Early childhood or pre-primary education refers to teaching young children either formally or informally up to age five. It was recognized by the Nigeria National Policy on Education (FRN 2012) as the starting point for a child’s development, essentially to provide beneficiaries with solid beginning and prepare them for the rigors of primary education and beyond. The policy encouraged and endorsed private participation in the provision of pre-primary or nursery education.
Most public primary schools have domiciled early education policy because pre-school age was seen as a critical period of rapid physical, cognitive and psychosocial development of the child. However, apart from the challenges of poor infrastructure, facilities and learning resources, most of the teachers and caregivers do not possess basic qualifications and many others have no formal education.
Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu had at the 2018 Commonwealth Day Celebration in Abuja said government would institutionalize early childhood care and education, promote girl-child and special needs education as well as provide equitable and inclusive access to quality education at all levels.
Our reporter visited some primary schools in Plateau State to find out the achievements and challenges of early education and efforts required to resolve the issues. He found that more needs to be done to strengthen the policy in public schools.
For instance, in Panyam Central Primary School in Mangu Local Government Area, teachers improvised in their teaching because the kids have only minimal learning facilities and playing materials.
The school, which was established in 1926, has about 400 pupils, 27 teachers and about 96 children in the pre-primary class.
The Assistant Head Master, Haruna Yanunq, said despite the challenges, the programme has exposed many kids to early education in their community by inculcating in the child the spirit of enquiry and creativity through the exploration of nature and environment, art, music and playing with toys.
“The children need apparatuses to play with. They need encouragement also in terms of feeding, learning materials and provision of enough seats. Ideally, there are supposed to be two pupils per desk, but here we have about four pupils, and this is not good for learning. The school also requires enough teaching staff to be able to effectively cope with the number of the students.
“There are some other challenges which the parents should tackle. For instance, children should wear uniforms properly. The government has actually been trying with respect to the policy,” he added.
One of the teachers in charge of nursery education, Lydia Joel Dokat, said she handled 53 children between the ages of two and four years in her class.
She said she had to improvise in teaching in the face of poor instructional materials and scarcity of text books.
Dokat said other issues that made the work difficult for her were that some of the children were in poor health and some haven’t taken breakfast at home and “so whenever they come to class they would either be crying because they are hungry or because they are sick.”
According to her, the operational objectives of early education would be achieved especially with the help of qualified teachers. She said teachers used various approaches in the classroom traditionally based on playing, singing; practical activities such as drawing, and social interaction.
Reacting, the Executive Chairman of the Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mathew Sule, said the interventions provided by the Federal Government, including text books, have generally boosted the policy.
He said one of the major challenges facing early child education was that many parents have refused to send their wards to school and that there were insufficient qualified teachers “because it is not all teachers that can fit into the programme.”
The executive chairman pointed out that the state had consistently trained teachers on early education and one batch of teachers graduated last year.
Also, government has created awareness among parents on the need to send their children to school, he said.