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Can Nursery Schools Boost Retention Rates in School? :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Can Nursery Schools Boost Retention Rates in School?

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At Spanna, pupils pay Shillings 15,000 per a term and also contribute three kilos of maize flour, which is used for the midday meal. Spanna is one of the several nursery schools that have opened up in rural areas since government approved the Early Childhood Development policy in 2007.
Nursery Pupils at Spanna Nursery School during a lesson

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Piled like maize on a cob, 50 pupils sit on wooden benches facing their teacher at the front of the classroom. These are nursery pupils at Spanna Nursery School located in Igeyero in Mayuge district. They are tomorrow's leaders.

The children who are at different stages of learning in baby, middle and top class share one classroom. The class room that is made of iron sheets is the size of a village kitchen.

Unlike nursery schools in urban areas where children have chairs, desks, walls covered with an assortment of television cartoon characters and swings of different colors, the children at Spanna have nothing of the sort.

The pupils listen attentively to teacher, Nabwire, a senior six school dropout. According to Nabwire, not being a teacher by profession, she begun the school in 2014 to motivate young learners to get used to school.

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At Spanna, pupils pay Shillings 15,000 per a term and also contribute three kilos of maize flour, which is used for the midday meal. Spanna is one of the several nursery schools that have opened up in rural areas since government approved the Early Childhood Development policy in 2007. One of the objectives of the policy is to put children in rural areas at the same footing as those in urban areas by preparing them for primary education.

The Education and Sports Ministry is also fronting the creation of nursery schools as a tool to address the problem of drop outs in primary school especially in rural areas. However, education officials from Busoga region are skeptical that the government's move to roll out ECD facilities in the country will make any difference in the education sector.

Thomas Badaza, the Kamuli District Inspector of Schools, says the provision of Early Childhood Centers in rural areas may not bring about any big difference given the way children are handled.

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Badaza says instead of teaching the young learns through class work like in lower primary, teachers ought to use games to educate them. He says when children in ECD facilities are taught like those in lower primary, the children are likely to hate school at an early age and drop out later.

There are more than 600 EDC facilities in Iganga, Mayuge, Jinja and Kamuli districts.  Some of the ECD facilities are attached to government aided schools under the UPE programme.

However, these ECDs are run independently and as such parents are expected to part with money if they want their children to go to enroll at the centers. Swaib Sekimuli, the Iganga District Education Officer, says the facilities will not bring about any difference especially if they are privately run.

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William Nadiope, the Mayuge District Education Officer, says even if the ECDs are  a good addition to the education sector, they will not be able to help improve retention rates in schools. "These centers are helpful but they are not the solution to increasing retention rates in schools because it is not three year old children who are dropping out of school or being married young,” he said.

According to Nadiope, children in the region drop out of school to engage in petty trade, cut sugar cane, sand mining and get married. He asks government to sensitise parents on the importance of education is they it wants to keep pupils in school.

Data from the ministry of education shows that over one million pupils dropped out of school in Uganda between 2011 to 2017. 

Dr. Tony C Mukasa Lusmabu, the Assistant Commissioner, Primary Education, says that even if the ECD policy can address a number of leaks in the education sector, it is currently faced with a number of challenges.

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He says the ministry is unable to follow up on facilities operating in disregard to the government policy and reprimand them due to financial constraints. According to the ECD policy, children in these facilities are supposed to be taught how to relate with each other, identify their body parts and have an understanding of basic sanitation like how to wash hands after going to the toilet.

The children are supposed to spend a fair amount of their time indulging in different games. However, this is not what is happening. URN visited a number of ECD facilities in both rural and urban areas and found the pupils being taught numbers, elements of mathematics, the alphabet and how to read. 

The children are also given home work. Dr. Lusambu says this is wrong and will instead add decay to a sector already faced with challenges. "We already have problems retaining children in schools in urban areas. Now, if teachers are not following the ECD set curriculum, this will not help. More pupils will instead leave school,” he said.

Dr. Lusambu says if the policy is properly run, the ministry believes that it has the power to improve retention rates in schools, stop wastage of government resources and reduce l drop outs in primary schools across the country. "Today, we waste money paying capitation grants for three year old children attending government aided schools because they escort their siblings to schools. With the introduction of ECD facilities this will stop and we shall have children attending their rightful classes."

The ministry of education plans to start running ECD facilities in all government aided schools under the UPE program. Dr. Lusambu says that due to financial limitations, it might be a while before government can open up ECD facilities.

According to the 2016 Uwezo 'Are Our Children Learning' report, children who attend nursery schools are more likely to be able to read material in primary school compared to those that do not. The study findings showed that 47 percent pupils who attended nursery school are able between the classes of Primary 3 to7 to read a primary 2 level book compared to 32 percent who do not attend.

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