Botswana invests in early childhood education

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Botswana invests in early childhood education by

KELETSO THOBEGA

Most children in Botswana entered standard one without ever having gone through a foundation phase to prepare them for “big school”. Most of these children are from rural areas and semi-urban areas, where there is few resources or infrastructure for foundational education. They also do not receive any form of home education from their parents or relatives, so when they arrive at primary school, teachers are forced to chisel and stimulate them for the educational transition from scratch, sometimes teaching them basic things such as counting from one to 10, and even vowels.

However, research has revealed that early childhood education is critical for a positive educational foundation, as it not only improves the child’s scope of learning but can serve as a positive point of reference throughout their educational journey.

Research indicates that children who have access to early childhood education, tend to perform better than their peers who had no access to it. With this belief in mind, the government introduced early childhood classes, commonly referred to as reception, in government schools as a pilot project.

To date, more than 10 government primary schools across the country have reception classes. According to the Ministry of Education, in 2011, only 22% of Batswana children had had access to early childhood programmes.

The importance of ECD

In 2015, UNICEF convened a transformative conference in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and Skills Development that explored models of Early Childhood Development (ECD) that best suit Botswana. It asserted that early childhood learning fertilises the ground to inspire future constructive learning.

It was also noted that the expansion of ECD in Botswana would go a long way in reducing the likelihood of children’s exposure to inadequate child care arrangements that put their well-being at risk.

During the conference, it was highlighted that ECD should be extended to rural and remote areas, which are often disadvantaged by the poverty environment and the inability to attract and retain quality teachers, most of whom do not want to live in remote areas.

UNICEF education representative, Vidhya Ganesh said that ECD is one of the most cost- effective ways to improve long life, health, education and productivity.

“Children who take part in early learning activities, have healthy child-caregiver bonds and those that attend quality pre-school programmes are more likely to stay in school over the long run, as well as have better health and nutritional outcomes throughout their lives,” she said.

However, until recently, there were no subsidised reception classes at government schools. Parents who wanted their children to undergo early childhood education programmes, had to fund the costs of it. This proved challenging for parents who could not afford the fees.

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