J. Musiyiwa and E.Chikwiri
Women`s University in Africa, 188 Sam Nujoma, Harare, Zimbabwe
The study focused on challenges and gaps faced by children during the transition period from
early childhood development (ECD) to primary education and possible solutions to them .It adopted the
Qualitative methodological approach through the use of Focus Group Discussions
with Councillors, Education Officials, Child Care Workers, Chiefs, Parents and Teachers. Document
analysis provided an additional layer of transition practices in the Zimbabwean Ministry of Primary and
Secondary Education through the analysis of various circulars, ECD syllabus and the Early Reading Initiative Modules for ECD A and B. Data analysis was done according to emerging themes and descriptive statistics. The study covered two districts of Zimbabwe namely: Goromonzi and Marondera . Participants were purposively sampled on the basis of characteristics relevant to transitioning of children from Early Childhood to formal Education. Participants included: Councillors, Education
officials, child care workers , chiefs, parents and teachers. A total of fifteen schools from each
district were randomly selected. Findings from the study showed that participants were not aware of the
policy on transition and as such are likely not to follow the demands of the policy when teaching children.
It was also very clear from the responses that the participants are aware of the importance of the
transitioning period to the child. Lack of qualified teachers and expertise were cited as a challenge by
participants. The study also found out that lack of resources (material) is another challenge which
affects successful transitions. Participants also cited anxiety and withdrawal, difficulty in working
independently and following instructions, difficulty with behaviour regulation (such as the ability to
delay gratification, ) and reluctance or refusal to attend school as challenges . Distance travelled by
children posed problems for children . Lack of commitment by some parents in the transition process
was also found by the study to be a challenge. Findings also revealed that a number of stakeholders are
important for effective transitioning of children which include: teachers, parents,
community, Government through its different ministries, health workers and non-Governmental
Key Words: Transition, Early Childhood learning, gaps, challenges, Primary education.
Dunlop and Fabian (2002:148) define transition as “the passage from one place, stage, state, style or subject to another over time”. The definition encompasses the development of all the domains which include physical, social, emotional, cognitive, language and spiritual The early years of a child are critical as they lay the foundation for children`s cognitive, personal, social, emotional and physical development. As they develop, children transition from one stage of learning to another. Transitions offer opportunities for children to learn how to manage change in a positive way. Docket and Perry (2007) see transition from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to primary school as an important challenge for children and that their successful passage will bring with it an opportunity for children to grow, learn and equip them to be more resilient in the future. Children experience many big and small transitions in life. However, their transition from (ECD) to formal education is a major event in the lives of families and children. It can be a time for excitement for everyone involved. For some children it can be a time to master new skills. At the same time, for some children it can be a time for uncertainty and concern about the unknown as one leaves old friends and teachers, meaning it is a time for separation from safe, familiar and loving setting and venturing into the unfamiliar. While this may be exciting for some, this unfamiliarity may also bring with it a number of challenges such as anxiety and fear. Such challenges may have far reaching impacts on the way the child progresses with formal education.. It is important to give attention to children’s transition because this is the time when systems can make or break children.
2.0 Literature Review
In Zimbabwe the transition period for an ECD child was not regarded as critical from independence up to 1988. The Ministry of Community Development and Women’s Affairs housed the ECD programme which was known as Early Childhood Education and Care or ECEC. Parents volunteered and took turns to take care of children while mothers engaged in income generating projects like sewing school uniforms, baking bread, growing vegetables among others. The settings were treated as play groups and later on evolved into feeding points where children only assembled to get food prepared by mothers. Given the above scenario in Zimbabwe there was continuity from the ECD settings to primary schools in terms of only the social and physical development of the child. The child learnt to interact and mix with others. However, there was a gap in terms of development in the other domains which included emotional, intellectual and spiritual development, thus transition from the ECD settings to primary schools lacked continuity and development of school readiness on the side of the child. In 1988, the programme moved to the then Ministry of Education because an educational component had been added. The transition period was again not recognized as very critical at this point because semi-skilled teachers would man the classes (Nziramasanga, 1999 & Dyanda, Mudukuti and Kuyayama, 2005).
