April 14, 2021

Access to safe early learning and care is an

economic imperative for Nigeria

By Dr Baba J Adamu

l Contact l

 All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, have the right to quality education…UNICEF


Key Words: out-of-school, poverty, literacy, access, equity, numeracy.



One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. In the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53%. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge. Gender, like geography, parents’ mindset and poverty, is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization. States in the northeast and northwest have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school. The education deprivation in northern Nigeria is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance informal education, especially for girls.


Ensuring educational provision in predominantly rural areas and the impact of insurgency in the northeast present significant challenges. In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 percent and 35 percent of Muslim children, respectively, receive Qur’anic education, which does not include basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, English and math. The government considers children attending such schools to be officially out-of-school. In north-eastern Nigeria, 2.8 million children require education-in-emergencies support in three conflict-affected states (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa). In these States, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.


What are early learning and child care?

Early childhood is one of the most important periods of brain development. Neural pathways are established, developing skills, and creating the foundation for a lifelong love of learning and creativity. It is defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children are highly influenced by the environment and the people that surround them. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE can nurture caring, capable and responsible future law-abiding and productive citizens. In this way, ECCE is one of the best investments a country can make to promote human resource development, gender equality and social cohesion, and to reduce the costs for later remedial programmes. For disadvantaged children and those with a disability, ECCE plays an important role in compensating for the disadvantages in the family and combating educational inequalities.


Access to safe early learning and care is an economic imperative, an investment in the economic security of families and the nation in general. Early learning paves the way for learning at school and throughout life. What children learn in their first few years of life and how they learn it can have long-lasting effects on their success and health as children, teens, and adults.


Studies show that supporting children’s early learning can lead to:

  • Higher test scores from preschool to age 21;

  • Better grades in reading, English and Math;

  • A better chance of staying in school and going to college;

  • Fewer teen pregnancies and youth banditry;

  • Improved general and mental health;

  • Lower risk of heart disease in adulthood and other diseases;

  • A longer lifespan and more productive life;

  • A strategic development priority for girls.


According to the World Bank, every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility. About 98 million girl-children are out of school around the world and mostly in 3rd world countries. Girls’ education is a strategic development priority for everyone, especially in northern Nigeria. Because when girls are educated, the whole society benefits. Better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market and have the opportunity to earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children. Married educated women can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty. According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school-age - half of them in sub-Saharan Africa - will never enter a classroom. More at: https://www.arewaonline-ng.com/Girl-Child%20education.html


Child care as early learning

Young children develop at a rapid rate. By age 3, 80% of a child’s brain has developed. Yes 80%! Whether or not they call themselves “teachers,” “educators,” or “providers,” people who care for infants and toddlers are supporting the development of 80% of their brains. That makes them brain builders. That makes the care environment educational. The language and the attitude we use matter. The language we use conveys respect or disrespect. And unfortunately, the field of early care and education has traditionally not received the respect it deserves. Whether you’re a child care provider, preschool teacher, and owner, director or parent-child care is early learning, and child care is very essential.




What is creative learning?

Creative learning is as simple as child’s play. Children are encouraged to explore, adapt, and refine materials and concepts. This may be as simple as a creative craft activity, or a long-term project such as growing vegetables for a salad. Experimentation allows children to develop an understanding of the world around them. The child explores how different mediums respond when handled, understanding cause and effect, problem-solving, and developing and testing hypotheses. A rich tapestry of knowledge is developed as the child can apply an earlier concept to a new activity. For example, thinking of how a mould of clay can be mixed with water and form a shape like a pot and other utensils, etc.


Visual arts are particularly important in a creative learning environment, child development through art and drawing is a key feature of our programs. The opportunity to explore and create with a range of materials offers children the chance to refine delicate motor skills and find new forms of expression, which may benefit emotional regulation. When creative learning is applied in early childhood development, it offers children the chance to be active participants in their learning, by fully engaging their bodies, minds, and senses.


Benefits of creative play in early childhood

Creative play is one of the most expansive and engaging methods of a child’s education and is important for both their physical, and brain development. It helps develop a child’s creativity, curiosity, and independence, and encourages the formation of skills that can be applied throughout their entire life.


Language development

Children’s vocabulary is expanded through creative play. When creative discovery is facilitated by an educator, a child can learn a variety of new words and have the proper use demonstrated through physical exploration and repetition.


Physical development

Creative development encourages active participation. Games, dances and obstacle courses can improve gross motor skills including balance and coordination. Fine motor skills including grasping a pencil are developed through creative craft for kids or construction projects.


STEM concepts

When engaged in creative learning, children are exposed to a range of mathematical and science-based concepts, including cause and effect, physics, and numerical value. Children can predict the outcome of an action, and then compare if the result was what they had expected. Even a simple block tower offers to learn in engineering and mathematics as the need for a stable foundation is explored, and blocks are counted to see how tall the tower has grown.


Emotional and mental health

Providing a safe environment to explore, and sometimes have things go wrong, allows children to build their confidence. In a creative environment, an unexpected result can be met with “let’s try again, but differently this time!” and develop a child’s resilience and a positive attitude towards trying new activities without fear of failure.


