UNICEF's Representative to Botswana Mrs. Julianna Lindsey commends LKCT/REWA “Play to Learn” rural playgroup programme

Event Date: 
04 Oct 2017
The Case for ECD Speech by UNICEF Representative Julianna Lindsey 
Honorable Assistant Minister of Basic Education Mr. Moiseraela Goya
Senior Government Officials
Professors and Administrators of BA Isago University
NGO Colleagues
Members of the Media
Colleagues and Friends,
Dumelang Bagaetsho! Thank you so very much for the opportunity to join you for the opening of this important conference. When I first learnt about the conference several months ago, I was thrilled at the attention that the University is paying to this issue.
There are many technical experts speaking this morning and the Assistant Minister will certainly stimulate us with his opening address, so I don’t intend to take a lot of your time. But, I do want to share a couple of thoughts regarding how governments, parents, and the private sector can invest time, effort, and money in early childhood development and education.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have visited a wide range of schools in Botswana and I have seen the very worrying results from the primary school leaving certificates, and from the junior and senior secondary school general certificate exams. Many observers argue that the solution to the education challenges in Botswana lies in diversifying the curriculum, better teacher training, and improved facilities like science labs and computer equipment. I have no doubt that these improvements will help, but I would wager that without the solid foundation created by early childhood development programmes, these measures will be less successful than we would like.
A child who has not been adequately breastfed, who has not had sufficient stimulation, and who has not had good nutrition after the first six months of breastfeeding will be less likely to concentrate, less likely to learn as much as he or she could, and less likely to progress quickly and successfully through school. All of you are experts – you know the latest brain science that shows that 90% of the brain develops in the first five years of life. Our task now is to work with Government, parents, and private sector to find ways to make sure that every single child has the opportunity for stimulation, good nutrition, and early learning.
So, here’s an idea for Government – perhaps it’s worth investing more in or refining the excellent early childhood programmes that the Government of Botswana has begun. I’ll give you a couple of examples. First, the Tsabana supplementary food programme, procured by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and administered by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. The Government of Botswana spends significant amounts of money on Tsabana every year, but the children for whom it is intended often don’t eat it. Perhaps the programme needs to be revamped so that the 3, 4, and 5 year- old children are encouraged to eat Tsabana and the parents are encouraged to reserve it for the kids.
Second, the Ministry of Basic Education, to its great credit, has started Reception Classes in 382 schools, now reaching over 16,000 learners. This is an excellent initiative but Reception, plus the private nursery schools, only reach 18% of early learners. I have to wonder, as the Government has just held its Budget Pitso for 2018, if it might be possible to move money from some areas to others to fund a much more significant expansion of Reception classes. We all know the significant return on investment in ECD – perhaps ECD could be prioritized a bit more.
Now for parents and communities: The Lady Khama Charitable Trust and REWA, a local Botswana NGO, are trying out a new method of providing early learning in communities. REWA, supported by the Trust, is training ladies they call “mamapreneurs” to run basic early learning programmes with local materials in villages around Botswana. Similar projects have been successfully implemented in other countries, and it’s an excellent way to reach more children with play and stimulation.
Finally, for the private sector. At our inaugural meeting of the CEO Council for Children’s Rights a couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of a tea company in Rwanda that realized its productivity was decreasing because so many women (who are primarily the tea pickers) were missing work to care for their children. The tea company started an ECD programme and, over time, the women’s productivity improved, the company’s profit improved, and the overall malnutrition levels in the district dropped dramatically.
We have companies here in Gaborone who could potentially undertake similar programmes, either together or independently. Such endeavors should not be viewed as philanthropy – rather, they are an investment in a company’s human resources and, even more, in the future of Botswana’s workers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, early childhood development and learning is so incredibly important that we absolutely cannot leave the responsibility for its delivery to anyone else. If you are a parent or community member, you have a responsibility to make sure your child or your communities’ children have access to ECD. If you are in Government or a multi-lateral organization like UNICEF, we have a responsibility to spend money wisely and allocate it to programmes that are proven to make a difference – like ECD. And, if you are in the private sector, you can’t say “it’s government’s responsibility”. There is also a business and a patriotic imperative to make sure that employees’ children have the best start in life.
And, finally, as the Sustainable Development Goals remind us, we cannot afford to leave any child behind, regardless of where they live, their economic status, or the welfare of their parents. Minister, the SDG Goal is for all girls and boys to have access to quality early childhood care and education by 2030. This is a tall order, but if we make choices that benefit children, I am certain Botswana can reach this goal.
Ke a leboga.
The Case for ECD Speech by UNICEF Representative Julianna Lindsey at the BA Isago Conference on Early Childhood Development and Education