The mind of a child is like a blank book page on which anything can be written. Early infancy presents the greatest opportunity for learning but also the greatest vulnerability to any physical, psychological and emotional environmental influences.
The first three years of a child are critical to their brain development. It is scientifically proven that over 80 per cent of a human brain develops within this period.
During this time, a child needs close parental attention to be able to influence their behaviour, ideology and attitude, lest the “blank pages” will be filled with wrong content that will be difficult to undo in their adulthood.
As parents, we need to reserve time to interact with our kids through; playing, singing, stimulating speech, reading and storytelling. Along with love and affection, good diet, safety and security, we will be nurturing responsible citizens, with positive mental attitudes.
I have recently learnt that holding, cuddling and talking to a child stimulates their brain power, promotes emotional development, while close contact with and timely breastfeeding provides an infant with a sense of emotional security.
Unfortunately, we live in an era of too much business looking for survival, where parents go to work in the morning, attend school in the evening and man their private enterprises till late, leaving their kids in the hands of hired house maids.
As a result, our children have suffered untold suffering; starvation, torture and or molestation at the hands of notorious house maids. With our tight schedules, we resort to sending our young children to day-care centres or crèches as their second homes.
Whereas this old school approach to early learning boosts a child’s brain power, it only focuses on; reading, writing and numerical skills, neglecting other physical, psycho-social and emotional development needs of a child as well as advice on positive parenting.
It should be noted that the development needs of a child are more than acquiring writing, reading and basic counting skills. Other critical needs such as socialization skills, physical development, psychological stability, emotional support, among others, are equally important.
The development needs of a child are interconnected and ought to be offered simultaneously since progress in one area affects progress in others. To ensure sustainability, however, parents need to be trained to execute their parenting obligations.
The concept of early childhood development (ECD) is a panacea to the above children’s development challenges. It entails multiple needs of a child from physical, psycho-social, emotional to cognitive development and supporting the role of caregivers are required to offer.
Parents are advised on maternal and infant health, sanitation, nutrition, safety and security of the child and themselves before and after birth, making the results become sustainable compared to the conventional pre-school curriculum that only focuses on children.
Early learning opportunities improve a child’s school performance; reduce drop-out rates, repetition and save on extra budget expenses on education. Research has revealed that every U$ 1 invested in early child education saves up to U$ 13 in future costs on education.
Children who receive due attention in the first formative years achieve more success in school; attain higher employment and earnings, develop better command of social skills, and remain healthier than those whose needs in the early years were not satisfied
Other research findings by Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT), on potential long-term economic effects of the new children’s pre-school enrolment indicated a Benefit-to-Cost Ratio ranging between 6•4 to 17•6
The Government of Rwanda developed a policy to guide stakeholders’ involvement in this sector. The policy aims at enhancing children’s preparedness to cope with formal school environment, protect them from abuse and boosts parents’ parenting obligations
To crown it all, it should be noted that bringing up productive and responsible children of Rwanda is a shared task, for shared benefits. The government creates an enabling policy environment, legal and regulatory framework and monitors compliance with the policy.
My fellow parents and immediate care givers, we are obliged to serve as primary care givers, inculcating good morals, values and norms into our children. In fact, this is a constitutional obligation as stipulated in article 27 of our constitution.
Fellow Rwandans, the kind of adults that we want our children to be will depend on how we mold them today. Let’s give time to our children, guide them through their learning experience, and correct them where they go wrong, but above all, live exemplary lives.
Other non-state actors would also support this cause through investing in physical and soft infrastructure for early learning, supporting capacity building, as well as undertaking research and innovation for future improvement.
Investing in our children is an investment worthwhile. With all our efforts and will together, our children will grow up with knowledge, ability and willingness to offer service above self to their country. We will then be guaranteed of continuous existence of our country as a nation.
The writer is a policy advisor on gender and family promotion, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion.