PARENTING: Nursery Children Should Learn Through Play, Not Written Tests – Experts

By Our Reporter




At the height of parents having mixed feelings on the role of indigenous teaching at the lower levels, experts in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) have advised teachers that this loss of identity has diluted learning outcomes from skill practice to cramming, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.

The ECCE experts now want all nursery and kindergarten teachers to rethink their modes of teaching to promote purposeful learning for children at a tender age.

Speaking at the two-day second national ECCE symposium held recently at Speke Resort Munyoyo, the experts pointed to poor delivery methods as one of the major challenges that have persisted within the management of young children before they progress to the primary level.

This is in addition to unqualified and unprofessional caregivers, limited government involvement in nursery education, lack of timely and relevant data, and poor parenting skills, among others, that have constrained the provision of ECCE in schools.

According to Caroline Kavuma, a lecturer at Kyambogo University under the Early Childhood Education and Development department, the Education ministry and all actors need to educate parents and teachers about the role of play as a mode of instruction for children in nursery schools.

“I did a study on how urban and rural children engage in play. It was indicative that children in rural areas are more creative with simple things like making their play materials, while in urban centers, the parents are always providing artificial toys, which attract little or no creativity,” Kavuma said.

She said whereas playing is magical for opening up a child’s brain, this aspect has been ignored by parents and teachers, who have thus resorted to teaching young ones like adults.

“We should not force children to cram the alphabet. Why must a three-year-old be given a pencil to write? It is also scientifically proven that their muscles are not yet fully developed to firmly hold a pencil and write something. The role of the kindergarten is to create a transition from home to prepare for actual primary learning,” she said.

Kavuma added: “In a nursery or kindergarten, children should be given more play materials. Some schools even give written tests to nursery children, and that is criminal. Most of the work in a nursery school must be oral and involve creating activities that make children relaxed and willing to learn.”

The main objective of the symposium, which attracted more than 300 participants, was to provide a platform for stakeholders to track progress on ECCE and accelerate actionable strategies for advancing quality and equitable ECCE provision in the country.


At the closure of the two-day symposium, participants agreed on renewed commitment to quality and inclusive ECCE through a collective approach that will be actualized over the next two years.

The commissioner of Basic Education, Dr Cleophus Mugenyi, said the ministry will continuously advocate for play-based learning for children aged three to five years to create a holistic environment in which learners can grow and thrive in the future. He said the parents and teachers’ desire for an academic-led curriculum is “out of ignorance”.

“Play for children is irreplaceable, but parents don’t know this. If they do, they don’t appreciate its importance. Meanwhile, what is the purpose of using English as a medium of instruction for a child who has just joined the nursery? We should be promoting learning from the known to the unknown. Let us promote our local languages in nursery schools until that time when we can evaluate that the child can transition to the English language,” Mugenyi said.

He warned parents about long-term psychological effects due to lack of adequate sleep for children who arrive as early as 6 am at nursery schools and are picked up after 6 pm daily. Children aged three to six need more than eight hours of sleep.


In a bid to improve the quality of learning, participants urged the government to invest in training for ECCE certificate teachers to hold diplomas and later degrees, given the current requirements of the new National Teacher Policy.

The minimum qualification for one to join the education sector as a teacher is a degree, no matter one’s level of employment.
There were also immediate actions needed by the Directorate of Education Standards to finalize the development of ECCE-specific basic requirements and minimum standards.

This will help strengthen the capacity of local governments to monitor and inspect the various nursery schools and kindergartens, especially in conflict-ridden, marginalized or poverty-stricken areas.

According to the 2019 Uganda Bureau of Statistics master list of education institutions, out of the 3.8 million eligible children for pre-primary education, only two million children were accessing some form of ECCE program. The figures further indicated that there were only 28,208 operational preschools, of which only 4,123 were registered.

The figures further indicated that only 28,208 operational pre-schools were registered, of which only 4,123 were registered. In terms of compliance with the set standards, 85.4 per cent of the schools were not registered, while 58 per cent overall did not meet the minimum standards for running an ECCE centre.


To enhance the delivery of quality ECCE services, the experts reiterated calls for the government to fund nursery schools or adopt a public-private partnership at this level.

During the panel discussions, various experts said the government is currently wasting more resources under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) characterized by high repetition and dropout rates due to a lack of free pre-schools to adequately prepare learners for the primary level. Already, in Tanzania and Kenya, ECCE learners are funded by the government.

“The enrolment of the under-aged children in P1 under UPE is a bigger loss to the government yet this money can be planned well to cover a few sessions of ECCE. Even if the government proposed to pilot just one year on the effectiveness of funding nursery schools or kindergartens, the investment will not be in vain,” Lydia Mubiru, an ECCE specialist and executive director of an NGO dubbed Early Years Count, said.

She further noted in the outcome statement of the symposium that amidst the meager government resources, the education ministry should adopt a standardized, simple, and community-led homegrown model to support access to quality ECCE services.

The experts are expected to engage members of the ongoing Education Policy Review Commission to ensure that ECCE is prioritized in the recommendations of the commission in forming the new Government White Paper on education.


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