County governments have been asked to prioritize nurture and care of children under five years to enable them reach their full developmental potential before joining pre-school.
According to Early Childhood Development (ECD) network National Coordinator Dr Teresa Mwoma, globally, over 250 million children under age five are at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential due to lack of proper nurture and care.
Speaking during the opening of the 4th ECD stakeholders’ conference at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University in Siaya County, Dr Mwoma called for a change in ECD policy at both national and county government levels in order to prioritize care for the children at their formative ages.
“Life begins at conception and this is where nurture and care should start. Our ECD policy should be revised to address the plight of the baby from when it is in the womb so that their brains can fully develop,” Mwoma stated.
Mwoma disclosed that the conference themed: Responsive care giving to children in diverse circumstances through innovation and inclusivity, is aimed at addressing the plight of children in vulnerable environments like prisons, refugee camps, and informal settlements who are least likely to get nurture and care at their tender age.
“Children conceived and raised in these vulnerable circumstances are more likely not to realize their full developmental potential because they are likely to lack proper nutrition, healthcare, safety and protection as well as stimulation of their brains through play which ultimately affects their brain development,” the ECD Network coordinator explained.
She therefore called on government, political leadership and all relevant stakeholders to endeavor in raising the profile of ECD nurture and care in Kenya by making it a priority agenda.
Dr Mwoma challenged both the county and national governments to establish child playing stations at work places where mother can accompany their children and breastfeed them while at work to enhance their chances of achieving 92 per cent brain development by four years when they are required to join pre-school.
The Kenyatta University lecturer called upon institutions of higher learning to undertake more research on the area of child development and generate data that could be used in decision making to improve nurture and care for the children in the country.
JOOUST VC Prof. Stephen Agong who hosted the event reiterated that ECD is still a fertile ground that needs more research to find solutions to childcare.
“More research is needed in the area of early identification of disability in children which may hamper their ability to learn. Most parents and even teachers fail to identify certain covert disabilities hence a lot of time is wasted before solutions can be found,” Prof Agong said.
Agong disclosed that the number of students admitted to undertake EDC course at JOOUST has been rising annually and this year the institution had the highest admission in ECD programs.
The university don urged the government to put more premium on children especially at their tender age to reap maximum benefit just like it is done in developed countries.
“If you don’t put great premium on children then we will gradually loose the entire society. Putting great premium on children is a game changer and has a huge impact not only on the children but the society as well,” said Agong.
The occasion was graced by Siaya County Governor’s wife, Rosella Rasanga together with other counterparts from Nyamira, Bomet, Bungoma and Kisumu who have been at the forefront of championing ECD nurture and care in their respective counties.
Mrs Rasanga who is the patron of Smart Start program whose activities were integrated in the health function in Siaya County through a county assembly Act in May this year, has been a pioneer of ECD nurture and care in the region.
The Smart Start program which has been successfully implemented in Siaya County since 2018 has been considered for implementation by other counties within the Lake Region Economic Bloc as was revealed by the LREB Head of Education pillar who represented the block CEO. Mr Abala Wanga at the conference.
UNICEF Country Representative Ms. Maniza Zaman who joined the conference virtually underscored the importance of supporting care giving initiatives for children under three years.
Maniza disclosed that at that tender age, about one million neurons are formed each day on the child’s brain and it is both a time for great potential and a great vulnerability for the child.
“This is the make or break age for children if they have good nutrition, care and stimulation, that enables the child attain full developmental potential. If they lack the same, the child is likely to struggle with learning because their brains did not fully develop,” Maniza explained.
She called on all stakeholders including the county governments to invest in nutrition, healthcare and safety of the children for them to reach their full potential.
The UNICEF representative revealed that through a recently released report dubbed “Threat to Fail”, two thirds of children under age 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished while 25 per cent of children of the same age in Kenya have stunted growth due to poor nutrition.
She echoed sentiments of the ECD network national coordinator by calling for update and revision of ECD policy in the country to consider starting from age zero rather than age 4 when the child is expected to join pre-school.
During the occasion, the ECD network for Kenya launched the 2021-2025 strategic plan which was presided over by Siaya County Deputy Governor Dr James Okumbe.
Dr. Okumbe expressed the commitment of his government on issues of ECD nurture and care saying Siaya County is determined to scale up its programmes for the young children by increasing sensitization among parents and installing indoor and outdoor playing stations in hospitals and ECD education centers.
By Brian Ondeng