In 2004 a policy pronouncement was made that required primary schools to attach an ECD class in 2005 that would graduate into Grade One in 2006. The Secretary’s Circular 14 of 2004 was developed which required the ECD classes to be manned by appropriately qualified teachers. The Director`s Circulars 12 of 2005, 48 of 2007 and the Statutory Instrument 106 of 2005 were developed which gave guidelines on the implementation of the ECD programme. In light of these policy pronouncements there was a yawning gap between policy and practice. Generally, primary schools were not ready for the ECD children with respect to classrooms, toilets, furniture and appropriately qualified teachers. The environment was unfriendly to ECD children and this affected the smooth transition from ECD to Grade One. As a way of commitment to transitioning of ECD children, the government started training ECD teachers at Primary Teachers Colleges. The government wanted teachers who were skilled and equipped to handle ECD children so that they could transition from ECD to Grade One successfully. In 2010, an ECD curriculum was developed which combined ECD A and B. The combination of the ECD A and B curriculum created a gap for a smooth transition because most ECD teachers failed to interpret the curriculum. They could not grade the activities according to ECDA and B classes. The activities taught to ECD A were the same activities taught to ECD B children and this resulted in children`s learning becoming redundant and boring.
Children’s development and readiness for school are determined and influenced by a number of factors at the level of the child and in the surrounding environment which may include socioeconomic status, home learning environment and schools’ readiness for children. The socioeconomic status of the family affects children’s health, intellectual capabilities, academic achievement and behavior positively or negatively. For example, family poverty may result in children being malnourished and such children are less engaged in their environments, less active and have shorter attention span than their well-nourished counterparts (Grantham-McGregor et al 2007). UNESCO (2007) posits that many poor children never enter school while on the other hand, other children enroll but are unable to successfully transition into the school environment as they are likely to perform poorly, repeat grades or drop out of school at high rates ( Arnold et al, 2007). Such children have disadvantaged learning environments in their homes and generally begin school with less language than peers from higher income backgrounds (Pikulski and Templeton, 2004). Studies have shown that support from a caregiver during the early years results in children’s greater social competence, fewer behavioural issues and enhanced cognitive skills in schools (World Health Organization, 2004). This suggests that even in contexts of poverty, parents can find ways to give their children a healthy and good start in their early years. Schools that are ready for children provide an environment in which all children are able to learn. Research has suggested that children’s initial academic and social success at school can lay the foundation for their long-term adjustment and progress, leading to a cycle of achievement success (Fabian and Dunlop, 2007). However, schools are not often ready for children, in that they fail to provide an environment which enables all children to learn effectively which include teacher capacity among others.
2.2 Theoretical Framework
This study draws from Dewey’s theory on continuity of experience in education and the Ecological and Dynamic Model of Transition. According to Dewey, what the child has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with the situations which follow. He also claims that every experience takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after. The theory implies that what has been acquired by the child at one level of education will be carried over to the next level of education. Thus, it is the task of the teacher to give children work founded in their earlier experience and to create connections to the new one. This suggests that the curricular for early learning and Grade One should have a link so that there is continuity in learning by the child and this can ensure smooth transition from one level to another. Only then will new experiences become educational. This theory is relevant because it emphasizes on the links and relationships between school levels.
Based on Bronfenbrenner`s model, Rimm-kaufman and Pianta (2000) proposed the Ecological and Dynamic Model of Transition as a theoretical framework in which Early Childhood Development can be framed in order to understand and analyse the interactions and relationships occurring during the transition period (Stormshak and Goodman, 2002). The model is based upon a complex set of elements and variables involved in the transition period and further highlights the importance of this idea by arguing that the development of this ecology itself is a key focus for understanding transition processes and outcomes. Dockett and Perry (2001) posit that in an ecological model, a child’s transition to school is understood in terms of the influence of contexts (for example the family, school, community) and the connections among these contexts (e.g. family-school relationships) at any given time. Early Childhood Development children experience a physical change when entering the first grade of the primary school. This represents a major challenge, not only because they are no longer in a familiar environment / setting and have to adapt to a new one, but because the interrelations they used to have completely change. Children`s relationships change when they leave the social connections they used to have (for example group of friends and teachers) in preschool. In addition by the end of the Early Childhood Development year, they have already established a close relationship with the teacher who has become a significant figure. Moreover, a home-school link already established will suffer a significant shift. Thus, in this model it is implied that there is discontinuity in learning by the child and this is likely to negatively affect the child’s transition. In such a situation, there exists a gap that may affect the smooth transition of the child from one level to another that needs to be addressed by the curricular that are linked and overlapping. This theory was chosen because it emphasises on the importance of links and relationships within contexts and their impact on the transition of the child.
