Lack of funding hampers growth of early learning centres in public schools

Preschoolers at an early learning centre at Birambo Primary School. PHOTO | COURTESY
Preschoolers at an early learning centre at Birambo Primary School. PHOTO | COURTESY 

In a remote village in Kabale District of Western Uganda is Birambo Primary School, which hosts a model integrated early childhood development centre.

We arrive there some minutes past 11am, in time to join the students—some as young as three years—on their way back to class after a short break.

The students chant to a tune led by their teacher, but stop on learning of our presence.

They finally settle down and are taken through a routine that involves learning the names of new items and counting numbers.

Busingye Medius, the head care giver at the centre, informs us that there are days when the children make toys from dried banana stem fibre to test and improve their motor skills.

Pre-school programmes offer a variety of fun indoor and outdoor activities for children.

Experts say various activities help children to learn basic life skills and develop characters like compassion and sharing. The sessions may also touch on academics, where for instance, children learn basics such as counting and the alphabet.

The visiting group of journalists had toured the school to assess the implementation of early learning centres in public schools as provided in Uganda’s Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy which was put in place last year.

The pre-school at Birambo caters to children between three to six years, covering three levels, with each tiny mudbrick class hosting up to 50 children.

The school evidently caters to a populace that lives on less than a dollar a day and Medius says there are almost 100 other children in the village whose parents cannot afford to enrol them at the centre.

“Since the new system started at the beginning of the year, parents have grown an interest in it and are enrolling their children into the classes,” said Medius.

“The classes are supposed to be free but parents are having to cope with the cost of having their children here because the government is yet to allocate money for this type of project.

The total cost of a full uniform is USh50,000 (Sh1,430). This is not affordable to some parents and locks out many children,” she said.

Given the strategy developed, children should access the classes at no fee. Uganda’s plan to establish early learning centres in public schools has not taken off as hoped owing to lack of funds to implement the project.

Its national integrated early childhood development policy published last year provides that early childhood be established as one of the ways of boosting education.

Unicef Uganda says pre-schools are predominantly private-run and located in urban areas and community-based ECD centres are ill-equipped, run by unqualified volunteers and barely receive State-funding.

“Children are eager to learn but as you can see, the school conditions are wanting and this case is not unique to Birambo. There are schools that have not built the centres for lack of funds and this is delaying the project’s take off,” said Kate Kasusi, Inspector of schools in Kabale district.