By A Correspondent- Only 32 percent of all children between the ages of four and five are currently accessing Early Childhood Development Education (ECD), which was made mandatory by Government in 2014, as parents and guardians are being increasingly spooked by exorbitant fees charged by private institutions.
Most of the affected children are in urban areas. Public schools are currently unable to absorb all children that intend to enrol for ECD.
Director responsible for Learner Welfare, Psychological Services and Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ms Kwadzanai Nyanungo said the 2018 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee Report indicated that only 628 826 learners had managed to enrol for both ECD A and ECD B, which translated to a net enrolment rate of 31,9 percent.
Chitungwiza is the most affected, with half of the four- and five-year-olds failing to access ECD.
Speaking at a workshop organised by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), Ms Nyanungo said Government’s aim was neither to encourage privatisation nor commercialisation of a basic right — education.
“You will be surprised that some of them (private institutions) charge a box of tiles, groceries that the young child cannot eat and toiletries for a family of ten. Private players charge so much, so that is why people are not taking their children there,” she said.
“For us, the long-term solution as Government is to take away the demand by offering affordable, standard, quality early childhood development, supervised by qualified school heads and provided by qualified personnel in registered schools.”
The decision to make it mandatory for every child to undergo nine years of basic education came out of the Nziramasanga commission of inquiry set up in 1998 to recommend an ideal educational curriculum needed to drive Zimbabwe into the 21st century.
However, public schools have been overwhelmed, and private players — most of whom insist on payment in US dollars — are now taking advantage.
The Sunday Mail made a random survey of some of the standard requirements by private institutions.
An ECD centre in Glen View recently sent a circular to parents advising that school fees from September had been pegged at US$20 per month.
In addition, the monthly transport fare was set between US$12 and US$15 per child, depending on location.
The grocery list per term included 2kg sugar, 2 litres cooking oil, 2kg Red Seal or Mahatma Rice, 500 grammes of powdered milk and two packets of Fattis and Moni’s spaghetti or four packets for Bella-branded spaghetti.
There are also mandatory trips, which attract US$20 for visits in and around Harare.
Mr Taurai Taonezvi from Glen View said it was now more expensive to send a child for ECD than for secondary education.
“You are charged fuel to ferry a child who lives a stone-throw away from school. And, we pay for these educational tours pegged in US dollars all because we do not want our children to be left out,” he said.
Another parent, Ms Chenai Masamvi, said the grocery list was suspicious.
“We buy groceries per term and in addition to that, you have to pack food and a drinking bottle for your child. Then, you wonder where and when those groceries are being consumed.”
According to World Bank, ECD refers to the physical, cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional development of a child from the prenatal stage up to age eight. The development happens in a variety of settings for instance homes, schools, health facilities, community based centres and involves a wide range of activities from child care to nutrition to parent education. Providers of services can include public, private and non governmental agencies.