Chikwawa bemoans declining numbers of children accessing ECD services

CHIKWAWA: Despite government efforts to improve early learning in the country, it has been noted that the number of children patronizing Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) in the district is on the decline.

Speaking in an interview on Thursday with Malawi News Agency (Mana), Chikwawa District ECD Coordinator, Isaiah Funsani observed that the number of children attending early childhood development centres has drastically decreased comparing with 2017 figures.

What I can say is that ECDs are not doing well here because if we look at the figures, you’ll see that there is a decline of children participating in ECD. In 2017, they were 27, 654 children in ECDs across the district but this year the number has dropped to 26, 908, Funsani said.

Even the number of centres is also declining since in 2016 we had 310 child care centers in all the 11 Traditional Authorities but due to other factors 62 centres have been closed and now we have 248 that are operational. But the 248 remaining childcare centers are also facing some challenges, he said.

Fusani attributed the sharp decline in ECD centers to a number of factors, saying: We are facing a lot of challenges here in Chikwawa. For starters, we do not have enough trained caregivers. So far, there are 1, 474 caregivers whereby 594 are males and 880 females out of whom, only 312 are trained.

Funsani pointed out that considering that the caregivers work on a voluntary basis it was easy for them to quit whenever they felt like doing so or find some greener pastures elsewhere.

He said there was also lack of incentives to motivate the caregivers to retain them on top of scarcity of resources, in view of the fact that daily demands of an ECD centre such as food, shelter and learning materials were hard to come by.

On his part, Executive Director for the Association of Early Childhood Development (AECDM) in Malawi, Archie Malisita said the main problem that ECDs were facing included drop out of caregivers who in most cases are community volunteers.

Lately, there have been discussions with government with a proposal that these caregivers be given incentives to retain them on the job. If their counterparts in adult literacy are paid honoraria what more with someone who is teaching small children? Malisita wondered.

Malisita added that ECDs were supposed to be established and operated by community based organizations with the help from the District Social Welfare whose mandate was to provide technical guidance on operations of the same.

According to Malisita, ECD services in the country were meant to help children aged between 3 5 to cultivate interest in school in preparation for the transition into primary school by teaching pre reading and writing skills.

Currently over one million children are benefiting from the program. ECD services are provided through the community based childcare centres with support from the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.

Source: Malawi News Agency MANA