Early Childhood Development: A case for increased investment
Reference is made to the recent Zimbabwe National Budget Statement presented by Hon. P.A Chinamasa, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development on the 7th of December 2017. As a staunch advocate of increased investment and expenditure in early childhood development, I noted with dismay the reduced investment on the same by the Honourable Minister.
The first years of life are important, because what happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. It is now common cause that learning starts in infancy, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life. Infact at the World Conference for Education for All held in Jomtein, Thailand in 1990 it was widely adopted that “Education begins at birth”. The year 2000 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, Prof James Hackman argues that “early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure.” Thus success or failure at this stage lays the foundation for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school learning. Recent studies of early childhood investments in the developed world have shown remarkable success and indicate that the early years are important for early learning. Moreover, early childhood interventions of high quality have lasting effects on learning and motivation.
Reading through the budget statement one gets the notion that the State would want to relegate this responsibility to parents and communities. Whilst parents are indeed the child’s best teacher, there has to be a formalized way of ensuring that the gains that the previous administration were beginning to make in this sector are not lost. It would be foolhardy to think that some of the comprehensive strides made by the previous head of the education ministry should be thrown away. Zimbabweans have had various issues to raise against the former minister and rightly so, however I must hasten to say that there was some great work done in order to position the country as a regional model in the provision of early childhood development services in the country.
Over and above the ECD curriculum and teaching standards mentioned by the Finance Minister, Zimbabwe needs to develop and adopt a comprehensive Early Childhood Development Policy that will ensure standardization of service provision and ensure our young children are wholly supported. Indeed parents and communities have provided the backbone supportive services through engaging as para-professional teachers and as community caregivers this still needs to be buttressed by a policy that addresses play material, furnishing of ECD classrooms, pedagogical methods and renovation or construction of ECD classrooms.
Hon Finance Minister, paying salaries for qualified ECD teachers should indeed be a priority for the government if we are to move towards the “New Economic Order” No one should be left behind, children should in fact be at the forefront as they access what they need to grow to be responsible citizens of the nation and the world. Let not this burden be placed on the parents again, let the government begin to invest more in this, because the long term gains are there and research in this area has proved it time and again. Indeed there are multiple economic returns for the case of investing in Early Childhood Development that Zimbabwe will be able to reap. Whilst I understand the need to be prudent with available resources, also missing from the current budget for is consideration of priorities or recognition of the need to prioritize early childhood development. Unfortunately, in an era of tight government budgets, it is impractical to consider active investment program for all persons. The real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: invest in the very young and improve basic learning and socialization skills.
If we are to move towards a “New Economic Order” then we need to quadruple the amount of money allocated to ECD. As a country, we cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, or even wait until they are in Grade 1 or 2, we need to start earlier. We cannot leave this to a time when at times it may be too late to intervene.