For some time, discussions about the importance of early childhood education or development (ECE/ECD)/ have been circulating. The more education evolves as a discipline, the better, it seems, it tends to understand the child’s development process. With behaviorists, psychologists, and theorists like Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, Piaget, Dewey, etc., education is far along in understanding both the thought development process of children, and the ways children process, and acquire knowledge in the greater society.
This multi-part article discusses the importance of early childhood education and how it can improve the Liberian educational system. Part one will lay the basis for the paper by addressing learning methods and lack of adequate teachers. Part two will deal with nutrition and how it affects the child development process and the last part will deal with the learning environment and the socio-culture aspects of child development. These will all be geared at dealing with some of the key challenges faced by stakeholders and policymakers in the Liberian educational system; while the last part offers some possible solutions. Its core arguments are 1) good and early intervention in ECE/D is one of the best investments societies can make; and 2) such intervention/investment greatly improves the cognitive abilities and critical behavioral traits (like sociability, motivation and self-esteem) of learners- which makes them better citizens.
In Liberia, for grade school, formal education runs on a K-12 system. Primary education, the first stage in formal education, begins between ages 5 to 7 and ends between ages 11 to 13. Primary education often refers to, the first three years of elementary education – i.e., grades 1 to 3. Often, elementary education is preceded by some form of preschool for children ages 3 to 5. However, since the civil war, the Ministry of Education and UNESCO have reported that Liberia has amongst the highest levels of overaged learners, at all levels, of the educational systems in the region.
At this early stage of formal education, it is expected that pupils will obtain high-level care and training by early child development teachers to prepare them to meet the challenge of secondary education with relative ease. This is not entirely true in Liberia. This article discusses reasons why primary education is a challenge that if not dealt with, eventually leads to poor secondary education, especially in Liberia. Some of the challenges we will be discussing in relation to primary and secondary education in Liberia include; inadequate number of trained teachers, poor or little nutrition for children, poor learning environment, and social, cultural, and economic issues.
Low Pay for Teachers
Generally, in Liberia, teachers are among the least paid professionals as compared to some of our neighbors. For instance, in Cote d’Ivoire, the average monthly salary for a school teacher is 246,000 CFA (est. $403). In Ghana, it is 5,380 Cedis ($693) and Nigeria it is 250,000 Naira ($602). Worse among the low-paid instructors are those involved with primary education.
The low pay has discouraged the best and most professional educators to leave the ECE area to seek better paying related jobs or entirely new ones. What then occurs is a situation where the learners are now left at the mercy of untrained professionals.
Lack of Trained Teachers
Pupils at this level are quite precious and need special attention by individuals trained as Early Childhood Caregivers or Developers.
It takes different stages of cognitive development for a child to gain readiness for specific educational activities. Psychologists believe that it takes time for one to understand the different aspects of educational issues.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss developmental psychologist, and one of the most influential developmental theorists, divided human cognitive growth into four (4) developmental stages. He believes that all people pass through the same four stages in the same order. He associated the stages with specific ages. Piaget noted that individuals may go through long period of transition between stages and that a person may show characteristics of one stage in one situation, but characteristics of a higher or lower stage in other situations.
These are theories any trained educator or caregiver would know and understand. Thus, since schools can’t afford to maintain or hire trained educators, learners are not learning adequately. They are short-changed. They have to deal with caregivers that do not understand nor know the fundamentals of early childhood care and development. This situation greatly undermines the child development process and can lead to life-long learning challenges.
And lastly, because these caregivers are unqualified, the job tends to wear heavily on them. They find little to no motivation to keep doing what is best for the child. The money is low, the job becomes stressful and thus, the learners become the ones that suffer the consequences of these systemic failures.
School then becomes a hostile terrain for learners as they must endure the wrath of angry, short-tempered caregivers and ridicule and other forms of psychological and mental (sometimes even physical) abuses. The schools that should be safe zones are now war zones and triggers for unhappiness.
All these may seem inconsequential. To some, it may seem as if nothing can’t be repaired as the child develops. Unfortunately, some damages can never be repaired. Those that can take a long time of consistent care and attention to correct. These are all reasons we need to strengthen the ECE/D sector in our educational system. if we prepare them right, we have a better shot at improving the overall system, in the near future.
In the second part of the article, we will consider the importance of nutrition in the child development process. We will attempt to show that proper nutrition practices are vital to the development, growth and learning processes of children. More importantly, we will offer means that are inexpensive to achieve this, especially considering the financial and other constraints parents have to deal with in their daily lives.
Graduate Scholar, BIST/UMU