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On October 24 – 25 2012, Empowerment and Support Initiative (ESI) convened the 3rd National Conference on Kindergarten in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. This year’s Conference was themed “Legislation and Implementation of Kindergarten Education in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges”.
The event drew national and international education practitioners, parents, school pupils, academics, policy makers,government functionaries, public, private and social sector leaders from around Nigeria.
The break-out session, which was also a working lunch, with participants divided into 3 groups, was led by Prof. A.O.I Gabriel – Chairman, ESI Schools Management Board. She fed back to the Conference, recommendations from the groups.

The issues and challenges of implementing Kindergarten Education were intensively discussed in three tracks, namely: Legislation and Implementation of Kindergarten Education: Issues and Challenges, The Role of Stakeholders in Kindergarten Education and Teacher Education.

Legislation and Implementation of Kindergarten Education: Issues and Challenges.
The Conference explored the issues and challenges of planning and funding Kindergarten Education in the light of the fact that planning has over the years been regarded as the least engaging activity in our public affairs and nowhere was this more demonstrated than in the education sector up until 2006.
To demonstrate the importance of research, planning and policy, the kind of evidence revealed from this shift in priority (i.e. from contract awards and such other transaction activities to planning at the Federal Ministry Education) “moved us towards a national focus on Kindergarten Education” six years ago.

Hence the Conference proposed that for Kindergarten Education to thrive, there must be long term strategic planning.
There was a general desire for continuous capacity building for teachers. The Conference recommended that the minimum qualification for teachers should be NCE and minders (care-givers) should hold a school certificate; care-givers should be trained so that they can effectively carry out their job of keeping the child and the Kindergarten school environment clean.
The Conference proffered that the Kindergarten curriculum should include visual arts and music; should always reflect the needs and interest of 3 – 5 years old.
They suggested that quarterly parent conferences should be another way of communicating with parents.
The issue of sustainability was considered by the Conference. Whilst recognizing that government cannot do it alone, the participants maintained that it must take the lead; doing so by creating the enabling environment so that private sector partners can thrive. They added that the private sector, communities, non-governmental organisations and well-meaning individuals need to all give support to the vision of making Kindergarten Education accessible to all potential beneficiaries.

The Role of Stakeholders in Kindergarten Education
The Conference identified key stakeholders as government, parents, teachers and community leaders. The 3rd National Conference suggested that government should provide good policies for Kindergarten Education; that the policies provided should ensure sustained funding of the Kindergarten Education; they felt that community leaders should be involved and provide land (where possible) and other forms of support.
As parents are considered important stakeholders, training should be held regularly for them, to inform this group of stakeholders of latest development in Kindergarten Education. They wanted the government to criminalize, as proposed by His Excellency, Rt. Hon Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi on Day 1of the Conference; also subsequently to enforce the arrest of parents who do not support their children’s education from Kindergarten level up.

The Conference emphasized that teachers and administrators of Kindergarten Schools must spend funds given to them judiciously on projects that add value to the children’s education; as monies are sometimes diverted into personal pockets. They proposed that effective monitoring teams be set up for proper supervision of Kindergarten Schools.
The Conference felt that more non-governmental bodies should partner with ESI, providing support; also, as part of their corporate social responsibility more multinationals should partner with ESI, providing funding amongst other things.

Teacher Education

It is a fact that the work of educators is incredibly complex and challenging, hence the Conference was of the opinion that professional development of education be approached with the utmost intentionality. They reckoned that teachers be valued as professionals; that teachers should have access to various professional development opportunities to continue improving their craft; also, professional development should include teacher evaluation.
The Conference considered how best to implement of curriculum and recommended that firstly, teachers must be involved in the development of the curriculum for Kindergarten Education, as that will get their buy-in. Also, those teachers must prepare adequately before their lessons and not teach without lesson notes. Considering that only 2.5 million children of 22 million receive Kindergarten Education in Nigeria, presently, the Conference proposed that there be more ESI Kindergarten schools.

Day 1

The conference was officially opened by His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR – ably represented by the Hon. Minister of Youth Development, Inuwa Abdul-kadir (Esq).
Mr President stated that “government recognizes the importance of Kindergarten Education to the future of our country. As a father and President, who understands that early education is a critical determinant of a nation’s social and economic development, I must emphasize that Education is not a privilege; it is the inalienable right of every child”. He further stated, “I commend, in particular, the efforts of Dame Judith Amaechi, the wife of the Governor of Rivers State. Through the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI), she is doing an outstanding work in early childhood education, establishing nursery schools in various local government areas of Rivers State and providing tuition free and qualitative Kindergarten Education to children of Nigeria in Rivers State”. He urged the conference participants “to engage extensively, finding short, medium and long-term measures that will strengthen and improve the quality of education at the Kindergarten level and indeed at all levels of education in our country”.

The conference featured a keynote address by current Minister of Education of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i. She stated that “the National Policy on Education encourages the participation of NGOs, communities and individuals in the provision of Early Child Education”. She promised that “our agencies (such as UBEC, NCCE, NERDC, NTI and others) would double the efforts in the support of these organizations. This is because it is clear that government can never have the resources to effectively provide for the education requirements of our citizens”. She stressed that “it is necessary that the complementary approach is continued with all stakeholders working closely towards attaining our educational objectives”.

The opening reception on Wednesday, October 24 at the grounds of the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, featured opening remarks from the Chairman, Board of Trustees ESI – Hon.Dakuku Peterside.
The Chief Hostess and Founder of ESI – Her Excellency, Dame Judith Amaechi, wife of the Executive Governor of Rivers State, delivered the Welcome Address. On behalf of ESI, she passionately appealed “for a separate law/Act to be enacted for the compulsory provision of Kindergarten Education to all Nigerian children between the ages of three and five years before they commence primary school. How can this be achieved is probably the question to be asked. Political will and the determination to achieve this feat is the first hurdle to be surmounted”.

