ECD: A NEGLECTED ASPECT

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr 23 - 29, 20
12

Early child development (ECD) is very essential in determining the social, health, and economic participation of the children in their adulthood. According to the World Health Organization, 200 million children below five could not reach their 'cognitive and social potential' worldwide. Unfortunately, majority of these children live in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it says.

In Pakistan, the situation is quite disturbing since let alone education, which is indeed a luxury for many of the families in the country children are deprived of even proper nutrition that also hampers the physical and mental growth.

A quarter of the children under five are underweight in Pakistan because of the malnutrition, according to another world's leading organization Save the Children.

Optimal early childhood development is dependent on not only education but also nutrition, amenable and learning environment, healthcare, and provision of drinkable water and sanitation facilities.

The WHO says that first eight years of a child development sets the direction of issues related to health and education in later stage of his/her life. Undertrained and neglected children are likely to generate meagre income, find it difficult to fight out poverty, and cannot provide learning environment to their children later on, thus fuelling an unstoppable cycle of social and economic underdevelopments. The report also finds the higher incidences of health issues in the societies with unsatisfactory environment for children.

Recently, WHO declared Pakistan high-risk country because of existence of polio. It is very unfortunate that Pakistan accounts for 15 cases of polio out of total 40 cases around the world. This also shows the state of health sector and vulnerability of people to maladies that have been eradicated in other major parts of the world.

First three years of children are critical as in that period they are vulnerable to lacking in physical and cognitive atmosphere. Parents can play a leading role in fostering child development and mitigate risks of talent underutilization by commanding over methods of communication with the children and teaching them discipline, how to sleep, and eat.

Community organizations are promoting safe motherhood and disease prevention education activities and building maternal health awareness. A healthy mother is also a prerequisite of good early childhood development.

The government should increase health and education budgets to make people productive and catalysts of socioeconomic developments. Especially, it should raise allocations to early childhood education sector. Provincial administrations, after the devolution of ministry of education under the 18th amendment, can chart out policies for education sector san interventions from the central.

Instead of spending resources on some pretentious language instruction to brag about Pak-China friendship, the government must pay attention to the battery of talents wasted before staggering into first class and work out plans to let children grow up to their potential.

Without planned mentoring, early child education is not possible generally. Well-trained mentors familiar with the children's psychology can speed up the learning process and redirect energy of them according to their natural psychological development. A wide range of special implements is used in this learning process. Sensorial products help kids learn about things around them.

Montessori schooling is a famous early childhood education system in the world. Having conceived more than a century ago by an Italian educator Maria Montessori, the system has made inroads to thousand of schools around the world. According to it, a child has a powerfully absorbent mind until the six years of age.

Over the last few years, a number of Montessori schools have been established in the country. Educated parents with disposable monthly income send their kid to these schools. Few pass on parenting responsibilities to these institutes and want readymade flawless products in return of exorbitant fees. Low-income group cannot bear up with the luxury of early childhood education. Even middle-income group with more than one child avoid paid child rearing.

The long-term benefits of early child development will be limited to a small portion of the society in Pakistan or cannot lead to fracturing poverty trap as a whole because majority cannot afford it.

In spite of that, parents/guidance can contribute towards personality building of their children. The building process is mind numbing notwithstanding. To the least, what they should do is foster reading habits in their children.

Oxford University Press has organized children literature festival in Lahore last year to promote reading habits and critical thinking in children. The first two-day festival of its kinds featured reading and writing sessions, book fair, puppet shows based on characters from books, and lot more.

Children literature festival was indeed a welcoming step in the right direction and such events should also be in other cities as well. Verily, such shows and awareness building campaigns are catering to only small population of the country whose falling in line with the standard principles of building child's personality does not make any difference in the lives of majority of the underprivileged children.

State should take responsibility of providing education to at least children living in destitute in impoverished areas. Without reminding it of its responsibility of providing free and compulsory education to all children under five to 16 under Article 25A, this is to advice the state to adopt these children. Investments in children lead to more literate and numerate populations and amazing reductions in incidences of health issues. The World Bank says: "well targeted ECD programmes cost less and produce more dramatic and lasting results than education investments at any other level".