ERIC Mugabo is a 4-year-old child who should be in a nursery school. His age mate in the neighbourhood wakes up early to prepare for school as Mugabo looks on. Mugabo’s parent has no plan of sending him to Kindergarten. He will start school when he turns 7 as a primary one pupil. Many pupils in Rwanda are joining primary education without going through Nursery education, which experts say is a fundamental foundation in Education.
“He is still a young boy; when he turns seven he will start Primary One,” says Mugabo’s mother when asked why a child who should be in Kindergarten is seated at home.
Like many parents who are keeping their children at home, Mugabo has her reasons. She says there are very few nursery schools in her area and even the few ones are too expensive for an ordinary parent. As a result most Rwandan children begin school at the age of seven without going through nursery education.
The education structure in Rwanda starts with the Pre-primary education level where children are expected to attend for a period of three years. Nursery schools are supposed to be attended by children between the ages of 3 and 6. This level of education aims to encourage the socialisation of children and to stimulate their senses by allowing them to live and play with other children.
According to Ministry of Education statistics published in 2012, nursery schools in the country are estimated at 1471 for over 111875 children who were in Nursery school at the time of the survey. This is a small fraction of pupils who should be joining in Nursery every year.
“I think we have our education priorities mixed up. We should be spending more on Early Childhood Development because it is the foundation of good education,” said an education expert working with an NGO.
The State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr. Mathias Harebamungu, said that the government initiated the Early Childhood Development (ECD), to address some of the challenges related to Nursery education.
“Even before the nursery stage or education, we realised that as government, through the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, that there must be a childhood development initiative,” said Harebamungu.
He explained that according to the law governing nursery, primary and secondary education, nursery schools are meant to be community based and that the only thing that the government has to do is to invest, support and promote this form of education.
The Minister explained that early childhood development is also one of the pillars of the Economic Development Poverty Reduction Strategy II, which is a government initiative towards sustainable development.
Attending nursery allows children to get used to a schedule, learn how to socialise in a group, outgrow their shyness and prepare for the next level of their education much better. Nursery schooling helps to build children’s confidence and they get better at expressing themselves than if they just remained at home waiting to join the free primary education.
According to Jane Kanyemera, a nursery school teacher, children are taught everything since a nursery is that place where you place seedlings if you want them to grow well into something big and well functioning.
“We give them age-appropriate activities covering language, music, physical education so as to develop their intellectual, emotional, social, creative and physical skills,” she said.
“Those who head straight to primary miss out on a lot of things that can only be learnt at the nursery level,” she added.
Aline Umutoni, a parent of three from Kimisagara sector Nyarugenge district, said she wanted to see all her children attend nursery but the only challenge she used to face was the absence of a nearby nursery school in her area. Before she moved to Kimisagara she was living in Nyabihu district where nursery schools are very few and far from where she lived.
“Apart from the towns, nursery schools are very few in villages and this does not favour most people living in remote areas. This forces them to give up and just wait for the primary level,” she said. “I had to improvise possible ways of taking my son to school at Nyabugogo every day which I thought was risky, because he was using a motor cycle,” she said.
There is also a perception among some parents who think nursery education is nothing but a waste of time. “All my children have never gone through nursery and haven’t been affected in their road to success. The last one is in S4 and I haven’t had a problem,” said Sandra Musiimenta, mother of four.
Is Nursery Education too expensive?
Pre-primary Education sector has been largely left in private hands. As a result the fees structure has been left at the mercy of school owners whose prime objective is profit making.
However, parents who can’t afford nursery education can still create an impact in the lives of their children. Experts say they can encourage them to mentor the children themselves. Parents can guide the toddlers to become accepted in community. They must play the role of igniting life skills in them. They should prepare them for the primary level.
Pre-primary education is paramount in shaping a child’s character. ‘‘In early education we emphasize socialization – we emphasise children, even as young as eighteen months, are taught life skills necessary so they can fit in society,’’ says an education expert. With many of the best kindergartens charging hefty fees, the dilemma for many parents is where to take their little ones for quality day care at affordable costs – and many more even worry over opting out of the whole scheme.