This appeal was the first of 6 recommendations by the ESI Founder, enjoining policy makers and government to ensure that every child in Nigeria has “access to good quality Kindergarten Education as a fundamental and public right”. That opening reception was replete with goodwill messages, notably from the Cross River State Governor – His Excellency Senator Liyel Imoke, who took time out of his busy schedule to attend; also from First Ladies of nine states of the Federation, including Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina and Lagos states.In the spirits of sisterhood and camaraderie, they attended the Conference to lend their support to a worthy cause.
Deliberations were organised around the presentations of four papers that ranged from discussions on “Planning and funding for the development of Kindergarten Education in Nigeria”, to “Effective Curriculum for Kindergarten Education”.

The Lead Paper titled “Planning and funding for the development of Kindergarten Education in Nigeria” was delivered by Dr Oby Ezekwesili on Day 1 of the Conference.She pointed out that the bane of our development is lack of planning. She stated that “our public sector was and remains a huge theatre for contract awards to the utter neglect of the most critical activities that determine quality of performance of an education system, for example”.
There has to be a radical departure from the passion for transactions in the public sector because, with it, it is impossible for people to focus on “envisioning, strategic planning, policy formulation, policy execution, monitoring, measurement, evaluation for results and feedback by all levels of government in our country”.

She added that “the funding for pre-school education as previously stated can be generated if our governments all become responsible in the use of our public resources”. There is a desperate “need to index any talk of additional budgets for education to those activities that help improve students’ learning performance and not the current deformity in the allocation of scarce resources”.
“Now we know that the quality of the teacher has the larger impact on learning outcomes than all other factors that have led to unsatisfactory state of our education system”, Dr Oby Ezekwesili submitted that the key to sustainability for Kindergarten Education is investing in continuous improvement of teacher quality.

Children from ESI schools presented the Children’s Parliament, climaxing their performance with the presentation of a bill to the Rivers State Governor, to the delight of the audience. Daniella Clinton Dan-Jumbo, age 9 currently Nigeria’s youngest published writer and illustrator in the United Kingdom lent her voice to advocate for Kindergarten Education in Nigeria, as she was discovered to be a gifted writer in her nursery school days in Watford, England.
The general atmosphere of the Conference was enlivened with pertinent hilarious jokes provided by Gordons, the Comedian.

The proceedings for Day 1 were effectively rounded off with an invigorating speech, in his characteristic style, by the Executive Governor of Rivers State – His Excellency Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. He promised to send a bill to the Rivers State House of Assembly to criminalize the deprivation of Kindergarten Education for any child by parents or guardians.

Day 2 On Thursday, October 25, Conference attendees and discussants reconvened at the Presidential Hotel for the day’s deliberations. The discussions featured three presentations from an academic, a UNICEF Education Specialist and an International Practitioner of Pre-school education. Prof. Ngozi Osarenren opened the discourse with her Paper on “The Role of Stakeholders in the Development of Kindergarten Education”.
Firstly, she identified government, parents and teachers as key stakeholders in the development of Kindergarten Education. She went on to define Kindergarten Education as “the type of education that is given to children at the earliest stages of their development through careful nurturing. Kindergarten Education is the type of education that leads to the learning of basic skills like reading, writing, mathematics and language, just basic skill. We have to place much emphasis on developing the child’s social and behavioural skills”. She completed her presentation by elucidating the key elements of Quality Assurance and Monitoring of Kindergarten Education, namely: Management structure in the school Organizational structure in the school The management team Learning and Teaching Support to Children and school culture Children development (Self-Evaluation by Kindergarten
“Early Childhood Education: Teacher/Caregiver preparation in Nigeria”, a paper prepared by UNICEF Education Specialist (Dr Agatha Nzeribe) was next delivered by the UNICEF Focal Person for Rivers State – Dr Sylvester Igbedioh. The paper captured in the main, ways of addressing the issues of Quality in Early Childhood Development (ECD) Teacher Preparation. It made seven recommendations for improved access, quality and equity in ECD States.
Finally, Betty Mina Toby Hall an Inter-Related Teacher with Clayton Country, who also worked in the Department of Education, Georgia, USA, presented a most interactive paper on “Effective Curriculum for Kindergarten Education”. She highlighted 11 methods of learning for Young Children; demonstrating some of these by engaging the Conference participants with different activities during her presentation. She also provided a snapshot of an Effective Kindergarten Education Curriculum.

The Country Representative for UNICEF – one of ESI’s Grand Partners – pledged their continuing support for ESI and its Kindergarten schools in a speech delivered by Mr Charles Nzuki (Chief of UNICEF’ A’ Field Office-Enugu).
To conclude its 3rd National Conference on Kindergarten Education, ESI expressed their appreciation for the tireless work of their partners and volunteers. Altogether, 49 grand partners, partners and volunteers of ESI were recognized respectively and given plaques, medals and certificates of recognition for their support to ESI in the 2011-2012 year. Mr Nzuki accepted on behalf of UNICEF, a plaque and medal award from ESI, in recognition of their support and contribution towards ESI’s work in advocating for Kindergarten Education in Nigeria. Asked her assessment of two-day Confab, ESI Founder, Her Excellency, Dame Judith Amaechi said “in terms of information and inspiration, the effort represents an important baseline on which policy makers and other stakeholders will build”.

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