Essentially, the two theories do appreciate that knowledge and skills cannot be acquired in a social vacuum but through a web of relationships or context in which the child finds him/herself in. Given this understanding, it can therefore be safely argued that the said theoretical frameworks meaningfully inform this study.
During the transition period, children can face new challenges. They need to adapt not only to a new physical environment but also make new friends and establish a new relationship with the new teacher and adults involved. In addition, they no longer have the opportunity to play. Instead they have to show and use their academic skills to fulfill the requirements of an outcome. –based pedagogy (Docket and Perry, 2007). In addition, a new parent-teacher relationship will have to be established because parents are the first and natural teachers of their children. A parent and a teacher in the transition of a child from ECD to primary school, by way of an analogy should be like the left and right hand-both need to what is happening. These are not easy tasks (arguably they are not easy for parents and teachers either) and require a set of cognitive, social and emotional skills that children may or may not have depending on a number of variables such as early educational experiences and family background. A number of studies have highlighted a range of physical, cognitive, social and emotional elements to consider during this shift. One of the key elements of this model are the links and interconnections that need to be established among the child, school, teachers, parents and neighbourhood in order to tackle the challenges that transition represents (Arnold et.al, 2008).
This study adopted the Qualitative methodological approach. The approach was
adopted largely due to the nature of the study which sought to elicit the views, perceptions,
opinions and knowledge of key informants on the challenges that are encountered during the
transitioning period. Qualitative research is associated with the provision of rich information
from the participants. Capturing the challenges and gaps of the transitioning of
ECD children to primary education essentially calls for such a methodology.
The sample for the study comprised of ECD teachers, Officials from the Ministry of Primary and
Secondary Education from the districts, Ward councilors, Child care workers, chiefs and the
School Development Committee members (community).
3.3 Sampling Procedure
The councilors, chiefs, parents and education officials were purposively chosen because these
were the key informants who could give information required on the challenges faced by
children during the transition period. For parents, all the School Development Committee
members were involved in the study. Their views and opinions represented those of parents in
their respective communities. The teachers were randomly chosen.
3.5 Data Collection Methods
In this study, data generation was mainly through Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with
Councilors, Education Officials, Child Care Workers, Chiefs, Parents and Teachers in order to
elicit in-depth information on challenges faced by children transitioning from ECD to Grade
One. Data for the FGDs was tape recorded; field notes were also taken down to augment the
tape recorded data. Document analysis was used to generate data from the ECD and Grade One
curricular as well as various circulars and Statutory Instrument 106 of 2005.
3.6 Data Presentation and Analysis Procedures
Data gathered from the study were presented through descriptions of lived experiences of the
research participants. The analysis of data was done according to emerging themes and
descriptive statistics that were also used to unpack the identified gaps and different thematic
areas. Data therefore, were unpacked according to thematic areas which were grounded in and
informed by FGDs and document analysis.
4.0 Main Aim of the Study
The study was undertaken within the framework of the following aim :
To analyse the challenges and gaps faced by children when they transition from early childhood
development to primary school.
5.1 Understanding of transitioning
The participants from the five groups defined ‘transitioning’ in a similar way although stated in different words. Below are the responses given by the participants:
· As one moves from one step to another, there are changes which require adaptability.
· Gradual shift from one stage to another
· Moving from one stage of development to another
· Moving from one environment to another
· Element of adjusting and adapting to the next stage.
· Smooth gradual change from one stage to another.
