“They teach us food,” says three-year-old Nana Khadija who attends the Early Childhood Education (ECE) class in Ali Fodio Model Basic School, Bodinga, Sokoto.
Nana was dazed seeing strangers in her class and could not speak much. She replied to the following questions thus: “Menene sunan ki?” (What’s your name?): Nana Khadija
“Mai ake koya muku a makaranta?” (What are you taught in school?): Ana Koya mana abinci.” (We’re taught about food).
She, however, did not respond to other questions, while her other schoolmates looked at the visitors admiringly. Two of them were able to reply to what their names are: Umar Hashiru and Maryamu.
So Nana’s response (‘they teach us food’) could have been from the fact that they had just returned from break, after they had gone to eat.
Meanwhile, the ECE class has about 30 pupils who were chanting along with their teacher, who was picking up objects and saying the names in English and Hausa languages with songs when the team of journalists visited them.
The class teacher, Binta Musa, told the journalists that before the introduction of the play method, it was difficult for the children to understand what she was teaching. “But now it’s far easier as they play with each other; the play and sing method make them learn faster,” she explained.
She said the register has 150 pupils, but only about 40 come to class due to inadequate facilities and manpower to take care of all the children.
“We have 150 children, from the age of five to six years. I am the only one in this class. I have been teaching for 10 years now but I am the only one teaching the ECE class in the past five years,” she said.
Musa, who said she was trained for about six months before she took over the ECE class, noted that the school started with 40 children but now has 150, which showed that parents have embraced the importance of the children attending school at an early age.
Speaking on the challenges, she said aside from the fact that some children are taken home by their parents after break, when they cry, the biggest issue is inadequate teachers, not just for the ECE but for the school in general.
The introduction of Early Child Education (ECE) in Nigeria emphasises the need for children to be enrolled in play-based learning schools between the ages of two to five years before they are moved to the pre-primary level.
In her presentation on ‘Parental Engagement in Early Learning’ at a two-day media dialogue organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Child Rights Information Bureau (ICRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, UNICEF’s Education Specialist, Yetunde Oluwatosin, said one in three (36 per cent) children enrol in early childhood education while 10 million children are not enrolled in Nigeria.
She said large inequalities persist in the enrolled figure, with only eight per cent of the poorest children while 78 per cent of the richest children attend ECE.
Speaking on the challenges of ECE, she cited poor subsector analysis, inadequate spending on ECE and lack of data on early learning, limited infrastructure and community-based offering, as well as an insufficient supply of trained teachers, inadequate ECE teaching and learning materials.
The Country Coordinator, Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECD), Emy Panyi, stated that enrolling children in play-based schools would reduce the number of out-of-school children in the country.
Panyi called for increased training for teachers handling the ECE and the need for community awareness on the importance of the programme.
Also speaking, the chairman of the School Based Management Committee (SBMC) in the local government, Bawa Sani Bodinga, noted that though they have been able to sell the ECE to the people, there was a period when they experienced problems in recruiting teachers.
Bodinga, who was an old student of the school (1961 to 1967), said no development can be recorded without good education, adding that as time goes on, people are beginning to see the impact of quality education.
“Our ECE is being monitored by women. This is because women are in the best position to care for the children because they have many techniques that men don’t have, and that is why you see that most of the ECE classes are under the control of our female teachers,” he said.
For Bashir Bala Bodinga, the Director of Finance in the LGA, the ECE programme is a welcome development and has seen a lot of changes.
He said the teachers are doing well and that he has seen the improvement from his own child, based on what he has learnt so far.
Bashir who also graduated from the school in 1979, said before his child’s enrolment, he didn’t know how to read and write but now he could identify letters and count one to 100, and can write as well.
To improve the ECE in the school, he said teaching aids are required because they do not have enough and urged parents to visit the schools, either weekly or monthly, to inspect what the teachers are doing and to encourage them.
He noted that one teacher is not enough for the class and urged government to employ more teachers for the ECE.
For the head teacher of the school, Abubakar Bala, ECE started about six years ago in the school and has been progressing in terms of enrolment as they record increase every year.
Bala said they do not have enough chairs and table, learning materials for the ECE class, and also that one class and one teacher is not enough.
He however said the school has made several appeals to the authority, but they are yet to respond to the demands.
Reacting, the Executive Secretary of the Local Education Authority, Lawali Na’aka Muazu, confirmed the challenges of inadequate teachers and classrooms as well as learning materials.
“We have 105 basic schools in the LGA and 27 primary schools have ECE centres. Some of the primary schools don’t have ECE centres because of inadequate number of classroom and so we cannot enrol pupils unless they reached the age of six, then we will enrol them into basic level one,” he said.
He said the challenge of inadequate classrooms in the schools is preventing them from enrolling children into the ECE, adding that, “They are small kids, so you cannot put them outside or under the shade. It is when they reach the age of six that we enrol them to basic level one.”
He noted that through the Better Education Service Delivery (BESDA) programme, the state government will employ 181 of the best and volunteer teachers to cater for the basic education programme.
Speaking, the Director of ECE, SUBEB, Faruk Kature Umar, said the responsibility of government is to provide certain funds that come to states on annual basis, which is used to provide facilities and develop manpower.
While acknowledging that the facilities and manpower are not enough considering the ratio of teachers to pupils for the ECE programme in the state, he said five per cent of the fund went to ECE and they have asked that it be increased to 10 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Education Specialist of UNICEF, Geoffrey Njoku, said early child education is the bedrock of a child’s development as it creates space for children to develop their speaking quality, if done well.
He said to push the agenda, a lot of attention should be focused on early child education because many children could not write and read and “If we start with early education, we will overcome most of the challenges.”
While noting that the media is awash with issues around politics, he said it is important that space is created for children and have children’s perspective.
Also, to improve the quality of ECE in the country, Oluwatosin called for strengthening systems for the ECE policy, planning, financing and provision, as well as continuous professional development; standards, teaching and learning materials and community-based provision.
She said: “We want to be able to reposition the ECE in Nigeria by building a strong and resilient ECE national system, delivering quality programme across the government and humanitarian contexts, as teachers need to be equipped and learners need to be taught in a way they will understand.”