The Sunday Mail
At the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe, in commitment to UNESCO’s education for all policy, pledged to incorporate Early Childhood Care in its education system.However, it was not until 2004 that the Government integrated the policy into educational structures, but full implementation began in 2009.
As a result and based on the Nziramasanga commission recommendations, the Early Child Development (ECD) programme was instigated to introduce children to the education system at the earliest possible age.
According to the Nziramasanga Commission, the main objective of the ECD is “To promote holistic development of all children by offering a stimulating environment to enable them to explore and reach their potential for schooling and life-long learning.
“Education should be accessible to all especially the zero to six-year-olds.”
The Nziramasanga findings said private pre-schools or nursery schools were expensive, hence the need for the government to adopt the early childhood initiative in order to provide affordable education.
It is from this finding that the commission recommended that ECD A (3-4 year olds) and B (5-6 year olds) be accommodated in formal schools.
The broad objective of the ECD programme is to improve young children’s capacity to develop and learn.
The infant school is now comprised of first two years of ECD A and B while Grades One and Two make up the final years.
The government says the positive effect of ECD programme is the development trajectory of children by the time they enter school.
Their argument is that a child who is prepared for school through ECD has less chances of repeating a grade, being placed in special education, or becoming a school dropout.
Research also shows that a child who is ready for school has a combination of positive characteristics such as being socially and emotionally healthy, confident, friendly, good peer relationships and tackling challenges well.
Nonetheless, it is still a challenge for Zimbabwe to offer adequate policy responses to the rapid growth in demand for ECD services for all children.
ECD is still one of the most neglected areas within the broad framework of development in Zimbabwe.
Thousands of children under the age of eight cannot access early childhood development facilities, despite it being a right for every child as most parents especially in rural areas cannot afford it.
On the other hand, most schools have no classrooms and playing facilities for the ECD children, a situation that results in most of them conducting classes in the open space.
A snap survey by The Sunday Mail Extra reviewed some ECD classes have an average 40 pupils, a number twice to the required teacher-pupils ratio of 1:20.
In most provinces, there is a deficit of trained ECD teachers.
An overall assessment shows that the ECD A and B classes have been manned by untrained staff (para-professionals) and this practice militates against attainment of quality education.