Parents need to up the time they spend with their children and assist in developing a strong ambition for learning, experts say.
They say failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences.
With parents playing their role, they can become even more effective providers of the care and stimulation that infants and young children need to develop properly.
Abdul Kalim Ndimurwango, a father of three, shares his experience of the training on ECD.
According to research findings released this month on the impact of parenting education programmes in rural Rwanda conducted in Ngororero District, parents who received training invested more time in caregiver-child activities such as singing, storytelling, games, and reading, which all boost spirit for learning.
The research was conducted by Save the Children and Umuhuza organizations, in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies.
Anita Asiimwe, the Coordinator of the National Early Childhood Development Program said, “The research aimed at assessing why some parents do not do more regarding education activities, and what can be done to bridge the gap.
They have to take more time to care for their children, teach them through playing materials, singing and so much more,” she said.
The research, Asiimwe said, wanted to uncover why 37 per cent of children lack access to parenting learning activities.
According to statistics from the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey 2014/15, 63 per cent of children aged three to five are developmentally on track in at least three of four domains.
However, only seven per cent of these children are developmentally on track in areas of literacy and numeracy.
These figures are even lower for those in rural areas, poorer households and children with parents who are not well educated.
“We have to collaborate with parents without entirely depending on the government’s budget,” she noted.
The study on parenting in Ngororero shows that mothers who received the basic package in parenting invested 41 per cent more time on learning activities with their children, while mothers who received a more advanced package invested 52 per cent more time than those who didn’t.
The research shows that men who received the basic package of the intervention increased their investment in learning activities with children by 81 per cent in the short-term and 32 per cent in the medium-term.
Sofia Cozzolino, the program development and quality director, Save the Children Rwanda, said, “The first three years of life are critical in shaping a child’s future; it’s in this time that children’s brains are growing the fastest and are most susceptible to change. Failure to support healthy brain development can result in life-long consequences.”
Abdul Kalim Ndimurwango, a father of three, is one of the parents who benefitted from the training.
“I didn’t know that a child needs parental care even when they are still in their mother’s womb,” he said.
“My last born, Gisa, is very bright. He is still very young but does things that I didn’t see his brothers do when they were his age. I think he will be very intelligent. We started caring for him when he was still in his mother’s womb. Every day, I have to find time for him. I read books to and with him, and play with him,” he said.
An estimated 279 million children from low and middle income countries are at risk of not reaching their development potential due to extreme poverty.
But many parents don’t know about or understand the importance of engaging in activities that promote learning and socio-emotional development.
Figures from the 2014/15 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey show that in Rwanda, one per cent of children under five years have at least three children’s books in the home.
They show that 19 per cent of children under the age of two play with two or more playthings, including homemade toys or household objects, while 35 per cent of children under five were left alone or under the care of another child under the age of 10 for at least an hour in the previous week.
Asiimwe said that Early Childhood Development (ECD) interventions can help to tackle this challenge as parents are the first educators of their children.
“There are 4,325 Early Childhood Development centres across the country. We want to increase them and engage parents’ contribution,” she said.
By 2024, at least 45 per cent of Rwanda’s children should have access to early childhood development opportunities, officials said.