Support proves key for teachers and children alike in Kenya's largest slum
Global education The first fight Support proves key for teachers and children alike in Kenyaâs largest slum
Efforts to improve the training and resources available to childminders in Nairobiâs Kibera settlement are bearing fruit â" to the benefit of all concerned
Three-year-old Joy and her sister Lavine, four, are surrounded by kitchen pots, soft toys and an old wellington boot. Itâs mid-morning at Kidogoâs nursery and preschool, and the sisters are playing in the dramatic centre, a place set aside for children to invent their own games. Each corner of the room is dedicated to a different activity: music, stories, art or a quiet space for reading.
The centre is one of the few quality childcare facilities in Kibera, an overcrowded informal settlement in Nairobi that houses 170,070 people, according to a 2009 national census (although other estimates have put the number significantly higher). Most centres are found in cramped rooms or homes, with one woman responsible for 20 or so children. Ventilation is poor and there are reports of babies being given sleeping pills to knock them out for the day, or children being locked in dark rooms. Thereâs rarely space to play.
Joy and Lavineâs mum, Shammim Kenyatta, had to search hard for somewhere safe to take her two daughters. She found teachers in some centres were busy and didnât notice the children. âIt was still the morning and it was cold, but the kids didnât have sweaters or jackets on,â says Kenyatta, who also noticed that children were dirty.
Children at such centres are not just at risk of physical harm, but are missing out on stimulation and play at a crucial time for their development. But, says Lynette Okengo, executive director of the Africa Early Childhood Network, parents, particularly in informal settlements, have to make very difficult choices. âPoverty levels in informal settlements are really high. They really must go out to work,â she says.
The women running Nairobiâs 3,000 informal childcare centres also face an impossible situation. Parents depend on precarious casual work, which means their income is irregular and they canât always afford the fees.
âToday somebody has gone to wash someoneâs clothes, tomorrow the work is not there,â says Violet K Omweno, who trains women running centres through Kidogo, a social enterprise that aims to improve the quality of early years care and education. âIt doesnât mean that because the work has stopped the parent will stay in the house. The parent will say: âPlease, have my child while I look for something to do.ââ
The legacy of NGOs offering free services in the local areas â" along with a general lack of respect for women who run centres â" makes it even tougher to break even, adds Omweno. Many cram in extra children in the hope of making additional money, leaving them completely overwhelmed.
Omweno believes the training scheme will improve the quality of care and education the women provide, and help them to better manage their businesses. Women learn about the importance of play, responsive caregiving, and how to maximise their space and engage parents. Kidogo also runs its own, larger childcare centres and preschools, known as hubs, which in Kibera cost 1,500 shillings (less than Â£4) a month.
Teachers in Kenyaâs preschools â" for ages four to six â" are expected to have a formal qualification, but this isnât always enforced. Critics say that, in any case, the training available is too theoretical and provides little preparation for the classroom. Those caring for children aged three or under require no official qualifications and centres are unregulated.
This could be about to change. In Nairobi, the county government has passed a bill requiring all childcare centr es to be registered, and is developing minimum standards and guidelines. A new national curriculum for preschools, which places a greater emphasis on play-based learning, has also been introduced.
Early years experts welcome attempts to improve the regulations, but say enforcing the policies will require investment. âThey will [actually] have to go out to 3,000 daycare centres and explain what needs to happen and visit them again to see if theyâre meeting standards,â says Afzal Habib, co-founder of Kidogo.
Regulations also need to be realistic. In Tanzania, where policies were introduced, it was decided that all schools must have three acres of land. âThatâs completely infeasible if youâre working in an informal settlement,â he added.
Authorities need to support women to improve their services, rather than clamp down harshly on those that do not meet standards, says Habib.
Dr Teresa Mwoma, senior lecturerat the department of early childhood studies at Kenyatta University, recently conducted a study of daycare centres in informal settlements. She identified a number of problems relating to hygiene and nutrition but found these improved dramatically after operators had offered guidance.
âInitially, having potties for babies, cleaning them after use, keeping them away from childrenâs reach, was a challenge. In fact, some centres didnât have potties. But after the implementation of the [policy] project, 100% of the daycare centres had potties and had a special place to keep them.â T he study only involved a small number of centres, she added, and support needs to be offered on a wider basis.
Childminders need more community backing, and recognition, says Okengo. âThey are providing a service under very difficult circumstances, they often donât have the training that they need, the support that they need, even the resources they need. The county government needs to come in and recognise this is an avenue through which we can support our children.â
Many parents and politicians arenât aware of the crucial link between childrenâs early years and their later development. âYou will find parents saying: âYou are doing nothing here.â You have to tell them we have to go step by step with these kids, because when we push them we are destroying their development,â says Pauline Ngina, headteacher of Kidogoâs hub in Kibera.
âThey [parents] want everything academic,â she says. âThey say: âWow, teacher you are just playin g with usâ. But I tell them we are doing the best for their child.â
She adds: âSome of the kids are so dull when they come here because of their situation at home â" maybe the mother has no time to interact with the child, to play. These small kids need attention.â
Many parents work night shifts, or juggle more than one job. But parents who stick with the hub see the results. Children who arrived underweight a year ago now have chubby cheeks, those who were shy or withdrawn now happily play with others.
Kenyattaâs daughters have grown up fast, she says: â[Lavine] was lonely at home. When she came here she learned how to socialise.â
âThe place [Kibera] that we are staying is not that nice a place,â she adds, but she knows that Lavine has a strong character.
When Lavine saw another, older child push over a younger girl, she intervened. âShe goes there and picks her up and says: âSorry, sorry.â And she walks up to the bigge r child and tells him: âStop, that is bad, donât do that again.â She is four years old. I like that she is confident.âTopics
- Global education
- The first fight
- Early years education
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