· Moving or shifting from one level to another
· Gradual shifting from one level to another
· Period which takes place between two stages
The variety of responses indicated that the participants viewed transitioning as a concept which includes a range of behaviours that relate to physical movement from one level or stage to another. The responses also indicated that transition embraces aspects of development (intellectual aspect), adjustment and adaptability (social and emotional aspects) to new environments. Their responses are silent on the relationships/ connections among family, school and community contexts. Parents know their children far better than teachers and there is need for a dialogue between the school and home for smooth transition. The school is a new environment to the child and the child is faced with a task of forming new web of relationships with teachers, non-academic staff and other children. Hence, their responses indicate a significant gap on the child’s capacity to quickly adjust to the new environment during transition.
Importance of the transitioning period to the child
The participants from the five groups pointed out that the transitioning period has numerous benefits for the child. 35.5% of the respondents said transition lays foundation for future learning, 28.7% of the participants said transition introduces children to formal learning, 20.3% of the respondents said transition promotes brain maturity, 12 % of the respondents said transition helps children grow physically while 3.5% of the respondents said transition avoids regression, and . Some of the responses are as indicated below:
· Prepares the child for formal education
· Helps the child to adapt better to a new learning environment
· Psychologically it prepares a child for movement from one stage to another
· Allows a child to adjust before going to grade 1 (i.e. from home to school)
It is very clear from the responses that the participants are aware of the importance of the transitioning period to the child although they are limited to formal education and yet education goes beyond formal education or the four walls of the classroom. Issues of lifelong success, improvement of economic and social development of a society have been left out. Thus, it prepares the child for lifelong success, cuts down on high school dropout rates, substance abuse, and high teenage pregnancy.
5.3. The transition policy
80% of the participants indicated that there was a policy on transition, 13.4% said that there was no policy on transition, and 6.6% of the participants were not sure as to whether there was policy on transition. When probed further, the participants who said there was a policy on transition could not name and explain the policy and such participants were likely not to follow the demands of the policy when teaching children. The responses clearly indicate that there is a policy gap. The inability by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to annunciate a clearly defined policy on transition becomes a challenge to the transitioning of children. The policies that are there do not specifically speak to issues of transition although they give guidelines to teachers on the implementation of the ECD programme (Secretary’s circulars 14of 2004; 2 of 2014; Statutory Instrument 106 of 2005; Director’ circulars 12 of 2005 and 48 of 2007). Lack of a focused specific policy on transition leads to inadequacies in effective transitions including weak accountability mechanisms by teachers. There is no reference point for the teachers. Policy always informs practice; hence the absence of a clear and specific policy leads to the development of a laissez-faire attitude by teachers towards their work. Arguably, lack of policy on transition affects the smooth transitioning of children.
Figure 1: Policy on transition
5.4. Achievements expected from children during the transition period
The participants pointed out that parents expected their children to name shapes, identify and read pictures given to them. Parents also expected their children to respect their teachers and the classroom rules. As children are expected to respect parents and other elders as well as rules at home, the same is expected of them when they go to school. Parents also pointed out that they expected their children to hold a pencil or crayons correctly and organize their lunch boxes. The parents stated that they expected their children to identify letters of the alphabet. Children were expected by parents to repeat a statement said by their teacher. Children were also expected to greet people appropriately in accordance with times of the day. When probed further on the difference between a child who has been to ECD and one who hasn’t the participants acknowledged that there is a difference between the two children in that the one who attended ECD education displayed some of the following:
· Holds a crayon/pencil properly
· Has confidence
· Can relate well with the teacher and other children
· Does not soil oneself
· Is ahead academically
· Is ready for school and is well prepared
· Has adjusted to the school environment
The responses given are limited to academic and social skills and yet expectations should also focus on initiating and sustaining relationships and development of self help skills. Such a child may not be a complete being in the society or may be a misfit in the society.
5.5. Assistance given to children during transition
The teachers gave their own perspectives based on classroom practice. The teachers stated that a child could be assisted by making positive remarks whenever children do something good; loving them all without any discrimination; the teacher to operate at the level of children though the use of child-centred methods such as play that allow children to participate actively; by making use of concrete media which children can see and touch; by making children repeat tasks because repetition helps children to master concepts; by being friendly to children among others. The above responses mainly focus on classroom practice and none on the development of social skills. They have only focused on the development of the cognitive domain and yet transition should focus on the holistic development of the child which includes physical, social, emotional, intellectual, language, moral and health development.
