Should you send your kids to kindergarten? Can you afford to? Can you afford NOT to? Kenya Yetu investigates how to plan pre-school…
With the new school year approaching, it’s that time when parents are mulling over if, when and where to enrol their younger children in kindergarten.
Research has shown that a solid foundation at an early age is vital for children’s future success; according to a UNESCO/OECD Early Childhood Report, ‘children who are well cared for in their early years are more socially stable, enjoy fuller cognitive development and higher academic achievement, suffer lower rates of repetition and dropout, and obtain better-paying jobs.’
But at what age should kids be introduced to education? And if you do decide to send your children to pre-school, how do you know which to choose?
“I have misgivings about taking my kids to school or playgroup before they’re three,” says accountant and mother-of-two Janet Mungai. “The activities kids do there can be recreated in the home. Children should be allowed to remain children as long as nature intended.”
Jane Kaibiria, child psychologist and director at the Ahadi Education Center, agrees. “There is no big rush to take your child to an environment outside the home. That’s not to say that playschools are bad – they are an alternative child-development option. What is wrong is for a parent to take the child to playschool as a desperate measure.”
Babycenter.com, an online childhood development resource, says there is no single factor that determines whether a child is ready for kindergarten; instead, their development needs to be evaluated on several fronts. The site suggests that the ability of a child to think logically, speak clearly and interact well with other children is critically important, as is physical development.
Few children are equally competent in all areas: many who are advanced mentally lag behind emotionally, while those who are physically adept may be slower in terms of language development.
“The whole purpose of taking your child to school at an early age [below three years] is for transitional purposes – it prepares the child to learn to leave mum and dad, and cope with school,” says Rehema Sunberji, deputy head of Nairobi International School and head of its kindergarten wing. “It also helps the child to get acquainted with the school environment, to learn to share and play with other children. Most importantly, it helps develop the child’s language more quickly.”
Statistics appear to back this up. According to UNESCO’s 2012 Global Monitoring Report on Education, children who spend more time in pre-primary education tend to perform better in primary school. The report quotes a 2009 PISA survey that shows that, in 58 of 65 countries, 15-year-old students who had attended at least a year of pre-primary school outperformed students who had not, even after accounting for socio-economic background.
Choosing the right kindergarten for your kids isn’t easy. The options are quite extensive, with the number of pre-primary schools in Kenya on the increase: in 2004 there were 32,879; by 2008 that had risen to 37,954.
At the Junior Hearts Academy in South B estate, head teacher Asma Bashir believes that a kindergarten’s hygiene should be a parent’s top priority. “Babies are sensitive to dirt. Look at the environment – are the toilets clean? And how is the diet? Is it healthy, and prepared in a clean kitchen?”
Sunberji, who has 14 years of experience in child education, says parents need to consider key elements: “First, decide which education system you want your child to go through. After that, look at the quality of education in particular schools – how are children taught? Is the school structured towards serving the kids?”
Size is also important, adds Sunberji: “You don’t want too many kids in one class – each child is an individual requiring personalised training; when you have too many in a class it stops being effective. And of course cost must be considered.”
The price of pre-school
Yes, cost. The proportion of eligible Kenyan children enrolled in Early Childhood Development Education (covering kids up to the age of six) increased, from 32.9% in 2004 to 50.1% in 2008. Though higher than the African average, this is still low, largely due to poverty: unlike primary education, pre-school must be paid for.
And pre-primary education isn’t cheap. It’s not unusual for pre-schools at the upper end of the market to charge Ksh 60,000 per term, not including transport. For example, Bunks & Biddles charges Ksh 56,000 per term; Nairobi International School’s Kindergarten costs Ksh 70,000. Pre-schools in the middle bracket, such as Shani Kindergarten, charge around Ksh 28,000. These sums put the establishments out of reach for most Kenyans.
Still, many parents feel kindergarten is key for their children and are willing to pay top dollar for it. Jane Mwambia, whose five-year-old son attends Beautiful Hearts Nursery School in South C estate, says she would not hesitate to pay double to take her child to a better school because her child would be assured “great associations” as well as school activities such as violin, swimming and ballet lessons.
Parent John Waridi is more sceptical of the high-cost schools: “It’s unjustifiable, these exorbitant fees. Most parents don’t even care what these schools offer – they equate high school fees not with great education but with prestige, which is the wrong way of handling your child’s education.”
Money, hygiene, ethics, facilities – so much to consider. But, ultimately, perhaps it’s actually quite simple. “Before you pick a school, do your research, talk to other parents,” says Marlene Okido, a mother of two. “But at the end of it, you will have to go with your gut instincts, your motherly instincts – and there is nothing more reliable than that.”
How to prepare your kids for school
Child psychologist Jane Kaibiria helps you ease your children into education
The first step to ensuring that your kids transition smoothly from home to school is being calm yourself. Nothing will work if you’re not at ease – a parent’s peace of mind is vital if the child is to settle into their new environment. The only way you’ll be comfortable is if you have confidence in the school you’ve chosen. If you aren’t happy, chances are that your child won’t be, either. You need to do your research, and ask the right questions.
What is the school’s security like – how safe are the children? What kind of people will be taking care of the kids – are they professionals trained in early child development? What is the mood of the school – does it have a friendly family feeling? Are you happy with the diet? And finally, is the school founded on a faith or values you believe in?
Don’t assume that, because a school is expensive or has lots of mzungu kids, it’s good. Visit the school with your child to let them get a feel for it. Meet their prospective teacher, if possible, to see if there is a connection. And talk to your child to prepare them for this big change. It helps to take him or her to a school with kids they know. Your child is being introduced to a new environment, so some distress is normal. If it continues for longer than a week, consider chatting to the teachers to see if there is a problem.