Why We Invest in Early Childhood Development
In September and October 2015, Uwezo Uganda at Twaweza carried out their sixth household-based assessment of learning outcomes in 112 districts nationwide. Otuke District ranked 80th during this assessment, and unfortunately, there has been limited improvement since then. The situation was exacerbated by the closure of schools in Uganda for 88 weeks to enforce Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prolonged closure significantly impacted the educational landscape in Otuke District. The persistently poor learning outcomes underscore the imperative for all concerned stakeholders to prioritize and actively contribute to the advancement of education. It is with this commitment in mind that Okere Community School was established in 2019.
From a lighthearted beginning, Okere Community School has evolved into a transformative educational endeavor in Otuke District. The school originated from a genuine community need, and the story unfolds as follows: In June 2019, our founder, Ojok Okello, visited Okere to oversee the construction of his hut house. To his surprise, he observed numerous children playing around the construction site on a school day. Intrigued, he inquired why they weren't attending school, and the children revealed the absence of a suitable educational institution in their vicinity.
Motivated by this revelation, Ojok Okello organized a community meeting to collaboratively address the challenge. Parents gathered to discuss and devise actionable steps to mobilize resources for the establishment of the Okere Early Childhood Development (ECD) Center. Ojok contributed to his hut house, and parents pledged to pool funds and provide essential items like food to facilitate their children's education. Thus, the concept of Okere Community School was conceived.
The first learners at our ECD Centre
In August 2019, the ECD opened its doors, initiating a meaningful educational journey by welcoming an initial group of 11 children. Since then, Okere Community School has been steadfast in its mission to emerge as a leading hub for early childhood development in the village.
Our pioneers! The first 11 childhood that attended our ECD Centre
As of Dec 2023 our ECD Centre extends foundational opportunities to 100 rural children aged 3–6 years. This program focuses on imparting basic literacy, numeracy, and fundamental life skills. The significance of providing early childhood training opportunities cannot be overstated. Global evidence suggests that pre-primary or early childhood education establishes a sturdy foundation for children entering primary school, contributing to the achievement of expected learning outcomes. This is particularly crucial for Otuke District, which grapples with some of the most challenging learning outcomes in Uganda. Thus, our early childhood development project is deemed essential for the community.
One of the three class of our ECD Centre in 2023
To underscore the severity of the situation, let's examine the learning outcomes data from the earlier-mentioned Twaweza survey in Otuke District. The survey revealed a distressing scenario where Otuke District had the highest percentage of children aged 3–5 years not enrolled in nursery school. Specifically, only 11% of children in this age group were attending pre-primary schooling in Otuke, indicating that a staggering 89% of children between 3–5 years in Otuke District were not enrolled in any formal education. This figure is significantly below the national average of 29% for children attending pre-primary education in Uganda.
Before 2019, just 1% of the children were attending any childhood development program.
Delving deeper into the learning outcomes data at the local level, the situation in Okere Parish is particularly disheartening. In 2020, a baseline survey was conducted to establish crucial benchmark indicators for our initiatives. The data on early childhood education was alarming, with a striking 99% of children aged 3–6 years not attending pre-primary school in Okere Parish. Furthermore, a concerning 75% of parents did not perceive pre-primary education as very important for their children. During a focused group discussion session, one parent shared, "We never went to nursery school but still enrolled and passed the PLE assessment."
How can we transform the scenario from 99% of children not attending pre-primary education in Okere in 2020 to achieving 99% pre-primary education enrollment by 2030? This question not only occupies our thoughts but also propels our actions. The solution is straightforward: we invest in early childhood education and collaborate with experts in early childhood development to provide our children with the essential foundation to excel in the global community.
In our efforts to create an optimal learning environment, we utilize eco-friendly materials such as locally available bamboo and elephant grass from Okere to construct classroom blocks and playgrounds. Our dedicated team includes passionate experts like Harriet Adul, who tirelessly imparts knowledge to the young minds of Okere. The impact is nearly immediate, as expressed by Teacher Harriet: "I see progress in each child who attends our ECD Class day by day."
It is this daily progress that instills in us the hope and determination that we are genuinely laying a robust foundation for our village by advancing the best early childhood education opportunities for our children.