Stakeholders who are crucial in the transitioning of the child
32% of the respondents said the community is a stakeholder, 25.4% of the respondents said the government is a stakeholder, 23% of the respondents said parents are a stakeholder, 8% of the respondents said teachers were a stakeholder, 5.8% of the respondents said health officials were a stakeholder and 5.8% of the respondents said NGOs were a stakeholder. From the above response of ECD children to primary school. The different stakeholders play different roles in the transition.
The responses indicated that for transition to be smooth, there is need for a multi-sectoral approach. Children themselves are a stakeholder. They too deserve a voice which gives recognition to their important contribution to the development of school transition programmes. Listening to children and spending time conversing with them about what is happening, what will happen and why, to help orient children to the school environment, relationships and interactions they may encounter will support their adjustment to the school setting. It can also help to reveal ideas and issues that do not necessarily occur to adults.
5. 8. Support needed during the transition of the child
The participants stated that during transition children need support in the form of : food; toys; qualified teachers; well equipped classrooms; psychosocial support; transport to and from school and being accompanied to and from school. This implies that if children are afforded the above listed support, quality provision of services is afforded thus yielding positive effects on young children`s cognitive and academic skills. Stronger partnerships between the home and school environments must be encouraged since family functioning has an enduring effect on children`s academic performance as they embark on their educational journey.
5.9. Support rendered to teachers during the transition period
The teachers highlighted that they got material support from parents in terms of stationery in the form of Art exercise books and crayons. From the school administration, teachers got support in the form of stationery (glue, manila sheets, and mighty markers) and food for children since they are some children who came to school without having eaten anything.. From colleagues they got assistance in the area one is not good at and from the District Education Offices, teachers got the Infant School Early Reading Initiative (ERI) Teacher’s Module which helped them with information on activities to teach to children. The districts also mounted workshops to assist teachers with the interpretation and implementation of the ECD curriculum. The above responses are an indication that teachers are getting the maximum support possible during the transition of children from ECD to Grade One. In such a scenario, one would assume that smooth transition is taking place.
5.10. How the transition of the child is monitored
The participants indicated that there was need to monitor children during the transition period and this could be done in different ways. The participants pointed out that a developmental skills checklist could be used to monitor children’s development during the transition period as it reflects the skills which the child is expected to master at certain stages of development such as saying his/her name in full, identifying different shapes and colours to name a few. The teachers concurred with the other participants when they highlighted that the checklist helps them check if the child has mastered all the skills that include pre-reading and pre-writing. The teachers added that portfolios were also used for monitoring and were meant for storing children’s work (what children have drawn or coloured). Anecdotal records were also used to monitor children during the transition period and these contained incidences that will have occurred. The participants also pointed out that immunization or vaccination of children could be another way of monitoring children in the transitioning period and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is highly involved in this exercise. The participants pointed out that monitoring of children needed a multi-sectoral approach, where parents, teachers and other service providers were involved. Community health workers, child workers and local authorities are also part of the monitoring team. For example the headman or the chief encourages parents to feed, take care of children hygienically and pay fees for their children. This common understanding of the need for monitoring of children in the transition period would facilitate smooth progression from ECD to Grade One as it would flag areas that need attention.
5.11. Attitude of parents towards ECD children during the transition period
The participants stated that parents seemed to be ignorant of the importance of ECD because they thought children were playing at school and not learning. The participants assumed children were going to ECD just to play and some parents felt it was a waste of money to pay fees for ECD children for two years and to buy items such as books for children. Some parents preferred to take their children away from school when they are travelling for religious or funeral purposes. They did not seem to take the ECD programme seriously. When asked on who should convince parents on the importance of ECD, the participants pointed out that the ECD teachers had the mandate to convince parents by explaining to them during workshop meetings. The participants stated that the school played a big role in convening meetings with parents and then afford teachers an opportunity to explain the importance of ECD to parents. The participants also required teachers to make follow ups on children who were absent from school as a way of showing that ECD is important to children. Generally, the parents seem to be ignorant of the importance of ECD as reflected by their responses. Hence, there is knowledge gap on the part of parents on the importance of ECD.
