Teachers appear not to be resting on their oars to ensure that every child gets the opportunity to learn in the best way they can across Nigeria.
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For, Binta Musa, a 47-year-old teacher at the Ali Fodio primary school in Bodinga, a community about 33.7 Kilometers from the great city of Sokoto, making learning fun for her pupil is top on her list.
Musa told Legit.ng that she sources local materials including pieces of fabric and plastics to produce playing and learning items like dolls for the over 40 pupils in her class - an Early Childhood Care, Development and Education class for children under the age of eight.
Early Childhood Education (ECE) also known as nursery education, is a branch of the educational theory described as an important period in a child's development process. It involves the use of play-based education for the learning process among children.
Some of the benefits of play-based learning among children include improved psychosocial skills, the building of self-esteem, critical thinking and innovative ability, and becoming explorative with ideas and many others.
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When training goes a long way
For Musa, this involves going the extra mile to ensure that the children in her ECCDE class have all they need for learning and development.
Speaking to Legit.ng, Musa said:
"I have my materials and most of the times I gather them to produce some of the toys and items we use for learning here.
"I make dolls, I have some plastic bottle covers which we use for numeracy. I learnt how to make these materials at a seminar organised by the Primary Education Board."
Musa's efforts are evident in the learning activities practised by her pupils. For Salma, Fatima, Mariam and their classmates/playmates - all between the ages of 3 and 5 - learning has just been made easy and interesting.
The children are seen identifying some of the materials produced by their teacher including dolls with which they are able to tell which is a girl and the other which is a boy. They are also able to identify toy cars which they call 'mota' - the Hausa word for motor and count numbers from 1 to 10 with the aid of some of the counting materials sourced by Musa.
Speaking in Sokoto at a media dialogue organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information in October, Yetunde Oluwatosin, the international agency's education specialist said that while the early learning process is a critical time for every child, over one in every three children, between the ages of three and four attend ECE.
Oluwatosin noted that while this ratio is 36 per cent of the total child population in the country, at least 10 million are not enrolled in ECE.
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Globally, fewer than one out of three children attend ECE while in West and Central Africa only one in four children which accounts for 24 per cent of the total child population attend ECE.
Challenges hindering ECE
Reeling out some of the challenges, Oluwatosin stated that large inequalities persist as eight per cent of the poorest children versus 78 per cent of the richest children globally attend ECE.
She listed poor subsector analysis, planning and coordination; inadequate spending on ECE; lack of data on early learning, limited infrastructure and community-based offering; insufficient supply of trained teachers; inadequate ECE teaching and learning materials.
Sokoto state government's efforts in improving ECE
Fatima Abdullahi, the head of the ECCE department at the Shehu Musa College of Education highlighted efforts put in place by the Sokoto state government to ensure that teachers receive adequate training and re-training needed for every child's development.
Abdullahi told Legit.ng that teachers have been undergoing training on how to source items for the production of learning materials and toys for children in the ECE classes.
Collaborating with Musa's story, Abdullahi added that the teachers in the state are trained on how to make all kinds of toys, dolls, play and learning materials for the children to learn.
The education expert mentioned that learning through play is the best approach and standard practice to improving child development.
"We use locally sourced materials as educational tools for early childhood education and we must also know that there is no dull play.
"Even the hide-and-seek game you see children play. When one of them goes to hide somewhere, you'll hear the other child counting 1, 2, 3... that's a numeracy skill that they are developing. And there are so many games that help children develop various skills that are beneficial to their growth."
In addition, Lawali Na'akka Muazu, the education secretary in Bodinga LGA, Sokoto state, said the state is doing all it takes to ensure that children under the age of eight do not miss out on ECE.
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"At Bodinga LGA we have 105 basic primary schools and this includes the ECCD centres because some of the primary schools do not have ECCD centres due to an inadequate number of classrooms.
"There are 27 primary schools with ECCD centres."
Highlighting the inadequacy of classrooms as a major challenge inhibiting the improvement of ECE in Bodinga, Muazu called for the construction of more blocks for effective learning and child development.
"If we enrol them, they are small kids and we cannot keep then outside or under the shade, that's why we wait until they get to the age of six before we ensrol them to basic primary."
"Yes, even now we have a program called Better Education Services for All (BESDA) and the state Universal Basic Education Commission employed 181 BESDA volunteer teachers in order to cater for the children."
According to Muazu, since the schools in the LGA cannot adopt all the children from the age of zero to six years old, these children are made to attend other non-formal forms of education.
Recommendations needed to strengthen ECE in Nigeria
Also to reposition ECE in Nigeria, Oluwatosin advocated a collective resolve to build a strong and resilient ECE national system, delivering quality programs across the country - in development and humanitarian context among many others.
She noted that it is important for teachers who teach to be well equipped in training, and improved workplace development while children who learn are given their space to thrive, provided with active parental and caregiver engagement in learning and cooperation with communities, linked to schools as platforms for child health, nutrition, and protection.
In addition, parents must be educated on their roles as the first educators for the child by prioritising the needs of the child's development.
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The learning process of children from birth to age eight had earlier been described as the bedrock of their life's development.
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This description was given by education experts during a media dialogue organised by UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Information.
According to experts, early learners must be provided with the appropriate environment for their learning process.
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Legit.ng had earlier reported that experts across the country have called for strategic approaches to improving learning outcomes in school children.
The experts warned that 70 per cent of the children who are currently in school are not even learning.
According to them, there is also a need for all stakeholders in education to work towards ensuring teachers' development bearing in mind, the importance of training and retraining school instructors.