Independence and self-care

Skills acquired during creative play can be assimilated into everyday life eg: pouring, cutting and sorting. The independence to explore, and solve problems allows children to feel more confident in their abilities and apply the skills they have learned in other areas. Creative learning also promotes autonomy, and children will direct their education, delving deeper into activities and skills that interest them.


Learning through play at Home or Kids Club

Creative learning in early childhood does not have to be a strict routine. Allowing children to play freely and express their interest in certain activities or objects, then facilitating that exploration is all that is necessary at home or local kids club on weekends. Some of the most profound learning opportunities happen while playing. When supervised by an engaged adult, children’s playtime offers a variety of teachable moments. Whether regulating emotions, understanding how the world works, or learning a new skill, play-based learning offers children the opportunity to explore and develop socially, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, through song, dance, games, and craft.


Importance of Health and Safety in Early Childhood

Making sure that the children, families and teachers are in a safe and healthy environment is paramount. The centre should ensure that all teachers and management have the same expectations regarding health, safety and security issues; especially in northern Nigeria because of incessant kidnappings. Three really important practices from the Licensing Criteria:

  • Providing security and a Safe Environment;

  • Identifying and responding to childhood illness; and

  • Quality Nutrition across the Early Years.

The management and teachers to ensure the premises that are being used provide sufficient and suitable space for a range of activities, putting out equipment that is safe and will support the child’s development, eating, sleeping, toileting and food preparation to cater for a number and age range of children and regular safety checks.


Equity and Early Childhood Education

Equity can be described as the elimination of privilege, oppression, disparities, and disadvantage that historically have excluded those belonging to particular groups. This is the first and overarching of several research policy briefs around issues of equity. These will create a space and open a dialogue around the issues related to fairness, opportunity, and every child’s right to participate in equitable early childhood practices. While participating in these practices, young children should be recognized, understood, and[1]appreciated at personal, interpersonal, institutional, religious and cultural levels.


The overwhelming benefits of high-quality early childhood programs for young children cannot be overstated. For years, early childhood educators have recommended universal access as a key equitable practice, arguing that “all children deserve access to early learning opportunities that will increase their chances for success in school and life.” It is widely recognized that effective early childhood programs have long-lasting and wide-reaching positive benefits on the educational, social, and emotional development of young children. Children attending such programs show more improvement in cognitive ability, are less likely to be referred for special education, less likely to drop off school, and less likely to repeat a grade in later years. Long-term outcomes include increased high school graduation rates and labour performance rates and a reduction of criminal activity and teen pregnancy. Nobel laureate economist James Heckman estimates a lifelong economic rate of return of 7 to 10 percent per year per dollar invested in quality early childhood programs.


The Solution to challenges in Nigeria

UNICEF’s education programme aims to support the government in achieving SDG 4 by 2030 through improved planning and by addressing some of the systemic barriers that hinder the implementation of an effective education strategy. The programme advocates for education to be prioritized and targets children who are least likely to receive an education. The expected outcome of the programme is that all children access and complete quality education, within a safe learning environment, gaining the skills and knowledge for lifelong learning.


This work will be achieved by creating an enabling environment for early childhood education, improving the quality of education, increasing demand for education, and humanitarian assistance, including through ensuring:

  • The education system at federal and state levels has strengthened capacities to deliver quality basic education;

  • More teachers have core knowledge and competencies to use proven teaching methodologies to deliver appropriate quality education;

  • Parents and communities have improved knowledge and commitment to contribute to enrolling children at the right age in quality learning in safe and protective school environments;

  • Children in IDP camps and humanitarian situations have timely and sustained access to quality education services and taking into consideration of the UN Convention on the Rights of the.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we recognize that children have universal rights. Thus, we conclude by summarizing our beliefs and making particular charges of those who work with young children:

  1. Children are members of cultures and social groups with a range of knowledge and experience that they bring to the early childhood setting. It is the responsibility of early childhood educators to ensure the quality of programming that addresses issues of equity and social justice.

  2. Children are capable of sharing their knowledge and experience with their peers, family, and early childhood educators. It is the responsibility of early childhood educators to embed practices in early childhood programs that promote equity and foster open communication with and between families in the early childhood setting.

  3. Children benefit from inclusive practices in which collaborative learning is fostered. It is the responsibility of early childhood educators to provide programming in which children can participate in decisions that affect them. We hope that educators and policymakers will use these core beliefs, and the accompanying research briefs written by the Equity and Early Childhood Education Task Force of the National Council of Teachers of English, to bolster work that addresses these aims.

Canada case

Early Learning and Child Care Innovation Program

The Early Learning and Child Care Innovation Program support innovative practices in early learning and child care. As a first step, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Early Learning and Child Care have agreed to a Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care. The Government of Canada promotes and invests in innovative projects that support early development and give children a good start in life. It benefits children less than 6 years of age and their families. This program builds on the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. It also complements initiatives taken by provinces and territories under the Early Learning and Child Care Bilateral Agreements. Access to safe early learning and child care, high-quality child care is now an economic imperative," "It's one social program done properly that has a direct impact on the growth of the Canadian economy."


The government of Canada is also considering a universal basic income (UBI) as a policy that will make government provide direct cash transfers to all adult Canadians at level that would guarantee floor on income, in amounts sufficient to cover “basic” needs—usually understood as a way to ensure that all households have the economic means to be able to afford a modest, basic living standard. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/liberal-universal-basic-income-1.5982862



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