5. 12. The environment that promotes positive transition
The teachers described the environment that promotes positive transition as one that is age appropriate (in terms toilets, furniture). The environment should be child friendly and everything found in and outside the room should be user friendly. The surroundings needed to be safe and clean. Children are adventurous and if there are sharp and harmful objects around, it means children would hurt themselves. Children are also prone to diseases, so if the surroundings are dirty, children are likely to catch diseases. Teachers went on to say a good environment should have safe and clean water for children to drink. Dirty water would cause children to catch diseases such as typhoid and dysentery. The responses were limited to physical aspects of an environment to the exclusion of the social environment. An environment that has both the physical and social aspects is conducive to the smooth transition of children.
5. 13.What teachers are expected to do in the transitioning period
The participants listed the following points as what they expected the teachers to do in the transition of children:
· Instill good morals in their children( hunhu/ubuntu)
· Teach the child school expectations
· Discipline children without beating them
· Be friendly to children
· Identify strengths and weaknesses of children
· Teach children about abuse
· Be non-discriminatory
· Avoid using vulgar language because children will imitate them
· Be good role models.
5.14 Challenges encountered during the transitioning period
The participants from the five groups pointed out that there were various challenges that were faced during the transition period.
48.8% of the responses indicated that parents had challenges during the transition period. The challenges included lack of commitment by parents who did not want to pay fees for their children and were not keen to be involved in the school activities such as attending school meetings. This means parents lacked knowledge on the role they should play during the transition period. They were ignorant of the benefits of their involvement in the transition of children from ECD to Primary school. Unfortunately very few schools in Zimbabwe offer programmes that systematically target supporting parents during transition to primary school
40% of the responses showed that resources (human) were also another challenge. Lack of qualified teachers and expertise were cited as another challenge. The current situation in Zimbabwe is that most ECD classes are manned by unqualified teachers (para-professionals).
Lack of resources (material) by schools was cited by participants as another challenge which is likely to affect successful transitions. Most ECD centres in rural areas have inadequate resources due to financial constraints.
4.5% of the participants said distance travelled by children was a challenge. Children are travelling long distances to school and this may result in some children dropping out of school. To prevent this from occurring, parents may pool their resources together and build community / village ECD centres and this would cut down on distance travelled by children.
4.5% of the responses indicated that the attitude of some community members towards ECD was negative, hence lack of community involvement. The community needs to be educated on the importance of ECD through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education .
2.2% of the participants showed that children’s poor health was a challenge during the transition period. Children are prone to diseases and this impedes the smooth transition of the child. Depending on the condition of the child, he/she may be subjected to labeling and may eventually drop out of school. The village health workers can assist by educating communities on how to maintain hygiene in the homes.
The responses above seem to indicate that there are multidimensional challenges that may hinder the smooth transition of children from ECD to Grade One. These challenges call for collective efforts between public and private players. Where parents are involved there is need to educate them on their parental obligations during the transition of their children.
Figure 4: Challenges faced during the transition period
5. 15. How the challenges are overcome
The participants from the five groups listed a number of possible solutions to the challenges faced during the transition period. 23.5% of the respondents indicated that the challenges that affect transition can be solved by way of recruiting more qualified teachers, 23.5% of the respondents said parents should be involved in the transition, 12% of the responses indicated that that the Government should be involved, 20.5% of the participants thought the community could be a solution and 20.5% of the participants mentioned the provision of resources as a solution to the challenges of transition. Participants pointed out that the qualified teachers needed to be increased in order to address the challenge of high teacher-pupil ratio. The participants suggested that the staffing officers should deploy in schools appropriately qualified teachers to teach ECD children and that the school heads should declare the rightful person needed for the ECD post and not get general teachers for this programme. The participants also highlighted that there is need to mount refresher courses for teachers so that they are capacitated to teach ECD effectively. To cut distance walked by children to school, participants pointed out that children needed to attend schools within their zones. The Government should regulate how fees are charged in some centers since high fees deter parents from sending ECD children to school. The participants highlighted that the community should mobilize resources for the school and for children and suggested that locally available materials such as thatching classrooms with grass instead of using asbestos; making toys from locally available materials, using charcoal or leaves as paint; using clay in place of play dough; using gum trees to make play equipment; using old car tyres for ECD play centres and parents can be involved in toy production and moulding of bricks for the construction of the ECD classrooms. The participants stated that the School Development Committees should help schools come up with projects to assist children who are less privileged. Given the above responses, the need for multiple actors in facilitating the smooth transition of children is urgent so as to address the challenges which may impede the transition process. The challenges can only be minimized when different duty bearers work together for the greater good of the children.
