Early Childhood Learning
Investment in early education has greater cost savings and payback than at any other time in life. Early childhood education (ECE) has been shown to improve enrolment, retention, achievement and completion of primary school level. The Early Learning Zambia initiative is using our Lifeplayers to support early childhood education, as these solar-powered radios with preloaded content offer affordable solutions to some of the challenges being faced.
Why Early Learning Zambia is Needed
Only 6% of children between the ages of three and six are enrolled in preschool. In 2012, a mere 17,1% of Grade 1 pupils had attended any preschool. In a rural province, such as the Eastern Province, this percentage is even lower. Zambia has no kindergarten year, so for many children, Grade 1 is their first experience of education.
Education is generally woefully underfunded, with spending as a percentage of GDP at a just 1.3%. This is one of the lowest expenditures per child in Africa. The concept of ECE is relatively new, and is not yet considered important by many parents. Historically, it did not belong to any one specific ministry. Therefore, it did not attract funding. The ministry recently created a new department for ECE. Its formal title is now the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education.
There are numerous uphill challenges when it comes to ECE. Some preschools are part of primary schools and others are stand-alone. Only 25% of primary schools are electrified; and many have outages. Hardly any preschool facilities are grid or solar connected.
There is an acute shortage of trained teachers in Zambia, especially at this level. Rural areas are considered to be hardship posts, and the Ministry struggles to find and keep teachers. Teachers posted to rural schools may not even speak the local language. From 2001 until recently, our Lifeline radios supported the successful Learning at Taonga Market primary school distance education initiative across the country. Hundreds of thousands of children participated.
Zambian birth rates remain high, with an average of 5-6 children per family. In some provinces, like Eastern, 50% of children are born to mothers under the age of 18. It is also the province with the highest rate of female illiteracy. Thus, parents have to be informed about the importance of ECE too.
In general, Zambia has one of the highest rates of childhood stunting in the world. The rate for children dying of under-nutrition is still one in five. All these social indicators are linked and must be robustly addressed through vigorous and ongoing education efforts.
What Early Learning Zambia will do
Early Learning Zambia will demonstrate that children and teachers benefit greatly from using a solar-powered Lifeplayer in the classroom. The units will be preloaded with the ministry’s audio interactive content which is produced in seven local languages. Further, the units are distributed by the ministry quickly and economically. The programme’s main aims are to:
- Provide children with foundational skills to promote their successful transition to and progression in primary school. These skills include listening and auditory processing, learning the local language, exposure to basic literacy and numeracy, encouraging reading, and developing fine and gross motor skills through play.
- Provide nominally trained teachers and caregivers in ECE community learning centres with skills to enable them to manage and conduct effective teaching and learning activities.
- Educate parents through a parenting programme that teaches nutrition, safe childcare, the importance of early learning. The ministry believes this will create more responsible parents, promote better nutrition, and encourage child spacing. The importance of education for both girls and boys is also stressed.
Our Lifeplayers will deliver multiple benefits to at least 30 learners and 30 mothers directly. That is incredible impact and incredible value-for-money. Please support this project.
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