Education is a vital investment for human and economic development and is influenced by the environment within which it exists. There, is, therefore, a need to not only maintain but continually improve every level of education especially the pre-primary stage and because it is the bedrock upon which all other educational levels are built. Once a child misses these all important early stages of education, it becomes difficult to get back to the basics.
Early Childhood can be said to be a critical period of rapid physical, cognitive and psycho-social development of a child. The quality of care and education which a child receives at this crucial age will determine to a great extent the level of her physical and cognitive development in the future.
According to the 2016 Global Education Monitoring report, there are still more than 150 million children ages 3 to 5 who do not have access to pre-primary education, including more than 80% of children in low-income countries worldwide. Early childhood education is a starting point for a child’s development. This type of education is recognized by the Nigeria National Policy on Education (FRN 2012).
In Nigeria, Early Childhood Care, Development and Education [ECCDE] is an aspect of Universal Basic Education which was introduced in 1999 to increase the access of children to basic education and improve the state of education in the country. While all minds are engaged to ensure a successful implementation and achievement of the objectives of the scheme, it was observed that ECCDE is facing serious challenges that may make these objectives not realizable.
The objectives of early childhood education according to FRN (2004) include
effecting a smooth transition from home to school, preparing the child for the primary level of education, provision of adequate care and supervision for the children while their parents are at work (on the farm, in the market or offices), inculcating in the child the spirit of inquiry and creativity through the exploration of nature, the environment, art, music and playing with toys and so on as well as developing a sense of cooperation and team spirit. Others include learning good habits, especially good health habits and enabling the child grasp the rudiments of numbers, letters, colors, shapes, forms and so on through a well planned out curriculum
It has been discovered that those children who do not receive a high quality early childhood education are more likely to drop out of school, become a teen parent, be placed in a special school, never attend college or more likely to be involved in crimes.
For the objectives of early childhood education to be fully realizable, the quality of the teachers will determine the strength of the educational system and the value of the learners. Sadly, in Nigerian early childhood education today, the teacher quality is generally low. It is only a few of the nursery schools, especially those owned by educational institutions, private companies and wealthy individuals that can afford to engage the services of university graduate teachers and holders of Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) qualifications as early child care givers.
Most others employ a few NCE teachers (if any at all), who are usually underpaid, while others employ mainly Grade Two teachers and secondary school leavers with school Certificate or General Certificate (ordinary level) qualification. In a situation where most of the teachers in our early childhood institutions are unqualified and/or unprofessional, effective teaching and learning cannot be achieved.
Therefore, there is an impending danger posed by the inadequate equipping of teachers, facilities and infrastructure for this very critical period (0 – 5) years of rapid physical, cognitive and psycho-social development of every child. The teacher- pupil ratio of 1:25 with a helper/an assistant stated in National Policy on Education (FGN 2004) for the pre-primary class is a big problem in the sense that the developmental characteristics and the needs of the pre-school child have not been considered. The children at this level are restless, extremely active and full of energy. They are still dependent on adults for almost all their basic needs – physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social skills and therefore they require their full attention and diverse activities to help to satisfy their basic needs.
However, if we are to follow the National Policy on Education (FGN 2004) which states the ratio of teacher to pupil, we currently have a major challenge at hand regarding the number of teachers that we require to run the early childhood education effectively in the country. Therefore, we need to close the gap in trained and qualified teachers for the early childhood education to run effectively. In Nigeria we need a total number of 579,769 preschool teachers (639,958 less current 60189) to close this gap. Besides inadequacy in teacher effectiveness, teaching methods, teaching aids and infrastructure, this major gap will eventually adversely affect the youths, the Nation and the present and future workforce in the labor market.
Presently, in our country, only about one in every 10 pre-primary school pupils is enrolled in early education activities. The goal of any investment in early childhood development is for all children in Nigeria, whether poor or rich, to attain their development potential. If the aim of early child development will be achieved, all teachers involved, will be required to be skilled and properly trained to do the job.
Without a doubt, early childhood programs are the most cost effective ways to ensure the healthy development of children in developing economies and it offers greatest returns to the society. If no immediate solution delivery template to arrest the situation is deployed, the nation will experience the venom of a great percentage of well trained, angry, restive, criminal minded, violent and uncontrollable youths.
According to former United Nations Secretary General, Dr Kofi Anan, “education is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a basic tool for daily life in modern society. It is a wall against poverty, and a building block of development. It is a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity”. It is in view of this truth that a special attention must be accorded early child education in the country.
Nwuche is of Green Meadows Childcare Center, Ogba, Lagos