 catering for 684,000 children of the same age-group. These children, lucky enough to attend an ECD center, represented only 30 per cent of all children in that age-group needing to be reached with ECD services. The 70 per cent of under-six children currently not being reached represent a lost opportunity, an unacceptable omission the full costs of which can only be fathomed in the years to come.

The Ministry of Gender, Women and Child Development launched the National Policy on Early Childhood Development (ECD) in 2003 which seeks to provide guidelines and coordination of ECD activities.

Although Government has trained at least ten main facilitators in each district to implement the programme within its ECD structures resulting in an increase of beneficiaries’ access rate from 5.6 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2009, there is still limited financing of ECD programmes. For example, ECD was allocated only 0.003 percent in the 2007/2008 national budget.

Most of the financial support come from the development partners rather than from Government coffers, in a way justifying World Bank and UNICEF’s fears that many developing countries were giving ECD the least attention in spite of its value and importance to the global crusade against poverty.

So far, there has been poor coordination of ECD programmes at both the central and district levels characterised by very few trained volunteers on the ground.

Currently there is no clear linkage between ECD and other key education policies at primary level.

One of the positive strides is that the ministry has produced a considerable amount of ECD reading materials. However, most of these materials are yet to be distributed to the districts due to transport and other logistical challenges.

Recommendations
bullet Increase the financing Of ECD programmes.
bullet Establish District ECD coordinators in each district to ensure smooth and effective coordination of ECD activities. 
bullet Harmonies inter-sectoral ECD interventions in order to standardize operations, foster effective coordination, and avoid duplication of interventions.
 
bullet Ensure that the Ministry of Education find practical and effective ways of distributing ECD materials into the districts and at macro-level.
 

References

1. "Mmera Mpoyamba", Advocacy and Communication Strategy for Early Childhood Development in Malawi.
2. National Policy on Early Childhood Development. 
3. The Education Agenda, 2008 - SCEC.
4. National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Development (2009 - 2014).

 
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