RE: “Parents optimistic as early childhood centre construction starts in Kicukiro” (The New Times, November 20).
The latest early childhood development (ECD) policy is dated 2016 and is now under the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion – a welcome move – from the overwhelmed Ministry of Education.
ECD policy focuses on the 0-6 year-olds and ropes in everything from health, nutrition, and child protection, to education, hence bringing in ministries of health, education, and infrastructure, the police, NGOs and private sector, among others. The ministry seems to have set a target of one ECD centre in each of Rwanda’s 416 sectors.
A quick read shows there are four intervention areas to the policy: Parenting education and support, school readiness and transition, child protection and family support, and coordination of governance and resources.
Here is my humble opinion on some aspects:
1. Parent education and support. There is a proposal to develop a positive parenting manual. I believe the Rwandan society has strong rich values in parenting. Rwanda’s social fabric is such that it is a tight knit and close society. One needs only to visit other countries to see how marriages are undervalued, abortions allowed; adoption of children is the norm, close family relationships nonexistent etc.
I am, therefore, unsure if the positive parenting manual would not be time wastage. Instead more focus should be put on the village level ‘akagoroba k’ababyeyi’ (parenting evening sessions) intervention at the grassroots and where the issues lie. I hope our religious organisations are actively participating in these sessions in order to impart the much-needed positive parenting values.
2. School readiness and support. This activity is assigned to Rwanda Education Board/Ministry of Education and includes development of pre-primary curriculum and training of pre-primary teachers.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion has published the minimum standards policy for ECD centres in Rwanda and the same ministry is in charge of licensing ECD centres in the country. This is a key and important aspect in ensuring that our young children are adequately protected in ECD Centres.
I do not necessarily agree with statements that ECD centres are safer than our house helps because the same people are employed in ECD centres. Besides, the integrity of care givers is usually not easy to ascertain unless one has concrete proofs/referrals.
3. Private sector participation. Kindergartens/day care centres are very attractive businesses and the ministry should have an easy job attracting private sector/individuals to provide the services, especially with the ECD standards in place. The issue could be monitoring of ECDs over the long term.
4. Religious organisations/civil society role. Many religions recognise the importance of the right foundations in the early formative years given the plethora of children ministries in virtually all churches; in Islam we have the madrasa.
A notable recognition is Imbuto Foundation, which has walked the talk and actively supported the programme. The ministry should encourage other organisations to also invest in the ECD programme.