Early childhood care and education in Uganda: the challenges and possibilities for achieving quality and accessible provision
The importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) as a prerequisite for national development has been emphasized in recent years by developing countries and by donor agencies. Research findings point to the benefits children, as well as nations, derive from ECCE provision. For children, these benefits include school readiness; and for nations, benefits address the reduction of social inequality, possibilities for increased tax revenue through eventual improved employment prospects, and development of societal values. In 1990 at Jomtien in Thailand, 155 nations of the world agreed on a joint plan of action to fulfill six Education For All goals. The first goal required nations to work towards the expansion and improvement of comprehensive ECCE by the year 2015. The responsibility of poor countries was to make necessary budget allocations and policy commitments; rich countries were to provide both intellectual and financial support. Whilst some progress has been made, many developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are still at risk of not achieving EFA by 2015. Uganda is one country where there are difficulties in attaining EFA and ECCE in particular. This has been exacerbated by the prevailing economic, social, geographical, and cultural differences, as well as general beliefs about ECCE. This study investigates the present quality and accessibility in ECCE provision in Uganda. It explores the extent to which Uganda has expanded and improved ECCE and raises the key question as to why even with international donor support and government commitment to institutional changes, ECCE is an area of education still riven with problems. The study uses participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and photography in six selected schools in three Districts. Research findings reveal that the majority of children are not accessing ECCE provision, while many of those that do are being educated in environments not conducive to their learning and development. Findings show that there are a number of factors both internal and external to Uganda that impact upon efforts to fulfil the commitment made at Jomtien in 1990. This research concludes that first and foremost, there should be a national, ‘Ugandan’ approach to and policies about ECCE. Rather than being led by international pressure and policies, approaches to improving quality and accessibility in ECCE provision should be refocused away from ‘top-heavy’, ‘lop-sided’ approaches to a more pre-school-level focused approach. This will help in establishing and addressing culturally relevant and economically achievable quality targets. Secondly, there is need for public awareness of the importance of ECCE. This will not only give rise to increased community participation in the establishment of community-based ECCE centres, but also the involvement of stakeholders in the identification and implementation of solutions to the problems facing ECCE. And finally, rather than looking to the West for funding, Uganda should develop in-country funding strategies from both public and private sources. This will help to remove the negative impact of ‘modalities’, these often being required by external donor funding. In-country funding sources will as a result give Uganda room to ‘manoeuvre’ when planning for ECCE.