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The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Kenya (KCPE) results are out, as is the tradition, the air was rented with pomp and celebration as ‘winners’ were carried shoulder-high by parents, colleagues and teachers.

I will spare you a lot of talk about the legitimacy of these results, and whether somebody should take responsibility over alleged widespread cheating in the 2015 national exams, and instead focus on Early Childhood Development (ECD).

Kenya, like all developed nations of the world, has since taken ECD seriously.  Early childhood education and development is offered to children between the ages of three and five — when a child should be in pre-school.

This stage, as shown by evidence from scientific data, is very crucial to a child’s development. By the age of five, a child’s brain would have grown by 90 per cent of its adult size. But even earlier than that, by age three, it would have already reached 82 per cent of its adult size. There is also that matter of ‘use it or lose it.’

A child needs pre-school for five key developmental aspects — emotional to develop self-confidence; physical functions including eyesight and motor skills; social to make the child develop an understanding of his responsibilities and rights in a community; language to enable communication including how to present feelings and emotions; and most importantly, cognitive skills, which encompasses the way in which a child organises information, solves problems, creativity, imagination and memory.

While Kenyans have put three to five-year-olds in pre-school, no one really knows if the above objectives are actually met. The ECD schools that mushroom everywhere are neither well-equipped nor adequately staffed to offer quality childhood education. These institutions spend precious time confining a child’s brain into the rigour of exam-passing robots. This they drill them into perfection, and it is very unfair to the child, family and the educators themselves.

Most parents send their children to these dens driven by the fear that the househelp will turn the child into a Nollywood movie analyst if they leave them at home. It gets even worse for the child if the parents, like everyone else in the estate, decides that their children are town kids, not village brats, to have their little thighs slapped by dewy grass on their way to school. The school transport in itself is a betrayal of honesty and proper education.

Most of the time, it is a ramshackle in which the kids are piled in like a sack of potatoes, with the school’s fancy name (often something like ‘Precious Brains Kindergarten’) inscribed on the sides, back and front of the ‘School Bus,’ which in most cases is but a seven-seater mini-van. Using the school transport is particularly bad because the child will wake up at 5am to catch the bus, then ‘tour’ other estates for hours as other kids are picked. It’s the same script in the evening when school day ends.

A damning report on the status of education in Kenya published in 2013 revealed that over 50 per cent of Class Eight pupils could barely read. This report covered a good number of the children who wake up at 5am for three years of their most important stage of brain development to attend ECD schools.

While the first five years is the best period to condition and prepare the human brain to adapt to future challenges, having your child sing A, Bu, Cu, Du… or Father Abraham (which Perpetua, the Sunday school teacher sings with them anyway), and carry loads of homework home, does not necessarily mean you are helping his brain development. Why should a three-year-old have homework And why do the same thing for three years anyway

The writer is a PhD scholar at Kwa-Zulu Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV (SA), and research scientist at the Institute of Primate Research.

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