Early childhood development (ECD) refers to 0-6 years. It is during the first six years when the fastest physical and mental developments occur. In addition, basic social values and skills are also developed within this time frame.
The main objective of Early Childhood Development Education (pre-primary school) is to ensure the total development of a child's physical, spiritual, social and mental is brought about through an informal mode of interaction with the parents and community taking a leading role in issues including health, nutrition, care and education.
Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) programmes play a crucial role in laying the foundation for further education and character formation. They provide children with a fairer and better start in life. According to the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) 2009, Early Childhood Care, Development and Education (ECCDE) seek to develop the whole child.
Education as a process that starts with the care and education of young children and continuing through lifelong learning is central to individual empowerment, the elimination of poverty at household and community level, and broader social and economic development of a country. All young children must be nurtured in safe and caring environments that allow them to become healthy, alert, and secure and be able to learn.
The most efficient timing for fostering human growth and development towards its highest possible potential is therefore during the first six years of life. A poor ECDE programme can leave a lasting mark of deficiencies and impairment whose cost is manifested in poor health, disability, educational wastage, incompetence and delinquency. 20% of Kenya’s population belongs to this age (0-5) of early childhood development (Republic of Kenya (2006a).
In 2001 parliament of Kenya enacted the children’s Act which recognizes education as a basic right to all children. The Act reaffirms that it is the responsibility of the parents and the government to provide education to the child. The Government of Kenya recognizes that education, training and innovation are central to the country's long-term development. They are core elements in eliminating poverty and reducing inequality, and the foundations of an equal society.
In recent years till today, Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) services continue to be achieved greatly through a partnership basis between the parents and the local communities with help from development partners. Although much has been done to improve access and quality of early learning programs in ECD facilities, there is a long way to go in the enhancement of service delivery. Some of the prominent challenges experienced include;
Limited government funding: The government has identified the need to increase access to ECD as well as enhance the quality of ECD programs and services, specifically for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Department of Basic Education, Department of Social Development & UNICEF, 2010). However, the government resources are still too few to meet the complex needs of the early childhood learning that still exist. Currently the government contributes only 0.1% to the recurrent expenditure in the ECDE. This goes to curriculum development, implementation of the guidelines and training of teachers of which 43% are already trained.
Widespread poverty and poor economic growth hampering the quality of sustainable ECDE programmes: Access to ECDE services remains low in Kenya with 65% of the children aged 3-6 years currently with limited access to essential services, opportunities or facilities most crucial to support early childhood development (ECD). Further, in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) areas, this situation is much worse with only 9% of children aged 3-6 accessing ECDE services (MOEST, 2005). Other identified competing needs experienced by communities living in the marginalized semi-arid areas include; unpredictable climate change leading to loss of livelihoods, famine and an uncertain future with limited linkages to a range of services and opportunities.
Inadequate Physical Facilities, learning materials and other critical amenities: Most Early Childhood Development Education programmes have inadequate physical facilities, equipments and materials. There is also inadequate security for children whilst at the ECD facility, as well as poor toilet amenities (Department of Basic Education, Department of Social Development & UNICEF, 2010).
Change in donor funding Policies. Kenya is considered by the international community to be a middle-income country. The significant level of resources that were historically channeled through not for profit organisations enormously diminished. This includes resources earmarked for education, including ECD. This will require a shared understanding from both the public and the private sector on the strategic imperative of investing in ECD as means towards building human capital as well as mitigating future vulnerability to poverty.
The government therefore encourages the need for ECDE partners and other agencies to focus their efforts on the empowerment and capacitating of parents and local communities for provision of holistic services for children. This concern if not urgently addressed through collaborative response will limit a large population of children from vulnerable households equal access to basic rights and opportunities that support potential for full development and well being.