ISLAMABAD - A report on early childhood education in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has highlighted inadequate teacher strength, insufficient supply of dedicated space/class for children of 3-4 years age group, overcrowding, and high teacher absenteeism, especially in rural Sindh, as the inadequacies creating hurdles for the children to get early education.

The existing policy of two rooms and two teachers is the biggest obstacle to exclusively focus on the well being of children below the age of 5 for the provision of early childhood education in both the provinces, it says.

The report ‘Magnifying The Gaps: Situational Analysis of Early Childhood Education and Development in KPK and Sindh’ prepared by PARWAAN E9 ECED Center of Excellence, an initiative of Children’s Global Network Pakistan, was launched Tuesday in collaboration with Ministry of Education, SDPI and Open Society Foundation here at Academy for Educational Planning and Management.

The report also highlighted sub-optimum attendance of teachers in government schools of rural Sindh. The qualitative study quoting parents says: “Teacher absenteeism is more prevalent in government girl schools where the infrastructure at the school facility is insufficient. Despite absenteeism, teachers are not fired and they continue to withdraw salary from the state. Political clientelism and patronage undermine accountability in the education sector”.

Dr Shehryar Toru, Senior research fellow at SDPI, discussed the different connotations of the concept of early childhood education, the limitations in the public sector education institutions concerning the promotion of child-centric activities at the pre-primary level and the situation of early childhood education in provinces of KP and Sindh. The research study is carried out in selective districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

The government schools have large number of students in one class and a large number of students are taught by one teacher, he shared. Whereas, there are less students in one class in private schools. Besides, teaching and learning methodologies are different in public and private schools including, syllabus, course, timetable, recreational activities and physical structures.

The report says in both the provinces the ECE methodology in private schools is creative as it makes children think and plan in advance rather than following a monotonous routine. It has increased the motivation and continuous interests amongst teachers too.

While with regard to ECE in government schools the parents repeatedly made reference to untrained teachers. Majority stakeholders, according to the study (teachers and parents), were of the opinion that unless schools provide a favorable environment, early childhood education would remain a wishful agenda.

According to the report much of the demands for low–cost private schools originate from parents who are not satisfied with the government schools. The report says that there is noticeable increase in parental willingness to pay for better learning opportunities for their children. This is evident, in the growth of low cost private schools enrollment amongst lower socio-economic segments of society. Parents prefer private schools due to quality education, learning environment and teaching material.

The report states under Article 25A the state is under no obligation to mainstream and fully recognise the significance of early childhood development. Children between ages 3-5 are deprived of their right to education. This right is further undermined when children below the age of five exit from public schools to private schools.

The report recommends that the state clearly must devise a policy on Early Childhood development and must provide incentives to students of poor families. These incentives can be in form of healthy meals, Early Childhood Education (ECE) classroom should be established in existing schools. The report also emphasised that there should be a dedicated female teacher for the students of the age of below 5.

Early Childhood interventions by the government must be supported by the active support of community. The school providing ECE to poor communities (Rural areas) need to provided required funds, it stressed.

There is a confusion regarding ECE and standards are being compromised, remarked Minister of State for Federal Education & Professional Training Engr. Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman speaking at the launch. Parents are often misguided on ECE. There is a need to take focused recommendations from people from diverse backgrounds and develop a framework for ECE at the national level, he added.

Early childhood environment and personalised engagement of teachers with children below the age of 5 have a significant impact on a child’s development and well-being, said PARWAN President Mehnaz Aziz. “Crafting of public policy on early childhood care is the ultimate necessity in the present times.”