Climate change and weather are threatening vulnerable children’s education
“The first five years of our lives have an extraordinary impact on the adults we become. They provide the foundation for how we respond to our biggest challenges in later life, our long-term health, education and work, our wellbeing and resilience,” says Naison Bhunhu when asked to introduce the reason why close to 200 Zimbabwean organizations have come together in the Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development (ZINECDA).
Early Childhood Development
- ECD was formally integrated into the education system of Zimbabwe in 2005 and now forms the first two years of a total of four years infant school (age 4-8) followed by junior and secondary school.
- There is no comprehensive ECD policy in Zimbabwe and the sector is severely underfunded. Less than 2 percent of the national budget is allocated to aspects of Early childhood Development (aged 4-8) though they make up 12 percent of all learners (32 percent if all were enrolled). There is only around half the number of trained teachers required to ensure ECD in education.
- The enrolment and retention among infants are low. Only one third of children aged 36-59 months are attending education and absenteeism remains high.
- There is a severe lack of suitable infrastructure and learning materials that resonate with the play-and-learn approach appropriate for this age group.
- Inequality is high in early childhood education meaning that in many rural areas it is practically not possible for a young child to attend school, while in the well-off urban areas the infant classes are accessible and well run.
He is the national coordinator of the network which was established in the Southern African country in 2012, uniting organizations, groups and a few individuals working to improve early childhood development in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Through the years, Naison Bhunhu has witnessed how an early effort can prevent disability and emotional damage to children, how nutrition and stimuli improve brain functions and physical well-being, and how early introduction to education significantly increase the probability that a child will stay in school and perform well. He has also seen how many dimensions of care and development must play together to form the perfect conditions for a child.
For this reason, ZINECDA has welcomed a broad variety of organizations, each focusing on their own dimension of early childhood development – health and nutrition, safety, family well-being or education.
Climate change has become a major threat to ECD
Following this year’s global climate conference, COP26, which for the first time established a link between climate change and education, ZINECDA has made this link a priority for 2022. They want to raise political and public attention to the matter and make sure that some of the funding set aside to combat and adapt to climate change is allocated to young children and their specific needs.
As an example, ZINECDA is going to argue, that every local community should develop a plan, implement preventive measures, and set aside resources to respond if unusual weather is affecting the welfare or the education of the youngest children.
“It is not obvious for all how climate changes threaten the development of our children. But that is reality, and from this point onwards we have made it part of our mission to create awareness about this and start doing something about it,” Naison Bhunhu says.
Today there is no comprehensive early childhood development policy in Zimbabwe and the sector is severely underfunded. Only one in three children aged 36-59 months are attending education and for those that do attend there are less than half the number of teachers required, classrooms are too few and in bad condition and there are almost no learning materials that resonate with the play-and-learn approach appropriate for this age group.
“The teaching needs to improve, the teacher training needs to improve, and we need a better psycho-social environment around the children. We lack a school feeding program as we currently see 25 percent of kids stunted and 10 percent really underweight. More effort should be put into securing the kids’ safe travel to and from school – and then of course, we really need a plan for mitigating the effects of climate change and acknowledge that bad weather caused by climate change is actually a severe threat to early childhood development,” says Naison Bhunhu.
Climate funding must also go to education
Currently less than 2 percent of the national budget is allocated to aspects of early childhood development. (4-8 years) which make up 12 percent of learners (32 percent if all in the age group were in fact enrolled). And none of the funding that Zimbabwe receives or allocates to combat and mitigate the consequences of climate change target early childhood development.
“Many see the weather change and the school absenteeism raise but do not think or acknowledge that the things are connected. But we know for a fact that flooding prevents kids from coming to school, heavy winds destroy the schools, drought leads to malnutrition and hunger which affects the ability to learn, and extended rains gives more cases of malaria and other diseases which also results in absenteeism,” lists Naison Bhunhu.
“The 2015 cyclone destroyed a vast number of schools throughout the country. We had not even finished restoring those when Cyclone Idai hit last year. In rainy seasons we have an increasing number of floods. In summer the heat is growing still more extreme. We need to become resilient to these changing conditions and adjust our education system to fit the conditions,” says Naison Bhunhu.
Our job is to find solutions
According to him, COP26 was very promising as it ensured a global commitment to help those who suffer the most from climate changes. Now, he finds it to be the responsibility of civil society partners like ZINECDA to take this commitment and turn it into solutions that work and solve the problems on the ground.
Right now, members of ZINECDA are therefore working to come up with concrete and usable solutions to some of the problems local communities experience affecting the safety and development of their children, whether through the construction of classrooms, school feeding programs to encourage the poorest families to send their children to school, hygiene facilities to prevent heat-related skin conditions, or the use of parents to help kids get to school when flooding makes the journey difficult.
“Everyone involved in a child’s early life has a pivotal role to play, so we do our best to mix our different skills and competences to improve every aspect of the young child’s life and advocate for everybody to acknowledge and prioritize early childhood development,” says Naison Bhunhu.
- Zimbabwean Network for Early Childhood Development Association is a national umbrella body of Early Childhood Development Organizations and individuals working in partnership with other stakeholders to influence policies, programs and practice related to early childhood development (ECD) through policy advocacy, generation of new knowledge, building capacity of members, policy makers, and sharing experiences.
- ZINECDA’s purpose is to fulfill the realization of the rights of every child, from conception to eight years, the period known as early childhood development or ECD.
- ZINECDA is a network of non-state and state actors with current membership consisting of community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations, faith based organisations, ECD centers, research and academic organisations and private sector working to enhance early childhood development in Zimbabwe.
- At the moment, ZINECDA is working to:
- Inform all members about the fact that ECD is now formally added as part of basic education in Zimbabwe – and develop plans for raising funding to implement ECD nationwide.
- Ensure that all ECD classes are on the state budget and are publicly funded so that the economic responsibility doesn’t rest on parents.
- Advocate for finalization of early learning policy and for an inclusive play-based learning curriculum to raise the quality of early learning.
- Create awareness of the importance of ECD and hence mobilize public support and public demand for the government to prioritize the welfare and the learning of the youngest children.
- Increase the general funding for ECD – from less than 2 percent to 5 to 10 percent of national education budget to reflect the number of learners.
- Read more: www.zinecda.org