In 2017, the Malawi Government adopted a National Early Childhood Development (ECD) Policy. The policy recognises that investment in ECD is key to stimulating human capital and an essential tool for socio-economic development. A thorough scrutiny of the document shows that if government were to walk the talk on ECD, Malawi would be a good example of countries taking early education seriously. But as MACDONALD THOM found out in Mangochi recently, if the effort the government is making is anything to go by, Malawi will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 4 on ECD by 2030.
Sakina Bwanali, a 61-year-old widow from Balakasi in Mangochi District, wants her community transformed. She deems education key to that vision.
In 2001, she volunteered as a caregiver at Balakasi Community Based Child-care Centre (CBCC). However, since that year, she has seen her responsibilities at home growing. At the moment, she looks after 11 people.
But the desire to contribute to reducing illiteracy levels in her village has kept her going to the CBCC. She believes in offering psychosocial support to orphans and other vulnerable children in her village.
Today, she is all smiles to see the number of children who went through the CBCC complete secondary education. She does not have exact numbers but says they are more than 30.
But her 18 years of work with the CCBC have not been easy.
“As a CCBC, we are doing well. The children that have attended lessons here perform well at primary school level. Some have completed secondary education; others are doing tertiary education.
“The problem we have, however, is that of support to caregivers. People have to volunteer. Some just stop coming to the CBCC because they are not paid. I have seen that quite often since I started volunteering here in 2001,” Bwanali says.
At the moment, the CBCC has 380 children. Initially they were 410 but four other CBCCs have been formed from Balakasi. Thirty children have gone there. But that has not reduced the problems at the centre.
“The community contributes food. But sometimes the food gets finished before the end of the term. The contributions are not sustainable. There is need to find a sustainable way of running the centres,” she says.
SDG Number 4 states that quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development. It says in addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.
The UN, however, observes that reasons for lack of good-quality education are due to lack of adequately trained teachers, poor conditions of schools and equity issues related to opportunities provided to rural children.
Muhammad Shahid Hanif, Early Childhood Development Specialist at Unicef Malawi, states that all stakeholders have to play a role in raising children.
“We encourage mothers, fathers and caregivers in Malawi to be active in raising their children together as a family. We encourage mothers and fathers and other caregivers to practice responsive parenting and provide the best environment for their children to grow up in,” he says.
Two years after Bwanali started assisting children at Balakasi CBCC, government developed the first National Policy on Early Childhood Development (NPECD). The 2003 ECD policy was revised in 2006 for what it said “closing gaps and incorporate emerging issues”. The policy underwent further revision in 2017.
Although the policy states that there has been an increase in the number of children accessing centre-based services from 2.63 percent in 2000 to 45.43 percent in 2017, there are still many challenges in the provision of ECD services in the country.
In the 2017 ECD Policy, it is stated that there is a problem with coordination, leadership and governance of ECD services. Although the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare is coordinating implementation of the ECD Policy, officers who are coordinating and leading in ECD services do not have established posts on the payroll.
And Bwanali is not the only caregiver struggling. Balakasi CBCC is also not the only child-care centre sailing through such problems. The situation is the same with Tiyanjane CBCC at Amidu in the area of Traditional Authority Jalasi in the lakeshore district.
With 136 children, the centre has four caregivers. Agnes Ali, head caregiver, says, initially, there were six caregivers but two of them dumped the facility along the way.
“I started volunteering in 2010. Parents around this place decide what to give to the centre. In most cases, they grow soybeans for the children’s porridge and each family contributes K200 per month.
“Recently, they raised about K65,000 which they gave us. That time, we were six. Each one of us was given K,5000 per month. This was done for two months,” she says.
A community member, Sanudi Ali, says they play a role in the operations of the centre.
“Whenever there are things needed, the community assists. For instance, we help in the renovation of the infrastructure and make monetary contributions,” Sanudi says.
Locals’ interest in the provision of education to their children is clear. However, it is also clear that there is no direct support from the government.
According to government records, in 2016, there were 11,600 CBCCs and preschools in Malawi. Only 45.36 percent of targeted children go to ECD centres. That meant 55.64 percent of the targeted ECD children had no access to the services.
Director of Child Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, McKnight Kalanda, says government is doing its best to address challenges being experienced in the delivery of ECD services.
“One of the ways of motivating the caregivers is provision of training. The training is at various levels. The first level is what is called basic training, which takes two weeks. After that, a few caregivers are passed through what is called comprehensive training. That is one of the incentives that we provide to the caregivers,” Kalanda says.
He adds that government is exploring ways of providing monetary incentives to caregivers following a proposal from the ministry.
“The proposal was that the caregivers should be getting small honoraria and when they looked at it, they asked us to revisit what we were proposing. We were requested to submit something that is sustainable, something that is implementable,” Kalanda says.
He adds that there are a number of issues they are considering before coming up with another proposal.
“In some centres, you will find that there are, maybe, 10 caregivers, taking care of 50 children and they do that in turns; two each day. Those are some technicalities that have to be addressed, as we are looking at how we can motivate them financially.
“We hope, over the next six months, we will be able to make a presentation to the government in terms of a new proposal for incentivising the caregivers,” he says.
As the wait for what will happen after the six months continues, it is clear that the struggle in the provision of ECD services continues.
SDG 4’s target is that, by 2030, all girls and boys should have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
Failure to address challenges being experienced means that in Malawi, unless ECD Policy is matched with action, the target will remain a far-fetched dream.
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