Poverty is underlying factor for limited access to ECE enrolment – UNICEF

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Although a number of factors have been identified as causing the reduction in attendance of children in the

Please Banerghatta National Park
Please Banerghatta National Park

Early Childhood Education (ECE) programmes, poverty is one of the structural reasons for lowered attendance, a United Nations Children’s Fund 2016 report revealed.

The report stated that despite the fact that public nursery schools are available, the poorer the family the smaller the chances that the child is going to attend ECE programmes.

“In terms of bottlenecks, on the parents’ side, a mix of social and cultural practices and the financial situation of the families hinder the access to early childhood education, and it limits the interaction between parents and young children,” the UNICEF report stated, noting that stakeholders mentioned that for certain parents, ECE is not recognised as part of the child’s formal education – which explains why four in 10 children between 36 and 59 months are not in ECE institutions.

Despite the availability of tuition-free nursery schools, access to them is still bounded by the financial capacity of the family, the report indicated, highlighting that less than 50 per cent of the children between the ages of three and five in the poor families are enrolled in ECE institutions. This further indicates that other costs might be connected to ECE, such as uniforms, meals and transport.

However, the report also highlighted that for remote areas, poor access to the Government facilities is a major obstacle.

Barriers

The report shows that interactions between parents and young children do not happen with most of the families in Guyana. Thus, the report affirmed that barriers that prevent parents from engaging more fully with infants and young children include: parents’ lack of knowledge about child development, and lack of awareness that verbal interaction with children is important.

“Parents might be held back by mental models based on traditional beliefs that some practices can be harmful to the child or by a fear of ridicule for violating a social norm against talking to infants,” it added.

“Moreover, the harsh economic situation of the country forces parents to spend long hours working and being absent of their houses. In some cases, in searching for better economic opportunities in the interior of the country (mining and logging) and abroad, many parents – especially fathers – do not live with their children,” it noted.

It must be stressed that target 4.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasises the importance of investing in ECE and that countries should ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

In terms of ethnicity, only four in Amerindian children were attending nursery schools in 2014, data from the Bureau of Statistics, Public Health Ministry and UNICEF Guyana revealed.

No order

ECE is divided into day care centres and play Groups for children between the ages of zero and three years old, and nursery schools for children between three years and six months, and five years of age who did not start primary education.

The Social Protection Ministry regulates day care centres, while the nursery, primary and secondary schools are the responsibility of the Education Ministry. Nevertheless, Government has no data on the number of children in day care centres.

Despite the fact that day care centres have to follow guidance from the Social Protection Ministry, there is no monitoring of the quality of these institutions. The number of qualified staff and the conditions of the daycare institutions are practically unknown.

For nursery schools, out of the 1601 teachers at public nursery schools, 65 per cent of them were considered to be qualified, 25 per cent were untrained, and 10 per cent unqualified. Out of all the teachers, 12 per cent of them had a graduation related to early childhood education.

The Education Ministry has pointed out, in its Education Strategic Plan (ESP) that in addition to an increase in the proportion of trained teachers, there has been improved monitoring and greater support to schools through the addition of 40 Infant Field Officers from all education districts who have been trained to support colleagues in a cluster of schools.

The idea is that these Officers should visit schools in the cluster periodically to assess their instructional programmes, internal and external environments and to offer advice as necessary.

In 2011-2012, around 26,000 boys and girls aged three years and six months to five years were enrolled in nursery schools in the country, out of that number, 93 per cent were attending public nursery schools. There were 442 public and 58 private institutions offering nursery education in the 2011-2012 academic year.

In 2014, on average, 61 per cent of the children aged 36-59 months in Guyana were attending nursery school – 59.0 per cent girls and 63.0 per cent boys.