Child care cen­tres in Kenya un­der fire

African Independent - - EDUCATION -

qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence. In Kenya, early child­hood is the most com­pet­i­tive level of ed­u­ca­tion. Get­ting their chil­dren into their first-choice pri­mary school is a big deal for par­ents, so their early learn­ing cen­tre choice is crit­i­cal. If par­ents can af­ford it, they send their chil­dren to pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions. These are bet­ter staffed. For ex­am­ple, three dif­fer­ent classes are of­fered, de­pend­ing on the chil­dren’s age. In staterun cen­tres, due to a short­age of teach­ers and fund­ing from the govern­ment, chil­dren of all ages learn to­gether un­der one teacher. Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the pri­vate sec­tor cen­tres is high. The fo­cus is firmly on aca­demics and the school’s rep­u­ta­tion, of­ten to the detri­ment of holis­tic learn­ing – phys­i­cal, per­sonal, so­cial, emo­tional and spir­i­tual well-be­ing. Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, for ex­am­ple, have for some time em­braced holis­tic learn­ing. They had seen the toll the pres­sure for school suc­cess can take, lead­ing to neg­a­tive so­cial be­hav­iour, such as drug abuse, later on. In Kenya, chil­dren in pub­lic and pri­vate preschools tend to learn through be­ing drilled in the al­pha­bet and num­bers. This goes against the holis­tic ap­proach, where chil­dren learn by ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences, such as go­ing shop­ping and learn­ing num­bers in the process. In many pri­vate academies, lower pri­mary school text­books are used for pres­chool classes in an at­tempt to ac­cel­er­ate learn­ing. The work­load doesn’t finish at the end of the school day ei­ther. Chil­dren as young as 3 are ex­pected to do home­work. There are also ex­ams at the end of term, even for preschool­ers. When leav­ing pres­chool, chil­dren are sub­jected to in­ter­views at pri­mary schools. Kenya’s ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy rec­om­mends an in­te­grated, holis­tic, the­matic ap­proach. But it has not been ful­fill­ing its role. For one, ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy is ex­plic­itly against in­ter­view­ing chil­dren join­ing Stan­dard 1 classes. But these in­ter­views con­tinue. There are al­ter­na­tive the­o­ries on child de­vel­op­ment that of­fer guide­lines on how chil­dren should learn dur­ing their for­ma­tive years. Ital­ian ed­u­ca­tor Maria Montes­sori ar­gued the en­vi­ron­ment chil­dren learn in should be home­like, to fa­cil­i­tate hands-on prac­tice. Chil­dren learn life skills, such as cooking or set­ting a din­ing ta­ble. These ac­tiv­i­ties are meant to help the child ap­pre­ci­ate so­cial re­la­tion­ships and re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour, among other things. Swiss psy­chol­o­gist Jean Pi­aget em­pha­sised chil­dren learn by pre­tend play, cre­ativ­ity, prob­lem solv­ing and trial and er­ror. For ex­am­ple, a na­ture walk would give them hands-on ex­plo­ration of im­por­tant sci­ence con­cepts. John Dewey, the Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist, ar­gued learn­ing should be based on prac­ti­cal, re­al­life ex­pe­ri­ences. Chil­dren should

This lu­cra­tive mar­ket is driven more by com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions than by the de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren

start each day with a meet­ing, like plan­ning a cooking ac­tiv­ity, to help de­velop lan­guage and so­cial skills. Soviet psy­chol­o­gist Lev Vy­gostky said chil­dren learn to ap­pre­ci­ate their cul­ture through play. If learn­ing in these cen­tres has to take a Western per­spec­tive, these ap­proaches give guide­lines to mak­ing learn­ing more than aca­demic drilling. This would pro­vide chil­dren with a prac­ti­cal, low-pres­sure en­vi­ron­ment that en­abled them to de­velop ba­sic aca­demic skills, as well as life val­ues. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

• John Te­ria Ng’asike is se­nior lec­turer in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, Mount Kenya Univer­sity

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