Figure 5: How to overcome challenges
6.0 Discussion of Findings
In the study it surfaced that there are many challenges that are faced by children during transition. Some of the challenges are: lack of qualified personnel, lack of involvement by communities, lack of focus and specific policy on transition, lack material and financial resources, distance travelled by children and poor health. The Annual Statistical Report (2014) indicates that ECD trained teachers in Zimbabwe constitute 28.3% and the rest of the teachers are unqualified. This scenario poses a problem for children during the transition period because the untrained teacher lacks specific knowledge, skills and competencies on how to handle children during the important phase. A desk study of the National ECD curriculum revealed that it has many knowledge bases that are rooted in Child Development, Special Needs, Mathematics, Science, Technology and Social Sciences. For teachers to understand this curriculum, they need to be skilled in these areas and unfortunately it is not the case with unqualified teachers. There is a strong link between the level of education and or/ pedagogical practices. The unqualified teacher cannot interpret the ECD curriculum and this affects the quality of service delivery and learning outcomes. Ability to create rich, stimulating environments in ECD is jeopardized when staff have inadequate, insufficient or incorrect content and pedagogical knowledge. A qualified teacher has the ability not only to support children and parents to understand the changes, expectations and practicalities of transition, but also assisting children and families to adjust to the social and emotional demands of starting school.
If resources are unavailable, the holistic development of children is compromised. This goes against the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) (1990, Article 11) which stipulates that the education of a child shall be directed to the promotion and development of the child`s mental and physical abilities. Lack of resources results in some schools having high teacher-pupil ratio because of inadequate infrastructure. Resources make learning more meaningful. They are more than just physical things, but are systems of objects, relationships, actors and environments. Learning is achieved through successful child-resource interaction.
With regards to lack of material resources (infrastructure) the classroom is the most important area for children during the transition period. Hence its entire design should reflect the priorities, goals, philosophy, personality and teaching style of early learners. Over-crowdedness has a direct impact on children` s performance along with the “enjoyability” of school for children. It diminishes the quality of teaching and learning with serious implications on attainment of educational goals. Teachers face problems such as discipline and other behavioural problems when classes are over - crowded. In other words, the quality of learning during the transition period is compromised. Over-crowding creates unsafe environments. Teaching many children results in little or no access to the learning materials which are critical to the development of basic skills and competencies. Overcrowding also results in limited individualized attention which children need. The introduction of shifts to address large class sizes may result in even fewer contact hours.
Participants also cited long distance travelled by children going to and from school as a challenge because some children miss school and if they go to school, they are inactive due to fatigue. Health was also another challenge during the transitional period for example lack of food to eat at home hinders children from participating at school actively and it also promotes absenteeism from school by children. Illnesses and diseases hinders children from going to school. The participants reported that some policies from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education are difficult to follow and they take long to give feedback when approached with certain issues, for example if the school applies to the ministry seeking for permission to increase fees to be paid by children, the ministry takes a long time before the school gets feedback.
