* 2019/20 ECD budget estimate also fell short of the minimum recommended expenditure
* There is still a need to increase our efforts to make all children developmentally on track
* Factors limiting access include inadequate facilities, infrastructure for Water, Sanitation & Hygiene
By Duncan Mlanjira
While commending the government for increasing the budget allocation to early childhood development (ECD) from K803 million in the 2019/2020 budget to K3 billion in the 2020/2021 budget, WaterAid Malawi contends that the allocation still falls short of the MGDS III’s recommended K4.9 billion allocation.
In a statement, WaterAid’s coordinator for policy & sector engagement, Lloyd Mtalimanja says this is especially concerning in that “although Government surpassed the MGDS III’s target for budget allocation to the Education & Skills Development sector by about 75% in the 2020/2021 budget, it still underfunded ECD”.
“This suggests that ECD is not adequately prioritized in budget allocations. Regrettably the 2019/20 ECD budget estimate also fell short of the minimum recommended expenditure on ECD proposed in the MGDS III by MK3.5 billion (81%),” Mtalimanja said.
Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) is a comprehensive approach to policies, programs, strategies & services for children from conception to age eight for their survival, growth, development and participation to ensure thriving in all dimensions.
ECD comprises four components — nutrition, education, health and protection and its center-based services include child rehabilitation units and primary schools for children aged six to eight.
Mtalimanja quotes the National Policy on ECD (NPECD) that states a study on Impact Evaluation for Protecting ECD (2011-2015) revealed that 39.2% of children aged 36-59 months attended early childhood education nationally in 2014.
The 2018/19 program based budget shows ECD service covers 1,607,491 children representing 45.36% of the age cohort. The increase also resulted in better education, improved childcare services, child protection & health care outcomes.
About 9 in 10 (89.1%) of the children aged two to five years were developmentally on track physically, 71.4% on social emotional and 79.9% on early learning dimensions.
Thus, the Early Child Development Index (ECDI) score was at 59.8% in 2014 indicating that 60% of Malawian children are developmentally on track, with ECDI for girls higher at 64% than for boys at 56%.
“However, there is still a need to increase our efforts to make all children developmentally on track,” says Mtalimanja highlighting some of the problems affecting ECD as being limited equitable access to ECD services.
“Although the provision of ECD is an important pillar to ‘education for all, only 45.36% of targeted children attend ECD centers. This leaves 54.64% of the targeted ECD children, with no access to ECD services.
“Factors limiting access include inadequate facilities, infrastructure for Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WaSH). ECD infrastructure is generally poor and inappropriate for young and vulnerable children, rendering the environment a health risk.”
He adds that poor infrastructure is largely due to inadequate budgetary allocations and disbursements to ECD services, whose limited access to leads into enrolling under-aged children in primary school — “who are not prepared and increases repetition and dropout rates”.
He also said child survival and stimulation is a very big problem in Malawi as according to the World Data Atlas, in 2019, child mortality rate for Malawi was 41.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
“Provision of adequate and constant care and stimulation ensures that children survive and cope with life to develop optimally in all settings.
“Providing children with quality care, stimulation and early learning opportunities has many benefits, including enhancing school readiness and related educational outcomes.”
Thus, WaterAid contends, “ECD Centers offer opportunities for protection, stimulation, development, participation, socialization and a sense of belonging of all children, including vulnerable ones.”
In collaboration with WASH and ECD stakeholders, WaterAid recommends the Ministry of Gender to develop comprehensive standards and guidelines for provision of WASH services in ECDCs.
“Additionally, the Ministry should develop a costed roadmap for ensuring adequate WASH access in all ECDCs and WASH indicators should be incorporated in the Ministry’s ECD monitoring tools.
“The Ministry of Finance, in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender, should increase financial resources to ECD to ensure the allocation conforms to the ‘education for all’ aspiration as well as the minimum recommended expenditure on ECD proposed in the MGDS III.
“The Ministry of Finance should allocate 3% of total national budget to ECD in keeping with the recommended 3% share recommended under the UN’s Education for All.
“Considering that the annual resource requirement for ECD is MK10.4 billion (US$13.9 million) — which might be difficult for the responsible Government Directorate to handle alone — Government should increase the capacity of the relevant department to handle the required size of budget to sustain services in order to efficiently achieve NPECD objectives.”
In conclusion, WaterAid maintains that if child survival and stimulation are to be improved in Malawi, children should be provided with safe water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) facilities in all ECD contexts.
“This is in addition to nutritious food, immunization, growth monitoring services as well as adequate play and stimulation materials.”
Earlier this year, WaterAid voiced out its concerns that in the midst of CoVID-19, Malawi’s presidential taskforce on COVID-19 issued instructions to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) to abolish the essential WaSH public programme.
The presidential taskforce is reportedly justified the deactivation, saying it is no longer necessary since the Ministry of Education is now drilling boreholes but stakeholders such as WaterAid, with support from Ministry of Health, are defending the WaSH initiative.
They strongly argue since last year that it is necessary as part of the preventive measures towards COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement in March, WaterAid trashed the task force’s reasoning, saying it “reflects very narrow understanding of WaSH in the context of the fight against COVID-19”.
“The decision to de-activate the WaSH Cluster in Malawi is to be evaluated against the background that there is a WaSH Cluster for COVID-19 response at the global level.
“While at the global level it is felt that the battle against COVID-19 cannot be fought without a functional WaSH Cluster, Malawi thinks otherwise — which is a very worrisome reasoning considering that handwashing is the first line of defence in the fight against the pandemic.
“Malawi is removing the very structure that is coordinating WaSH players to make handwashing possible for everyone and everywhere in Malawi,” the statement had said.