Pre-schools or kindergartens were originally created in the late 18th century in Bavaria and Alsace to serve children whose parents both worked outside home. Preschools today are formal educational institutions that provide learning space for children aged two to seven years. They serve as a bridge for children as they make a transition from home to school life.
The government of Eritrea has been working vigorously to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal number four (SDG 4), which requires every state to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Especially since the formation of the macro-policy in 1994, the government has been investing on the expansion of pre-school education. In order to address the Education Sector Plan (2020- 2022), the Ministry of Education (MoE) held a national workshop, under the theme “laying the foundation for lifelong learning,” from 4 to 5 December, with a view to reaching a consensus and finalizing the documents on the Education Sector Communication Strategy (ESCS) and Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Strategy.
In his address at the workshop held at the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers, Mr. Petros Hailemariam, representative of the minister of Education, said finalizing the two documents (ESCS and ECCE) is part of the government’s policies and efforts. Director General of the Department of General Education at the MoE, Mr. Mussa Husien Naib, briefed the participants on the backgrounds of Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs, global commitment and the role of an integrated ECD programs in promoting social justice.
Mrs. Abeba Habtom, Head of the ECCE panel, took over the platform to introduce the ECCE strategies and objectives and the benefits of the investment for the ECD. She noted that in the last two decades the government, with the help of parents, has been investing in the expansion of early childhood education (ECCE) programs. As a result, the ECCE centers increased from 90 in 2001 to 524 in 2017. The ECCE curriculum is based on a thematic approach to guarantee incorporated planning, teaching and learning that empower children to achieve dynamic knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
Mrs. Abeba also talked about the strategies implemented by the MoE to improve the quality of pre-school education, including the procedural guideline in 2001 and an integrated ECD policy in 2004. Various manuals, guidelines, syllabus, early learning development standards and supportive learning materials have been prepared, updated and translated into eight local languages. Mrs. Abeba outlines the five objectives of the program, which are, proposing strategies to meet the 30% net enrolment rate for pre-school children by 2020; providing strategies to improve the quality of the existing and future learning environment; recommending an implementation plan for the proposed strategies targeting remote and disadvantaged areas; proposing ECCE budget allocation and future coverage of ECCE services; and suggesting a monitoring and evaluation framework for the ECCE sub-sector.
Mrs. Abeba concluded her speech saying that in Eritrea there is no school-feeding program for children aged five and under-five, which is negatively affecting 50% of under-five children in their cognitive development.
The third speaker on the occasion, Mr. Abraham Russom, director of curriculum, addressed the issue of finance, budget implementation plans, research, and monitoring and evaluation system. He said the government funds the ECCE program’s operational costs, but to complement the government’s efforts, advocacy work needs to be done to increase financial support and commitment and a resource mobilization strategy needs to be developed to improve financing of the sector.
After thanking the MoE for creating a forum for discussion, Ms. Shaheen Nilofer, UNICEF’s country representative, said that globally 175 million boys and girls are not enrolled in pre-school education. Especially in low-income countries, nearly 8 in 10 children (78%) are missing this opportunity. She noted, “As a global community, we face a shared challenge to ensure that the graduating class of 2030 starts school at the right time”. She assured everyone that UNICEF would continue to advocate and support Eritrea towards providing children with the opportunities they deserve and towards shaping a better future for children and their societies in the decades to come. She wished the participants a successful and fruitful outcome from the consultation workshop. “I expect outline directions and implementation of the two strategies, which will guide interventions at community level,” she said.
According to a study in 2016 on “out of school children”, despite progress in the last two decades in Eritrea, access to pre-school education is still low; the net enrolment ratio for 4 to 5 year-old children is 17.1%, and 73% of age 5 children are out of school. In an interview, both Mr. Mussa and Mrs. Abeba said that the main aim of the MoE is to raise coverage of pre-school education to 30% by 2020.