Professional continuity is important in the facilitation of transition from ECD to primary school. Children benefit when ECD and primary school teachers work together. When teachers from the two levels communicate and collaborate well, they are more likely to develop compatible programme philosophies and broaden their understanding of children`s trajectory from preschool to primary school. Charles and Williams (2006) argue that ECD and primary school children should work together in school, home visits and after-school programmes. Such strategies encourage connections and coherence in teaching styles across two distinct levels. In Zimbabwe teacher training for ECD teacher is integrated, that is, teachers` colleges now train teachers who can teach children from ECD to Grade one. In this case teacher trainees follow common core of courses. Joint initial training helps teachers to develop a common knowledge base and common practices upon which to build partnerships.
Lack of parental involvement is a challenge to smooth transition of children from ECD to Grade One. Home-to-school continuity helps to ease transition challenges. Children`s transitions can be eased by sharing information and developing ways to involve parents that take into consideration their preferences and values, and respect ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious and other forms of diversity (Dockett,2007). Parents play an important role during the transition period. Supporting parental confidence and enhancing their knowledge and understanding of the school context, as well as promoting involvement and collaboration within the school community, both during transition and beyond, promotes positive outcomes for children in the short and long term. Schools are ideally placed to assist parents during this potentially stressful period through the provision of parenting support and education. Baumeister (1995) points out that schools also play an important role in fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness to the school community for children and parents which not only supports children`s adjustment during transition, but helps to promote mental health and wellbeing. Thus, parents need assistance from schools on how to help their children to make a positive transition to school. This can be done through parenting programmes. One of the most important objectives of any parenting initiative is to foster a sense of confidence and self-efficacy in parents in relation to supporting their children during the transition period. It is important to address parent concerns about transition to school and information about evidence-based strategies for dealing with specific parenting issues during this time. It can be argued that the transition to school is a process that is accompanied by a family transition, therefore, preparation and support is needed not only for children, but for parents too. Transition programmes for parents should therefore aim to support and empower the family as a whole (Margetts, 2009). Giallo (2010) proposes a multiple-session, multi-pronged transition programme aiming to:
1) Provide families with an opportunity to learn strategies to support children`s adjustment to school;
2) Promote family involvement in children`s learning at home and at school; and
3) Facilitate collaborative partnerships between families and schools as a resource and source of information and support on the transition process and raising children.
One of the primary means of promoting successful transitions is to establish and maintain a healthy ecology of flexible social connections and social support for children. Ideally these relationships are characterized by quality communication and social contexts that mitigate discontinuities. A multi-sectoral approach is essential in solving or overcoming the challenges discussed above.
A number of efforts can be undertaken to improve abilities to support children to transition and adjust successfully and learn effectively. In that regard, several recommendations to improve practice are proposed based on the findings as follows:
8.1 Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare
1. Recruitment of qualified ECD teachers and capacity building for those qualified teachers who are already in practice.
2. Parents and communities should be conscientised on the importance of ECD so that they are aware of the need to support the programme fully by constructing ECD classrooms, constructing outdoor play equipment and paying fees for the children. Collaboration based on open communication establishes a context where the educational needs of the child are uppermost in the minds of all involved.
3. A range of material resources and space (infrastructure) in order to operate the programme effectively are needed. The schools should provide these together with parents. The schools should treat this issue as a matter of urgency. The Government through partners such as NGOs like Nhaka Foundation can assist in the erection and renovation of infrastructure for ECD children with building materials. Parents can mould bricks and provide with labour.
4. A clear cut policy on transition should be developed
5. Introduction of satellite/village /community ECD centres to reduce distance travelled by children going to and from school is encouraged.
8.2 Ministry of Health and Child Care
Village Health Workers should educate the communities on the importance of good health habits so as to reduce poor health in children.
The following conclusions were drawn from the study:
ü Lack of qualified ECD teachers interferes with the smooth transition of children.
ü Parents and communities were not actively involved in the school activities which essentially assist children in their transition from ECD to Grade One.
ü Lack of material and financial resources was found to be a hindrance in the smooth transition of children.
ü There was no policy on transition. The absence of a focus specific policy on transition left teachers unguided with respect to smooth transition of children from ECD to Grade One.
ü Long distances travelled by children and poor health contributed to school wastage such as dropping out of school
ü Successful transition for children depended upon collective efforts from different stake holders like public and private duty bearers such as the Government through its line ministries and non-state actors like parents and NGOs.
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