The need for daycare and early childhood education in Nigeria

Please, as you’re here, support my work by participating in my survey on home-based early years’ literacy practice among families in Nigeria, and remember to share the links with your contacts.

You can click on the link “Early literacy practices before beginning primary school (Home-based involvement)” to go there. Thanks.

About 11 Million children were enrolled in the early years and day care education (ECDE) sector in Nigeria between 2014 and 2016. This is a massive shift from what was obtainable in the country about three decades ago when the norm in most families was that formal schooling starts for children at primary education or just prior to the children commencing primary education – this was called “je ki ile o si mi” in Yoruba language, meaning, let there be ‘peace’ at home. This saying was born out of the fact that little children were seen as too playful with too much need for attention; even though it is just the exploratory nature of children at that age – which is important for their holistic growth – that is being manifested.

With more women acquiring higher education, the creation of more states, the growth of the private sector, and being the most affected by the excruciating hand of poverty in the country, there has been the demand for more women to work in the organised employment sector, as well as, in the informal sector. Also, women in many instances have been left to cater for the needs of their children without any support from their spouses and worse still, from the state. For instance, most professional women are expected to be back at work after about three months of maternity leave and the conditions are usually subject to their employers’ policy and not by what is nationally binding according to the law. Furthermore, women in the informal sector, particularly those living in the villages and rural areas are left with no support to cater for basic issues like maternity leave and childcare.

This non-provision for the needs of young and/or nursing mothers brings to mind an image that went viral online in Nigeria around 2016 of a young nursing mother backing her baby and having her maternity bag beside her in a programming class on Lagos Island. Perhaps, the image was shared online to say it was ‘unusual’. At first, when I saw the picture, my reaction was “why would she have taken her little child there?”, afterwards, I told myself that such a mother should be appreciated and supported for her determination and resilience to overcome a social and institutional barrier that was never of her making. The image reminds me of some of my very brilliant female primary and secondary school classmates whose education were terminated because they became pregnant – there was no support for them and I doubt if there is nay support for such cases now in the Nigerian education sector. Even at higher education level, most Nigerian institutions if not all, do not make any tangible provision for the needs of young and/or nursing mothers.

Beyond the online image, is an image that I still remember after 30 years. It was on a normal-innocent day in school while I was in JSS1 (Year 7). Our school principal had entered our classroom and she took notice of a particular classmate of mine, who obviously was much older than most – if not all – of us in the class, and the principal called her out and started talking to her, there in the classroom. Then, this classmate of mine, whose name I still remember vividly now, was asked to remove her school beret, and on removing it, her hair was permed (I guess that was a no-no thing then). Afterwards, more talk and suddenly the bomb was dropped – you’re too old for school or something like that – and that was the end of formal education for this classmate of mine in the school.

After my random thought on the image of the nursing mother attending the programming course, I started thinking about the whole issue again, and my mind flashed back to how society has changed significantly in most cities in Nigeria. In the past, families were able to accommodate their neighbours’ children but situations have evolved significantly now. And unfortunately, with more crimes like kidnapping and sexual abuse being committed against minors, families have become more careful of entrusting their children with non-family members. Also, the fact that most adults are usually out and about during the traditional working hours of 9 to 5 in Nigeria, which usually extends late into the night for those working in sectors like banking and traditional market places, does not help in addressing the challenge of providing communal support to young and/or nursing mothers.

Still on the online image of the young nursing mother, some of the questions that need answers are:

  • Why is it that most program organisers in Nigeria do not make provisions to cater for the needs of young and/or nursing mothers?
  • Why is it that most employers do not make provisions for nursing mothers to cater for the needs of their young children?
  • Why is the government not providing supports to women in general, with regards to childcare and child upbringing?
  • Why should the women in the villages, particularly the nursing mothers, be made to face the challenge of having to go back to work (which can be very physically tasking jobs like farming) few days after they’ve just delivered a baby?

There are more why’s that could be asked but for the sake of brevity, it is important to leave it at those few ones.

Perhaps, some of the issues highlighted above might have led to the growth in the demand for early childhood and day-care education in the country, however, the sector is not within the compulsory education sector that the government constitutionally provide for. Hence, the National Policy on Education (2013) states that early childhood and day-care education are to be provided by private operators and families are expected to foot the bills. Although, the policy provides guideline on how early childhood and day-care education should be delivered with emphasis laid on learning through play but beyond those basic policy statements, the government did not make any other tangible supportive provision for the sector.

While it is not impossible that the government’s hands-free approach to the sector might have been influenced by the financial implications of providing EDCE, however, it has been established from research that the first 1000 days in the life of a child is critical to the future of that child’s education. According to New Scientist (April, 2009) “By the time we take our first breath, the brain is already more than eight months old…” and “In childhood, the brain is the most energetic and flexible that it will ever be.” However, children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been proven to be in about 30 Millions words deficit to their peers from more affluent backgrounds with regards to their early literacy experience. Furthermore, it has been found out that quality early years’ programs like literacy and numeracy skills education support for disadvantaged families at that stage are able to yield more value for money than most interventions that take place in later stages of a child’s education. Likewise, it has been established that good nutrition is very important to the healthy development of children at that stage, hence, the need to provide supports to families that are not just educational in outlook but nutritional, social, emotional and physical, for the holistic wellbeing of the child.

Finally, it is important that the government support the early childhood and day-care education sector in the country by providing either free or affordable and accessible quality early childhood programs to practitioners and families. Furthermore, there is need to allocate more money to the Ministry of Women Affairs from the paltry #5.5 Billion that they were allocated in 2017. The ministry’s role should be more pronounced in the society and tailored towards the needs of all women in the country irrespective of their social status. And special attention should be given to those that are disadvantaged, particularly, women in rural areas and poor communities, women with disabilities and  young and/or nursing mothers.

The government should learn from the successes achieved from past intervention programs like “Better Life for Rural Women” and “People’s Bank” that were targeted at women in particular situations, to provide institutional support to them.

Please, as you’re here, support my work by participating in my survey on home-based early years’ literacy practice among families in Nigeria, and remember to share the links with your contacts.

You can click on the link “Early literacy practices before beginning primary school (Home-based involvement)” to go there. Thanks.

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