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  Kenya makes great strides in early childhood education
By David Aduda,
Nation Newspapers, Nairobi, Kenya
    Although Kenya's efforts towards achieving education for all by the year 2000 may not be realized, there is every evidence that major strides have been made to boost enrolment and participation levels.
    One sector that has registered great achievement is early childhood education; a fact attributed to collective efforts by the government, United Nations agencies, local and international non-governmental organisations.
    According to the permanent secretary in the ministry of education, Mr Wilfred Kimalat, the number of children enrolled in the ECD centres has risen by 32 per cent in the last eight years. Similarly, the number of ECD centres increased from 16,329 in 1990 to 23,977 in 1998 with a corresponding increase in the teaching force. So, while there were only 6,213 pre-school teachers in 1990, to date the number stands at 37,752, out of whom 16,000 are trained.

  The improvement in enrolment, though not yet 50 per cent of all eligible pupils as targeted by EFA, is commendable in the region. "The progress that has been achieved in this sub-sector still remains the highest amongst other African countries," says Mr Kimalat, adding that the greatest success has been witnessed in the pre-school teacher training programme.

    Basically, the training of pre-school teachers is carried out at regional level by District Centres for Early Childhood Education (DICESEs). The two-year in-service training aims to equip teachers with knowledge and skills that meet the children's intellectual, physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs.The programmes for the DICESEs are developed at the National Centre for Early Childhood Education, which is based at the Kenya Institute of Education in Nairobi.
    Additionally, there is an Islamic Integrated Education Course, which is a special programme for those who teach in Islamic schools. Started in 1994, the course for "Maalims' (teachers) integrates formal education and Islamic teaching. The teachers eventually teach in the Muslim schools commonly referred to as Madrasas and Dugsis.
    Other than these, there are several training programmes managed by different organisations like the Kindergarten Headmistresses Association and the Child Developer Programme, among others. Top calibre teachers for the pre-schools are trained at Kenyatta University, the country's leading training institution for educationists, which has been offering a bachelor's degree in early childhood education since 1995.
    The achievements made in the early education sector are largely attributed to the close partnership that exists between the government, parents, donors and communities. So, whereas the government provides a co-ordination role, the parents and communities are left to make decisions on the kind of programmes they want. And the donors only come in to provide funds and logistical support.
   The long and short of it is that the communities claim ownership over the ECD centres, thus they are ready to take responsibility and manage the institutions themselves. They are willing to send their children to the centres, provide some money when required and even provide their labour during the construction of classes.
    The aim of pre-school education is to socialise children and prepare them for entry into the formal education.
    According to Mrs Mary Njoroge, the co-ordinator of the ECD programmes in Kenya. "It has been noted that good foundation during the formative period of a child will normally result to increased achievement in primary education."
    Currently, the Kenyan government is running a multi-dollar ECD project, which is funded by the World Bank at a cost of US$35.1 million.  The five-year project has five components, namely: improved teacher performance; community capacity building and mobilisation; community support grant and transition from pre-school to primary schools.
    Despite the achievements made so far in early childhood education in Kenya, there are some teething problems that have to be solved. Chief among these is funding.
    Since the government's overall expenditure on education has been declining in recent years, non-priority areas like early childhood education have had their budgets whittled down by a bigger percentage.
    Another problem facing the sector is quality of education. Whereas many teachers have been trained so that they are able to offer quality education, there is a still a big percentage of untrained staff. Added to the fact that the teachers are generally poorly paid, their performance sometimes falls below expectation.
    Further, there are disparities in enrolment, especially in terms of regions, with the marginal areas in the northern frontiers of the country registering low participation rates compared to other areas.
    Overall, Kenya stands out in the region as a success story in regard to early childhood education. If the pace is maintained and enhanced, then the new century will see half of the country's children aged between 0-5 get access to pre-school education.
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